Andreii Sedniew. 2013. Magic of Impromptu Speaking: Create a Speech that Will Be Remembered for Years in Under 30 Seconds. Santa Clara: Andreii Sedniev.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Confession time. Analysis paralysis is my default setting. I write out my sermons and generally over-prepare for presentations. As I tell my colleagues, I don’t do spontaneous. When I notice Andrii Sedniev’s book, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, I knew that I needed a copy.
In his book, Sedniev presents a how-to guide on extemporaneous (or improvisational) speaking. He writes:
“During the last 10 years, I collected tips, techniques, and strategies that can dramatically raise the level of any speaker in impromptu speaking. My goal was to create the most comprehensive system, which will make anyone a world class impromptu speaker within a very short time. The Magic of Impromptu Speaking system was based on the analysis of thousands of impromptu speaking contests, interviews, debates, and Q&A sessions.” (3)
The book is deceptively short (100 pages) and Sedniev writes in a breezy, conversational style organized into 28 chapters. Sedniev is a speaking coach from the Ukraine trained as an MBA.
What is Impromptu Speaking?
For Sedniev, an impromptu speech is a talk one to three minutes long (64; and no more than five minutes long) that one cannot prepare for in advance. A job interview question or a party invitation to speak are examples of impromptu speeches (7).
A key starting point in successful impromptu speaking for Sedniev comes from his training in karate: “Think about the impromptu speech as a game.” (10). Attitude matters because time is short. There is no time to think analytically about the talk. He describes impromptu speaking as drawing primarily on right brain (subconscious mind) not left brain (conscious mind) processing (16)—this is the magic part of his system. Therefore, Sedniev advises the speaker to hold two beliefs: “I will definitely answer the question and I will not always have a stellar answer” (17).
Understanding the above paragraph is important in processing Sedniev’s method. Think of the basketball player’s mindset. If you are standing under the basket and your teammate throws the ball, there is not time to thinking about what to do—you reflexively take the shot. That reflex becomes automatic, but only after many hours of practice and training with your team. This is what Sedniev is saying when he talks about right brain thinking. Later in the book, Sedniev talks about the need to practice and mentions, for example, that he joined seven toastmaster’s clubs and offers visualization (a Zen Buddhist technique) as a technique to enhance speaking performance (75, 82).
In my own experience, for years I advised young professionals to practice taking job interviews, even when the job is not a perfect fit, so that when the dream job comes along you will understand the process and can interview well. Sedniev’s method provides a more focused way to get this practice without the stress and need to dress up.
Once you understand Sedniev’s basic approach, he provides advice on structuring your talk and handling the particular problems that come up in extemporaneous speaking.
Rules of Thumb
Several elements are critical in structuring an impromptu talk, which Sedniev outlines as rules of thumb in speaking:
- Going back the right brain, reflexive response idea, he writes: “Once you hear a question, begin answering it based on the first idea that pops up in your head.” (21)
- “The best time for thinking is while you are talking because it is not limited.” (23) By limited, Sedniev means that it is not limited like the problem of remaining silent until an idea pops up and makes analytical sense.
- When someone asks a question, you have several choices to make in responding. You can answer the question directly, answer in part, transition to another topic, refuse comment, or answer later (28). You can also pick a word from the question to focus on, seek clarification, or redefine the question (30-31).
- In an impromptu speech, you talk about one idea for a couple minutes, transition to a second idea, then transition to a series of other ideas. Transitions are hugely important to bringing your audience along with you. One way to transition is a synthesis (this idea is a part of a larger class of ideas, as in cups to dishes) or an analysis (this idea can be broken into subclasses of ideas, as in cups to tea cups), which Sedniev calls linguistic pyramids (32-33). Another way to transition is to use associations, as in a table and a donkey are similar in that they both have four legs (34-35).
- An impromptu speech is still a speech, having three parts: an opening, a body, and a closing (36-38).
- Impromptu speeches generally have three basic frameworks. You can tell a story, a PEEP (point, explanation, example, and reiteration of point), and a PAB (position, action, and benefit) (40-45).
The PAB is an approach often used in a business context to propose a solution to a problem, an action that needs to be taken, and a benefit likely to result.
Proficiency in Impromptu Speaking
Sedniev sees four levels of proficiency in impromptu speaking. At the first level, you acquire the ability to talk for two minutes about an random topic without discomfort. At the second level, you add an introduction, body, and conclusion to your two minute talk. At the third level, you begin to pay attention the audience, gesturing, using dramatic pauses, establishing eye contact, and vary your voice. At the fourth level, you mix things up—using slant—a bit to make your talk more interesting (69-71).
Andreii Sedniew’s book, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, is a helpful and interesting book focused on extemporaneous presentations. For people unaccustomed to speaking on short notice on random topics, like myself, this book fills a unique void in the speaking literature. In my case, I must have twenty books on preaching and speaking, but none address the question of improvisational speaking. Seminary students, pastors, business leaders, and politicians may all find this book beneficial.
 @AndriiSedniev, http://www.MagicOfPublicSpeaking.com
Sedniev Teaches Improv to Speakers
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