English Communication Confidence Blog

Tackling Impromptu Communication Skills in English as a Second Language

Mar 29, 2024

Navigating impromptu speaking situations as a non-native English speaker can be overwhelming. Whatever speaking environment you're in, thinking on your feet is a valuable skill that will benefit you for a lifetime. In this blog post, we’ll explore strategies to enhance your ability to communicate boldly and skillfully in English, even when caught off guard.


Tackling Impromptu Communication Skills in English as a Second Language

The Art of Improvised Speech

First, what is improvised speech?

Improvised speech is another way of saying impromptu speech. The main idea is that you won’t have time to prepare your remarks, so you’re speaking on the fly. This usually happens:

  • After presentations during the Q&A.
  • On a call with your manager and/or team.
  • During a customer meeting.
  • And everywhere else where you weren’t asked to speak in advance.

If you’re speaking English as a foreign language, you’ve got additional confidence to build although anyone can get nervous and uncomfortable when they feel unprepared in their communication.

There’s an art to it.

Collins Dictionary refers to art as something that requires skill and that people learn to do by instinct or experience, rather than by learning facts or rules.

Does that sound scary to you?

It doesn’t have to because when it comes to speaking English and doing it well while thinking on your feet, there are strategies and rules you can follow.

So, let’s dive into that now.


What Improv Class Taught Me About Thinking On My Feet

First, what do you do in an improv class?

When you sign up for an improv class it’s either going to be through a comedy club or acting school. There are a lot of opportunities in The U.S. to study improv in your community too—through schools and adult education.

Assuming that you’ll take a beginner’s class, you may be asked to volunteer to get on the stage with another person to act out a scene that the teacher gives you. You’ll be told what role each person on stage will play and the point of action when the scene begins.

But, everything else will be up to you and your scene partner(s).

I want to point out that when you raise your hand to go up on that stage, that is your very first act of improvisation: TRUST.

Let’s look at the list of Improvisation Dos  I’ve put together for you and then I’ll explain how they work in the real world.


Improvisational Rules 


There is no right or wrong response. Your first reaction is always the best one to go with although it’s scary. You have to start the scene somewhere and by choosing what comes to your mind quickly, you get things underway. Improv is not about perfection. It’s about adapting to changing circumstances and trust is key.



Remember to define through action and words the relationship of the characters in the scene. If you’re brother and sister, you can mention “Mom” as a way to help the audience know your relationship. If you’re manager and direct report, you can use your tone of voice to establish who’s in charge. As the scene gets started you rely on trusting one another to develop the characters and point of action.



The person or people who set up the improvisation cannot be negated. What does that mean? It means that a scene will end very quickly if someone starts by saying, “Look at the beautiful stars in the sky,” and the scene partner says, “What stars?! I don’t see any stars.” Do you see how quickly trust gets broken between the players and the scene can’t advance?



When you’re in a scene, there has to be a problem to solve. This generally means that there is a point of tension between the performers. If you don’t feel like there is something at risk when you’re on stage, then you most likely aren’t creating a compelling improv.



Once you understand that you’re solving a problem and/or working to discover something, you’ll need to make a series of choices. Without clarity in those moments, improv doesn't work. This brings us back to trust. Let yourself go with your impulse and turn that impulse into a distinct decision about where the scene is moving.


I’m hoping you’re starting to imagine how these rules show up in the real world. But hang on, we’ve got more to go before I talk about that.



Create something you can believe in and believe in what you create. When you do improv you’re in a heightened state of reality. You have to tap into your sense of play in order to believe in the characters in the relationship, the scene itself, and the point of action you are creating together.



Think about the “talking” in an improv as dialogue. It’s a back and forth and it’s always active. You have to listen intently for you to understand where the scene is moving and then you need to act upon what you believe your character is there to do.  



It’s easy to become self-conscious and get off-track in improvisation. When that happens, use all of your senses to focus and get back in the scene. Again, this is a heightened environment and it’s your job to always stay aware of what is going on around you for it to succeed.



A 97-year-old friend of mine, when asked how she lived so long, once said: “Curiosity, I’m curious!” She always was interested in what the younger generations were creating and doing. The same is true in improv, stay curious about what the others are doing and saying and how the improv could stay exciting.



In improv, you always have to go beyond what is expected in real life. That requires a sufficient level of creativity. Think out of the box, say things that surprise you, call upon your imagination like only a child can do. And have fun!


How Do These Rules Work In Real Life?


