What I Learned By 'Winging' a 5-Minute Speech

“What I need is someone who will make me do what I can.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do What You Can“(One of our members) has to cancel his speech for tomorrow. Anyone got something ready to step in?”  The email was from our Toastmaster for the week, Michael W., as he scrambled to fill the meeting agenda the night before our 7am meeting.

Earlier that day, I had removed myself from the list of speakers scheduled for the Nov. 18th meeting for I didn’t have time to write, fine tune and rehearse a speech. I am a relative new member of Toastmasters who is still learning the fine art of verbal communication. My speeches up to this point have involved a lot of preparation for my five minutes in the spotlight.

However, I have wondered if my rehearsals and fine tuning of my words is actually taking away from my presence in the speeches. You know that point where you are able to express your thoughts, passions and heart that’s true to you. Am I over polishing my speeches?

Overnight, I mulled over the idea of winging a speech. No writing. No rehearsals. No fine tuning. Just taking the lectern and going hog wild? Do I have what it takes? I wasn’t sure. But I decided there was one way to find out.

I woke up the next morning and wrote Michael that if he needed someone “to do a speech, I can probably wing something.”

To be fair, I wasn’t starting with a completely blank slate. I had a few ideas sitting on the back burner for my next speech. You know, the one I canceled due to lack of time to write.

I picked one that I felt I knew the most about: beer basics. Using the knowledge from my homebrewing days with friends in Portland, I spent a few minutes writing down anchor points (4 ingredients, 2 types and 1 process). Then, I left the rest up to chance. No rehearsals. No fine tuning. Winging it.

Was it perfect? No. Did I fail miserably? No. In fact, the end result was no different than the ones I have previously given.  In fact, I received some feedback that it was a bit more “authentic.”  Sure, I have a few challenges to work on — but it was issues that would have surfaced even if I was well rehearsed (like pausing).

What was different, and what I didn’t anticipate, was how I would feel after my five minute impromptu speech. With the excellent tools, resources and experience in the few speeches I have done, Toastmasters has given me the confidence to “stand and deliver” a speech with little or no prep. There’s no feeling like returning to your seat and knowing that you just hit a milestone in personal development. That you are on the right track. That you do have what it takes.

Winging it showed me what I can do. And honestly,  I think everyone needs that view.

Thank you Toastmasters and Michael W. for giving me a chance to “do what I can.”