Extemporaneous and Impromptu Speech
1, 2. How does Jehovah help us to speak?
1 “Do not become anxious about how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour; for the ones speaking are not just you, but it is the spirit of your Father that speaks by you.” (Matt. 10:19, 20) Those words must have brought wonderful assurance to Jesus’ early disciples. And they strengthen God’s ministers of the good news today when they are called on to give a witness before government officials. This does not mean that Christian Witnesses of Jehovah today are given miraculous “speech of wisdom” and “speech of knowledge,” as were some of those first-century Christian witnesses. (1 Cor. 12:8) However, we do enjoy the opportunity of a fine theocratic education and, as promised, God’s spirit brings answers back to our minds when the need arises.
2 By reason of the training you receive at Bible studies, Theocratic Ministry School sessions and other congregation meetings, you lay up a vast store of Bible knowledge. You learn basic principles of righteousness and how to apply them in your own life in a variety of circumstances. Then by applying yourself to the field ministry you gain experience in speaking to others, imparting the information you have gained. This speaking you do in an extemporaneous manner or impromptu.
3. Explain the difference between extemporaneous and impromptu speech.
3 Though closely related, these two types of speech are not identical. An illustration will perhaps make the distinction clear. Suppose you approach a householder and begin to give a prepared presentation, the outline of which you have already firmly fixed in your own mind. Beyond that outline you have not memorized the exact words by which you will develop the material. You are speaking extemporaneously. But then the householder raises some unforeseen objection for which you have made no specific preparation. However, because of your training at the Kingdom Hall you are equipped to offer some comment or explanation, drawing on your reservoir of Bible information. At this point it could be said that your speech is impromptu, composed and uttered on the spur of the moment.
4. What preparation is needed for an effective extemporaneous speech?
4 Extemporaneous speech. Preparation is the key element in effective extemporaneous speech, whether it is a house-to-house presentation or a discourse from the platform. If you are going to give a discourse extemporaneously, prepare a good outline with several main points to be developed. Under the main points you can list the supporting ideas, proofs, scriptures and illustrations, so that you will be ready to present a truly informative talk. Determine in advance everything but the exact words you will use.
5-7. Mention the advantages of extemporaneous speech.
5 The extemporaneous manner of speaking has several advantages. One is that it allows for versatility. The material is not so rigidly set that you cannot depart from it, as is the case with reading from a manuscript or reciting from memory. Last-minute developments may dictate some changes in the planned discourse. Suppose you find out just before going to the platform that the audience contains an unexpectedly large number of newly interested persons. The extemporaneous method allows you to make adjustments to help them fully to grasp the arguments. Or perhaps you note that there are many school-age youths in the audience. You can adjust your illustrations and application with a view to aiding them to appreciate how the material affects their lives.
6 A second advantage of extemporaneous speaking is that it has the effect of stimulating your mind. It leaves you measurably free to develop fresh thoughts. Often, when you encounter an appreciative, responsive audience, you warm up and new ideas flow into your mind, ideas that can easily be incorporated in an extemporaneous speech.
7 A third advantage of this type of speech is that it also allows you to keep your eyes on your listeners. This improves your communication with them. The result is that they will likely give closer attention to what you are saying. And the listeners will feel that you know your subject, since you do not have to keep your eyes on some written material all the time. Then, too, you are in position to note the reactions of the audience. If you see that their interest is waning, you can take steps to overcome this difficulty. Thus, this type of delivery lends itself to a warm, conversational presentation, a real heart-to-heart talk.
8-10. How can the pitfalls in regard to extemporaneous speaking be avoided?
8 There are, however, some pitfalls with regard to extemporaneous talks; but these can be avoided. For example, the speaker may insert too many additional ideas so that his talk runs overtime. Also, in view of his freedom to introduce spontaneously ideas that come into mind, the speaker may dwell much longer on certain points than he planned. You can guard against this by making notations on your outline as to the time allowed for each section of the talk. Then stick closely to this schedule.
9 There is also the danger of omitting points, making incomplete or inaccurate statements, or making claims without adequate supporting evidence. If you look at your notes from time to time, unhurriedly, you should be able to stick to your material and avoid omissions and inaccuracies. By forming a good outline, with several main points to be developed with supporting proofs and scriptures, you can avoid the danger of making assertions.
