Speaking Impromptu

Impromptu or Short Notice speeches are seen by most novice speakers as the most frightening of any exercises they could be assigned.

Usually you will have some warning but occasionally you may be asked to give a “Sudden Death” performance. Impromptu speeches need not be feared if you remember a few simple points:

  • Impromptu speeches are often short in duration. Don’t feel obliged to fill in the time. Say what you have to say, then sit down. (The exception to this rule is that if you are speaking competitively, you will lose points for being more than 30 seconds out either way in your timing.)
  • If it is a sudden death impromptu speech, walk slowly to the dais. This will give you valuable seconds to collect your thoughts. Pause and survey your audience before commencing.
  • The structure of an impromptu speech is the same as that of any other speech. It should have –
    • An opening that makes your audience want to listen
    • A body in which you develop your topic
    • A conclusion where you summarise your speech or leave your audience with a message.
  • You should stick with one central idea and a few main points as time will not permit proper development of more.
  • Always have a plan or structure to follow – e.g. Past, Present, Future.
  • You need to think on your feet, so slow your delivery slightly to allow yourself extra time to crystallise ideas or build on points you have already made.
  • Keep it simple. Use short sentences and don’t be afraid of pausing. This will eliminate any tendency to “Um” or “Er.”
  • Your notes can be no more than a list of ideas.
  • Keep the title of your speech in mind. Try to encapsulate your speech by using the topic in your conclusion.
  • As you have no time to research your topic, try to draw on personal experience or general knowledge.
  • Your content may not be as interesting due to your lack of opportunity to research the topic. Your delivery is therefore very important if you are to “sell” your speech. Pay extra attention to vocal variation and colour. Put rise and fall into your voice.
  • Keep smiling. If you behave in a relaxed manner you will feel relaxed and any nerves will be dissipated.

Choosing a plan of attack for delivering an Impromptu Speech

When you are given an impromptu speech title it is important for you to decide how you will develop your speech. This will ensure that your speech has a firm foundation. Without such a foundation your speech is likely to lack structure. It is likely to appear disjointed and become merely a list of ideas or facts which will convey little meaning to your audience, hence limiting their interest.

Listed below are a few “Plans” you can consider as a basis for your next impromptu speech:

  • Past, Present and Future
    e.g. Sea Transport – Talk about its evolution – sailing boat to steam to nuclear-powered vessels.
  • Yes, No
    e.g. Euthanasia – The speaker argues the topic from a yes and a no viewpoint and then explains why one particular side of the argument has more appeal.
  • What, Which, Who
    e.g. Buying a computer – What sort should I buy? Which brand should I purchase? Who should I buy it from?
  • Local, National, International
    e.g. Soccer – Show the differences in the game at the 3 levels.
  • Other plans that can be used include
    Tracing a topic over a period of time
    Social – Political – Economic
    Varied opinions based on gender, nationality, occupation or any other criteria.

A good plan can add a little magic to your impromptu speech.

Reproduced from the Rostrum publication “Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures.” Vol. 1 – a collection of 30 handouts by Ron Johnson.

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