Speaking impromptu is hard. Ask the average person in a meeting to “update us on the project you’re working on,” and if they’re not prepared, you hear a disorganized mess.

It’s just show up and throw up.

But if you have trouble coming across as organized in impromptu settings, you might take a lesson from comics who rely on repeated routines to churn out reliable laughs.

These repeated routines are called “shticks.” And if you want to learn how to quickly organize your thoughts in a meeting, you should consider developing your own shtick. Such routines can help make you sound smooth in impromptu situations.

A “shtick” is a Yiddish term for a comic routine. For performers, a shtick is a standard bit that they return to over and over again to reliably get laughs.

Jeff Foxworthy could always get a laugh with hi “You might be a redneck if…” shtick.

Rodney Dangerfield’s shtick was “I don’t get no respect.”

But you can use a non-comic shtick or routine to quickly organize your thoughts and reliably get you through impromptu speaking situations.

There are many impromptu speaking shticks that you can rely on, some of which you may already know.

Let’s say that someone asks you to tell what’s going on with a major project.

You can use the “Good news/bad news” shtick. You’d say, “Well, there is the good news and the bad news.” And then you can organize your thoughts around those two ideas.

One of my clients told me that he uses the “Three Ons” shtick. In meetings, he organizes his thoughts around “Whether we’re ‘on budget’, ‘on schedule’ and ‘on scope.’”

To get started, we suggest our clients organize their thoughts around the following three-point shtick.

  1. What’s happened so far?
  2. What are the challenges?
  3. And what are we doing to meet the challenges?

These shticks quickly put your thoughts into a little organized story that your listeners can easily follow.

Let’s say that someone says to you “Carl, why don’t you update us on what’s happening with the Marietta Project?”

Rather than speaking in a stream-of-consciousness ramble, you’d turn to your shtick, laying out your simple story.

“Well it’s going quite well but we’re having a few issues. Let me talk about what’s happened so far, the challenges that we’re facing, and how we’re planning to meet those challenges.”

You’d then go through the three things you’ve described. “Let me start with where things stand right now.” After detailing the status, you’d say, “Now let me talk about the challenges we’re seeing.” After detailing the challenges, you’d turn to the final point of the shtick: “Finally, let’s talk about what we’re doing about these challenges.”

Shticks don’t only make it easy on the listener; they make it easy for the speaker as well. The shtick relieves you of having to think about how to structure your thoughts. Rather, you just rely on the template that’s already in your head.

Next time you’re faced with having to speak impromptu, rely on a simple shtick to pull your thoughts together.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, speech@speechworks.net or on the web at www.speechworks.net

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