How to take the risks out of ad-libbing

Ad-libbing is one of the trickiest challenges for a speaker and presenter. Many people try it… few do it well. Most of those who come over to audiences as polished ad-libbers (like the late Steve Jobs in our picture) have a little secret – they spend a lot of time rehearsing those casual ‘ad-libs’. 

I love this quote by Winston Churchill about speakers who ad-lib. 

Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said.”

Truth is, we’ve all been asked at one point or another, to ‘just say a few words’ without time to prepare; or we’ve been cornered by the boss in an elevator and asked ‘how’s that project going’. So we have to ad-lib in such moments. 

These moments are opportunities to shine. And you do that through your ab-libbing skills. You can come across as a knowledgeable speaker, an expert in your topic. Or you can prove the truth of Winston Churchill’s theory.

The truth about ad-libbing is that it can help you – if you follow some simple steps:


If you can, ask for a few moment to prepare. It might be difficult if you’re cornered in that elevator, so always have a point or two in your head in case this happens. And that’s about all the preparation you need – just one, two or maybe three points to talk about.


Don’t use long rambling sentence or big meaty words. They encourage you to be long-winded. Make your points as simply and boldly as you can. Just a few short sentences about each point will do. Your whole presentation should be between 1 and 5 minutes long. 


Use Podium’s TalkitOut Technique to prepare. In your preparation time, talk each sentence out loud a few times. Jot down a couple of key words if necessary. Make sure the first thing you say, the first sentence out of your mouth, is a strong hook to draw the listeners in. Don’t be shy; raise the stakes as high as you can without exaggerating. 


If you can, rehearse a few times using your notes. Then rehearse without notes and get up and deliver. Or keep the presentation alive in your head until that moment your boss waylays you. Then seize your moment to shine.