We said that there’s no right or wrong responses in improv. In the real world, that may not be exactly true, right? However, trust happens when we feel a little shaky and we do or say something anyway. That’s the feeling you’re looking for when you’re bringing up a tough topic or you’re in the middle of a presentation and things go wrong—trust.

Here’s what you can do: Recognize that you’re not on solid ground, take a breath, and keep going adapting to the changes around you with confidence and trust in yourself. You’ve got this!



When you prepare for a presentation or are going to step into a meeting with senior leaders, you need to know as much about the people you’ll speak with as possible.

Here’s what you can do: Do your homework before you’re in these situations so that you can establish secure relationships during your meet-ups.



No one likes a naysayer. A naysayer is someone who always finds a reason why something won’t work. That is especially true when talking to your manager. They need solutions, not problems.

So, here’s what you can do in this situation: Think about establishing the scene as anything is possible and I’m going to build trust by adding to the conversation rather than taking away from it with negative thoughts.



This ones easier in the real world, isn’t it? There’s so much pressure in the workplace that having a problem to solve happens every day.

Here’s what you should remember: The problem is the risk that will lead to a compelling solution.



Do you ever feel frozen at work, like it’s impossible to make a decision? You’re worried you’ll be imperfect? Let this improv rule, making choices, show you how to make something better one choice at a time.

Here’s a consideration: It’s better to move forward and fail fast than it is to hope for perfection.



Remember when you started your job? The passion and excitement for your future? Sit down and let yourself conjure up those thoughts so that each time you communicate with your peers, you come from an inspiring place of belief. The workplace can feel like a heightened environment and your belief in your ideas and comments will take you far each day.     

Remember this: We get ahead by having conviction.



We’re all guilty of talking over one another from time to time, but if you can think of the word dialogue as your ticket to effective listening, you’re peers and management will look to you as a leader when it comes to collaboration.

Try this: What if, before a meeting, you planned and asked 3 questions to the people in one of your meetings this week?



I’ve taken a different approach to my work this year in that I like to step away from my desk multiple times a day. I put down my devices and I do a quick movement, step outside for fresh air, or do a 10-minute exercise routine. Then, I come back with more attention which helps me succeed in all my interactions.

Here’s what you can try: Choose one of my three focus ideas of choose one that works for you!



Just like my 97-year-old friend who said that CURIOSITY was her way to long life, curiosity will be your way to building rapport with others in your conversations. No one likes it when someone is hogging the floor, so ask questions and be curious about those you are speaking with so you move your projects forward smoothly.

Try this: What’s something you don’t know about a collaborative project and who could you approach to learn more about it?



You don’t have to have an innovation role to be creative. I learned a long time ago that anywhere a problem needs to be solved, we need to think far outside the box so that we can come up with a unique and practical next step.

Consider this: What’s your wildest solution to a problem that you’re facing at work. Who could you safely voice your idea to? Do it!


Some Additional Strategies For Thinking on Your Feet

➔ Stay Calm: Despite the pressure, aim for relaxation. Take deep breaths to calm your nerves.

➔ Positive Affirmations: Mentally repeat affirming messages to boost your confidence. I love Mel Robbins work with The 5 Second Rule. Look her up.

➔ Release Tension: Clench invisible muscles (thighs, biceps, feet) briefly and then release. This physical trick helps alleviate stress.

➔ Avoid Tangents: Answering too soon can lead you off track. Fully grasp the question before formulating your response.

➔ Knowledge Is Key: While you can’t know everything, be reasonably confident in your subject matter. Research and stay informed.


Why Does This All Matter?

✔︎ Real-Life Scenarios: Impromptu situations show up every day. Whether it’s an unexpected question during a job interview, a difficult customer in a business meeting, or a casual conversation with your child, being able to think on your feet using the rules above will ease you through the moment.

✔︎ Confidence Boost: Mastering impromptu speaking boosts your confidence. There’s no better feeling than facing a fear, stepping up to the task, and getting through to the other side successfully. When you do all that, you project competence and credibility.

✔︎ Effective Communication: Impromptu responses ensure that your ideas are heard. You become a persuasive communicator who adapts swiftly to any context and that’s certainly something we’d all like to feel we are skilled at.



Thinking on your feet as a non-native English speaker is an ongoing journey. Take impromptu speech seriously and you’ll see opportunities to refine your speaking skills.

Remember, even native speakers stumble sometimes.

With practice, you’ll become adept at turning unexpected moments into eloquent expressions. So, the next time you’re unsure about your speech, channel your inner improviser and speak confidently—in English or any language!


Remember to subscribe to the blog below and make your comments about impromptu speech below that so you inspire me to keep going 😉


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