Strategies: Impromptu Speaking Structures

limited prep speech techniques Jan 01, 2021

Strategies: Impromptu Speaking Structures

  • Impromptu Speaking is one of my favorite Speech and Debate categories. It demands critical thinking, quick decision making, and creative idea-mapping. The real-world skills it develops extend from classrooms to board rooms to social interactions.
  •  While there are some well-known techniques that most participants quickly learn (fill your five minutes by giving an introduction, three points, and a conclusion; speak dynamically, confidently, and fluency; physically move between your major points to hold your audience’s attention), other key differentiators aren’t so obvious.
  • As a result, many young Impromptuers are frustrated by their lack of consistency. On the other hand, some competitors are too consistent: they memorize three examples and give the same points, regardless of how loosely those ideas connect to their prompt. I’m here to suggest three new ways of structuring your speeches to broaden your approach and expand your perspective on this category.
  • #1: LENSES
    • Tired of hearing about Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and some other young adult novel every round? Switch it up by diversifying the mediums of your three examples!
    • HOW TO ROADMAP: “We’ll see how this applies across three different lenses: first, history. Second, literature. Finally, psychology.”
    • A GOOD WEBSITE TO RESEARCH: Look at TV Tropes, a website which shows how various cliches can be found in all sorts of media.
  • #2: SCALE
    • Are you told that your examples all ‘feel the same?’ That may be because you’re referencing people who all accomplished similar things. How many speeches have you heard about three determined folks who were able to invent something great, despite the world saying ‘no’? Change it around by referencing the scale of the examples!
    • HOW TO ROADMAP: “We’ll see how this applies on three different levels: first, the individual level. Second, the interpersonal level. Finally, the institutional level.”
    • A GOOD WEBSITE TO RESEARCH: Look at Listverse, which publishes top 10 lists. Look towards their SCIENCE -> HUMANS section to find ‘individual’ examples, their GENERAL KNOWLEDGE -> HISTORY section to find ‘interpersonal’ examples, and their SOCIETY section to find ‘institutional’ examples.
  • #3: ARGUMENTS
    • A great Impromptu is a lot like Original Oratory: there’s a clear beginning section, an easy-to-follow structure, body paragraphs, and a powerful conclusion. What separates Original Oratory from Informative is the element of persuasion. Too many Impromptus have unpersuasive theses. You’ve heard so many speeches just ‘talk about’ the topic instead of establishing a lesson or moral. This structure ensures that you’re standing up for a point of view, not just throwing out disconnected ideas.
    • HOW TO ROADMAP: Your thesis needs to establish that there’s a societal problem. For instance, you might interpret ‘connection’ to mean that there is a lack of connection. “First, we’ll see why so many of us are disconnected. Second, we’ll analyze the harms of a disconnected world. Finally, we’ll seek a solution.” (Cause, effect, solution.)
    • A GOOD WEBSITE TO RESEARCH: Go to the National Public Radio (NPR) website and listen to the podcast Hidden Brain. This podcast is structured similarly to an Oratory/argumentative Impromptu: it gives causes (philosophical, sociological, or scientific reasons a problem exists), effects (examples of how the problem is bad), and solutions (how we can fix this crisis).
  • If you want to try out these structures, think about the most recent Impromptu you gave. Regive it three times, sticking to the same prompt but altering the speech’s structure. See what feels the most interesting. Keep it fresh, fun, and forward-thinking! Good luck with your Impromptu adventure.
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