If you have ever seen a track and field competition, you would know that people can compete in a number of events. Some competitors train and run very long distances, others will compete in throwing events like shot putt and discus. Another group may be doing high jump or pole vaulting. Forensics tournaments function in the exact same way. There are platform speeches like persuasion and informative, interpretive events like poetry and drama, and there are limited preparation events. One of these limited preparation events is called impromptu, and it is one of the more intimidating events offered to students. Understanding some fundamentals about impromptu can make this event seem far less daunting. The purpose of this lesson is to cover some basic information about impromptu speeches. First, we will learn about typical expectations of impromptu speeches. Second, how to prepare an introduction, third and finally, some research techniques to develop.

Just like a sprinter, impromputers are expected to be fast on their feet. But there are 3 specific things you should be aware of when doing impromptu. First, topic selection. In many events, competitors are able to pick their topic. This is not the case for Impromptu speeches. The topic will be given to the student. In competitions, a judge will give a sliver of paper with quotations on it. But topics can also come in the form of single words, objects, or even images.

Second, time restrictions and expectations. Impromptu is formally categorized as a Limited Preparation Event, commonly referred to as limited prep. Competitors have very small amounts of time to prepare their speech before delivery. In platform and interpretation events, competitors will be able to practice their exact speech many times before going to a tournament, but impromptuers have exactly seven minutes from the moment they receive the topic to prepare and deliver a speech on that topic. The speaker will not know their subject matter until a couple of minutes before they are expected to speak. In fact, the expectation in competition is that it should take about 1 minute, but not take longer than 2. The judge is expected to verbally notify competitors of time every 30 seconds until they stand to speak. Then, the judge is expected to deliver nonverbal hand signals every minute to the speaker. You don’t want the speech itself to be less than 5 minutes. Speeches are organized the same way as is explained in the organization lesson, so any less than 5 minutes doesn’t give you much time to transition through different sections of your speech. Main points are supposed to be discussed for equal amounts of time. Good time allocation is considered to be a sign of a good impromptu speech.

Third, delivery. Despite the unique topic and time restrictions that define this event, speakers are still expected to deliver the speech with fluency, and nonverbal control. There are several full lessons regarding delivery, but here is a brief overview of some delivery expectations. Speakers should have strong eye contact, be relatively free of stumbles and verbal fillers, use walking during transitions, have deliberate hand gestures, and include vocal variety.

So how do you start an impromptu speech once you have contemplated for 1 or 2 minutes?Introductions for impromptus are very similar to other speeches. All good speeches start with an interesting hook, or attention getter. For an impromptu speech, it is customary to keep the environment light, yet still poignant. Referencing a current event, a public figure, or pop culture easily achieves this goal. It’s always good if you can elicit a smile from your audience.

Immediately after getting the topic, a competitor is expected to interpret the main idea that they are going talk about. Spend a little extra of your prep time putting the main idea into a clear concise sentence, at most two or three. The interpretation should be easy to refer back to many times during your speech. This may seem tricky at first, but after a little bit of practice, the interpretation is actually an impromptu speakers best friend. The next part of the introduction is where the speaker provides their own perspective on the interpreted topic. This is useful because the speaker as a lot of freedom to offer their own opinion about they think is good or bad, right or wrong with the topic.

Just like performing well in a track and field competition, success doesn’t happen without practice. Limited preparation is a bit of a misnomer. There are some strategies to prepare for an impromptu speech. One of the more prominent techniques develop files on broad categories of topics, and then research information about people and things that fit those categories. Nearly all quotations can be broken into one of only a few categories once a competitor starts performing impromptu speeches. Some examples of categories could be Perseverance, Love, Faith, Greed, Failure, Change, and Family. The point is have categories that cover as many topics as possible so it is easy to recall interesting and profound information that you spent time researching.

Once a category is decided, think of an example and make a file for yourself describing information about examples that represent the category. Fill enough of these files with the critical information and you begin to develop a library. If I were to create a category of Greed, I would fill the folder with specific information about Bernie Madoff, the famous corporate thief, Montgomery Burns, the great maniacal character from the Simpsons, and Martin Shkreli, the dude who bought a pharmaceutical company then hiked up the price from $13 to $750 a pill. A word of caution, do not use super famous common examples with information we know about. One part of a good or great speech is that the examples are both interesting and provide people with new information.

I have a lot of new impromptu competitors come up to me and ask, “How do I discover examples?” The best examples for you are all around you and when you see or hear them, its is very important you write them down. If you watch TV or read books, characters can be great examples. Any hobbies you may have often will have faces or celebrities you may know a lot about. Political figures, scandals, and campaigns. Finally, pay attention in your classes. There are some great people and ideas in those subjects. Imagine that, using the information from a class for something other than passing a test. Amazing.

In this lesson we have discussed impromptu expectations, introductions, and finally research methods. We have demonstrated how to prepare and perform impromptu speeches and for forensics tournaments. Like sprinters, limited prep events are forced to act fast and deliver smoothly to succeed. This may seem intimidating at first, but know that is can be done with a good strategy and a bit of work ethic.