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Impromptu Speaking # 1: Past, Present and Future

The notice was so short because I wasn’t the designated best man

The genius of impromptu speaking series.

Many years ago, I was asked to speak as the best man at a wedding. I was given only two minutes’ notice.

The notice was so short because I wasn’t the designated best man. There was no best man.  Many eligible candidates merited that honour so the groom wisely elected not to designate anyone. But he appointed someone to speak.  I wasn’t the person appointed to speak.

The man with that honour and many weeks of preparation under his belt moved across oceans and mountains (from Canada to Abuja) to deliver a compelling speech. But that wasn’t to be.

Confusion arose because someone else instead of the Canadian was given the task to talk – without first clearing it with the groom. The groom would later tell me that he was protesting from the dais for the prepared person to speak – so that he wouldn’t be disappointed and lose his sweat. Surprisingly, no one saw the groom’s protest.

So I spoke. And from the ovation and reactions of the audience, I  thought it went well. So how did I manage to prepare for the speech in 120 seconds?

I used the past, present and future structure. This is the structure in which you can take any topic and discuss it in three moves. The first move is a discussion of the past. You take a step back and sketch a narrative about what used to be, the conditions and the situations that came before. This is easy to do because for every topic, there is a past.  The next is the present where you paint a picture of what is.  You can literally look around you to make this move. Then finally, you talk about the future you envision. Let me give a detail example of how I employed this structure at my friend’s wedding.

THE PAST

“The groom is a quintessential Nigerian, ” I began. Then I told a story of why he was a model Nigerian. His parents came from two different states in the North. My friend grew up in the South and attended many schools in different states and had friends from all over the country. So he had a good exploration of Nigeria. All this was situated in the past.

THE PRESENT

“This is the one!” I related my friend’s excitement when he told me about the bride. He was excited because there were many relationships (ladies he intended to marry) that broke down. So I was delighted too because he had found someone with whom to settle down.

THE FUTURE

No one knows what the future will bring. You can only talk about it in terms of hopes, desires, plans or prayers. Therefore, it is the easiest part of the template. With the right imagination, you can say what you want – within reason. You can also move the audience when you talk about the future.

So I painted a picture of the future in which I saw my friend with many happy children and a great family.

Quieting the monkey

This mental model is also a good way to take control of our brain chatter. Naturally, we oscillate between the past and the future. We worry about the past and are anxious about how it is going to affect the future. This unstructured chatter is unproductive. Why don’t you take control? For every subject that concerns you, think about it in three moves: the past, present and future. That way, you control the monkey and take back your brain.

In sum, many topics lend themselves to this structure. It is one of my favourite templates. So next time someone gives you short notice to speak, use this structure. Even if you’re already seated at the occasion and a microphone is thrust in your face, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts and cast your talk in the format of the past, the present and the future. Knowing that you can always do this, you will know that you are prepared to give a speech 24/7. This offers you unshakable confidence that can banish the fear of public speaking forever.

PS: This is from my book, “The Genius of Impromptu Speaking: 9  Structures to Move the Crowd and Speak without Fear.” Let me know if you want to buy a copy.

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