Public speaking scares people. In fact, according to the findings of the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, fear of public speaking is the number one fear in the United States. It seems the weight of anywhere from tens to thousands of eyes watching and judging your every move and thought is concerning (who knew). When I started speaking, I got butterflies even standing in front of my scout troop. In fact, the first time I got on a platform, in front of a small crowd in Tampa, FL, I completely froze.

Although public speaking ranks among our top fears however, it is one of the only fears we have to face in everyday life. It is certainly more likely you will be asked to give a presentation, represent an organization, or open a meeting than run into the living dead.

Over 25% of respondents in the Chapman study said they feared public speaking. Yet less Americans fear clowns (7.6%) ghosts (7.3%) or zombies (8.7%).

For activists, you will be asked to be a public face more often than almost any other profession, and public speaking skills will be even more useful in anything from radio interviews to press conferences. Most of these will be unscripted, and you must be skilled in going off-the-cuff (or impromptu) to answer questions, address objections, and present new ideas. Without further ado, here is an impromptu speaking drill I used to prepare for competitions that helped me hone my skills to place in the top 30 impromptu speakers in the country, successfully take over 150 radio interviews and speak at over 75 events in the past few years.

  1. Find a relatively quiet place with a table, desk, or other horizontal surface.
  2. Grab 50 3×5 index cards.
  3. Write one random topic (person, place, idea, or quote) on the front of 25 cards. 
  4. Flip all those cards upside-down
  5. Get a pen and place your other 25 cards to your side.
  6. Flip one card over at a time. For each card, once you flip it, you have 60 seconds to write a speech on your empty index card. You then have 2 minutes to give it. Be sure your speech has 3 main points. 
  7. Repeat. 


Once you’re comfortable with the above drill, throw a few twists in:

  1. Make sure the place you’re about to speak is loud with lots of distractions. Loud music playing, dogs barking, etc. It will train you to stay focused.
  2. Follow tournament time. Give yourself 45 seconds to write the speech and give a 2 minute 15 second speech, landing right at 3 minutes.
  3. Write 2 subtopics for each of three topics. So, if it were a speech about Margaret Thatcher, you could write:

1. Prime minister

a(Prime ministers are different forms of government than U.S.

b(Less prestigious position than President

2. Iron Lady

a(Not a fan of socialism

b(Avoided entitlements

3. More loved after her death

a(Like Princess Diana

b(Achieved hero status

Remember, impromptu speaking isn’t about having fully researched information. In real life situations you don’t have that kind of time. It’s about using the little information you have to craft an eloquent and accurate point. This drill is the best way to get there.

Dan Johnson is the President and Founder of the Solutions Institute. Want to discuss this topic more? Invite Dan on your radio show, to your group, or just send him an email at thesolutionsinstitute [at]

Featured image: Der Fotograf Andreas Bohnenstengel in seinem Arbeitszimmer

The Solutions Institute only takes one position: good ideas do not require force. Otherwise, each article published at the Solutions Institute is chosen for its focus on the process and how-to instruction. Any opinions expressed on any other issue, by any author or commenter, are strictly their own. Learn more.


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