10 While it is not necessary to memorize the very words of an extemporaneous talk, yet appropriate phrasing can be practiced, and you are helped by having the train of thought firmly fixed in mind. In this way you can avoid inferior language and poor choice of words. And if in your everyday conversation you try to use good language, it will become easier when delivering a talk. True, even then you may not have the choicest expressions and grammatical precision of the manuscript talk, but you can more than make up for this by your conversational style. Also, make it a point to review your talk several times before delivering it. Some find it sufficient to do so silently, in their own mind. But many find it very helpful, particularly in connection with timing, to practice giving it aloud.
11, 12. Why is it a safeguard for the speaker to have an outline?
11 In time, and with practice, you should soon be able to reduce your outline to just a few words for each point of your talk. These, together with a notation of the scriptures you will use, might all be listed on a card or sheet of paper easily referred to. While for shorter talks, such as a student talk in the ministry school, some may prefer to memorize the outline, there is no objection to having a brief outline on hand for reference in case some distraction or memory lapse breaks your train of thought. For longer talks, such as a public talk, it is usually the course of practical wisdom to have your detailed outline available for reference while speaking.
12 The extemporaneous style of delivery is very valuable in the house-to-house ministry. For when the householder raises an objection or interrupts in some way, it is possible to depart briefly from the points under consideration, meet the objection and then continue with the material that has been prepared. It would be difficult, were the precise words in the presentation committed to memory, to meet such an interruption and then resume the talk.
13-15. When do we speak impromptu, and what preparation is involved?
13 Impromptu speech. The word “impromptu” has been defined as meaning “without preparation, offhand, done on the spur of the moment.” But does this mean that there has been no preparation at all on the subject or point? No, for in all genuine teaching there must be preparation. However, there are occasions when you may not have advance notice that you are to speak on a certain subject, so you do not prepare specifically for a discussion of it. This may be when the householder met in the house-to-house preaching raises a question. Or it may be on return visits, at home Bible studies, when doing informal witnessing, or when called before a court or board. In such instances, the arrangement of material and the phrasing will be impromptu, but your background knowledge resulting from theocratic studies will provide the basis for what is said. So what we might call impromptu speech is also based on advance preparation, though the preparation may not have been planned for the particular occasion.—Isa. 50:4.
14 If you learn, even a few minutes in advance, that you are going to be called on to say something, there are worthwhile steps that you can take in preparation. First, decide on one or two main points to cover. Select some supporting arguments, including a few appropriate scriptures. Then give some thought to a brief introduction. Now, if need be, you are ready to start talking. This might be necessary, for example, when a last-minute substitution for a student speaker is required in the Theocratic Ministry School.
15 There are examples in the Scriptures of ministers of Jehovah who were called upon on the spur of the moment to give a witness to the truth. One of these was Stephen, who was taken by force to the Sanhedrin and accused by false witnesses. His stirring impromptu speech may be read in chapter 7 of the book of Acts. The apostle Paul was laid hold of by Athenians, led to the Areopagus and questioned about his beliefs. His fine impromptu discussion is found in Acts chapter 17.
16-18. Why should students practice extemporaneous speaking, in preference to using a manuscript or memorizing their talks?
16 Best method. Sometimes beginners want to use a manuscript for their student talks. This is not generally the best method, and they should make an effort to break away from it soon, as it detracts from audience contact and conversational quality. There are occasions when we do use manuscript talks, but you get practice for these when you have a reading assignment. Use your other talks to speak freely from notes.
17 Some students try to memorize talks, to be free from all notes. But memorized speeches have definite disadvantages, not being adaptable, lacking naturalness and raising the possibility of one’s forgetting a vital portion. Memorizing may be appropriate for a few key sentences, such as in the introduction or conclusion, but it is not suitable for the entire talk.
18 The best method is usually extemporaneous. This is what is used in the field ministry, where we are really trained to think on our feet. Likewise at congregation meetings the extemporaneous method is the one to use most often, as it permits a sincere, direct presentation of our message that will produce fine results. So practice it constantly. And although at times we may be called upon for an impromptu delivery, we will be prepared for it, for Jehovah sees to it that we are well equipped for both extemporaneous and impromptu speaking. Both have their proper place in our ministry.