Impromptu Speech Tips

Revised 15 May 2005

To begin, there are some key points to remember when developing your impromptu speech for the Academic Decathlon competition. First and foremost, it is imperative to choose very quickly from the three topics you are given. This will leave you with a maximum amount of time to develop and outline your speech. Look for a topc that you obviously have more knowledge about in general terms. It may be faster to eliminate one (or even two) topic(s) more quickly than to choose one topic, so keep that in mind. Even if you don't know much about any of the topics, if there are two that you either know nothing about or don't understand, you know that you have to take the third by default.

The next step is to brainstorm on your chosen topic. Write quickly but LEGIBLY! If you run out of time, the paper you brainstormed on will become your outline. As always, work quickly but calmly. Writing your brainstorm ideas down as concisely and orderly as possible will help relieve stress.

Once you have come up with a sufficient number of ideas, stop brainstorming! It is better to take time to organize and contemplate the thoughts you have than to try to think of new ideas. When you have stopped brainstorming go back over your list of thoughts and try to find natural groupings for different thoughts. (Examples will follow). If sufficiently important for your speech, these groupings will be the main points of your speech. Keeping groups together in your speech is important as it will maintain the flow and structure of the speech. It also helps you as the speaker to remain calm, because your thoughts will flow more easily if you have grouped your ideas correctly. It is almost always best not to have similar thoughts scattered throughout a speech. The exception to this is using a single thread-topic to bind together different aspects of your speech. The other exception is if you were doing a speech on entropy or randomness. :}

If there is time to cover more than one group, be sure to order the groups such that they flow into each other. Here is an example of some possible grouping on a speech about jet engines. One is better than the other (in my opinion). Which one?

First subject Second subject Third subject
Purpose of jet engines Design of jet engines Important figures in jet engine design
Important figures in jet engine design Purpose of jet engines Design of jet engines

I feel that the first of the above examples would be the best, and here is my reasoning . . . . Your topic is not engineers, it is jet engines. You may think that it is important to talk about the people involved in jet engine research, and you would be absolutely correct to do so. Remember though, that you have a limited amount of time to deliver your speech. You don't want to get the "time's up" signal while you are only halfway through the jet engine design portion of your speech because you spent too long talking about a bunch of engineers!

Odds are, you won't have time to rewrite your ideas into an outline, so number your groups so that you can more easily keep track of the optimal flow of the speech. As a personal preference, even if I did have time to rewrite an outline, I would choose to go through the speech in my head rather than spend the time writing. Here, do whatever you are comfortable with. Just remember that when you are rewriting your outline, you may not actually be thinking about your topic out of nervousness. You may just be hurredly re-scribling your ideas. Do whatever best helps you think about your topic.

Now you are ready to go to the next step. Click here to go to an example impromptu speech. It will walk you through all of the steps I took in making the speech.