How to Improve as an Impromptu Speaker

Image courtesy of Thrive Global

By Aadit Jain (‘23)

As a sophomore in high school, I decided to participate on my school’s forensics team to improve my public speaking skills. Forensics is an extracurricular activity that features different speaking categories, ranging from informative to storytelling. Though I initially joined the club wanting to be an orator, I was chosen to perform in a limited prep category: impromptu. Impromptu speakers are given one minute to prepare and then must deliver a five minute speech/analysis on the given prompt, which is usually a quote or a resolution. They are not allowed to perform any pre-written material. Needless to say, this was much different than what I initially thought I would be doing. 

At the time, I was baffled on impromptu speaking. I mean, how could I give a speech without knowing what I was going to say beforehand? I was so used to giving pre-written speeches in the past that delivering a formal speech on the spot felt so bizarre. But with lots of practice, I learned how to become an effective impromptu speaker. Now, speaking on the spot is difficult, and so I wrote this article to give you tips on how to improve based on my experience. These skills can not only be applied to speech competitions, but they will also be useful in debates, interviews, etc. 

Here is how you can perfect your impromptu speaking: 

Know How to Organize Your Speech

Think of your impromptu speech like an essay; you have an introduction, your main points follow, and then you end with a conclusion. Have a general structure and organization in mind by the end of your preparation time, so you can communicate your ideas effectively when speaking. Remember, proper organization is a critical element of a good impromptu speech!

Speak slightly slower than you normally would

During informal conversations, we often speak rather quickly, which can leave our thoughts scattered. Speaking slightly slower, on the other hand, can allow you to formulate your thoughts and deliver them in an organized manner. Not only that, but it can also allow you to speak more clearly. One thing I realized over time is that because I was so focused on what to say next, I was not enunciating my words as clearly as I wanted to during my impromptu speech. Speaking  slower helped me deliver an organized speech that was easily understood.  

Feel free to pause in between sentences

First, you want to avoid filling silence with words such as “um” or “uh,” since they make you seem less confident. However, it is completely okay to pause for a second in between sentences, so you can gather your thoughts. In my opinion, it is better to take a second to formulate your upcoming ideas rather than delivering an unorganized speech. Furthermore, adding pauses at the right time can actually make your speech more interesting. Make sure, though, that you do not pause too often as doing so may make you look unorganized.

Use gestures to further communicate your point

Using gestures can effectively convey your point to the audience. What I have learned over the past few months, however, is that it is important to know when to use gestures. Make sure your hand movements have a purpose, and remember not to repeat the same gestures over and over again. When used properly, gestures can have a positive impact on the audience. 

Understand that it is okay to make mistakes and be confident!

The biggest fear I had with impromptu was that I was going to misspeak or even worse, I was going to just stand there not knowing what to say at all. But what I have learned over the last competitions is that everyone makes mistakes. Those who are more confident, however, can quickly recover and give an excellent speech. So remember, confidence is key to delivering a great impromptu speech (or any speech)!

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