The Impromptu Speech

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The Impromptu Speech


The impromptu speech will test your ability to think quickly on your feet. Click here for the list of impromptu topics. Pick three categories that interest you. Study each topic under all three categories by reading an encyclopedia article for each. Don’t get too involved here. I don’t expect you to do heavy research on these; only enough to give you a conversational knowledge of the topic. Volunteer for an impromptu round when you feel ready (or at least willing!) to go.

On the day of your speech you will pick a single card from three decks of your choosing. From the three cards, speak on the one with which you feel most comfortable. If none of them appeals to you, just choose the lesser of evils and run with it! You now have a total of 6 minutes to prepare and deliver the speech. Try splitting your time right down the middle: 3 minutes prep time and 3 minutes for your speech. There is no critique sheet for the impromptu speech, and you have nothing to hand in.

You will be graded on the basis of the following criteria:

  • How well your introduction sets the tone for the speech, establishes your ethos, motivates the speech and provides a clear thesis.
  • How well the body of the speech is organized, and how coherent, clear and focused it is.
  • Whether or not you close with decisiveness and provide unity in the conclusion.
  • Overall criteria are: substance, imagination and speech basics.


  • Have fun!
  • Ensure you (a) do your homework, or (b) have a quick enough wit to come up with something clever, and substantive, "off the cuff."
  • After you draw, use the 5 canons of rhetoric as an action guide to "think quickly on your feet."
  • Decide your angle, develop a simple outline, then immediately focus on stylistic strategizing (develop a running metaphor, analogy, etc.). That is, look for those places in your speech where emphasis is needed, and provide for it.
  • Rehearse at least once, in your mind, focusing on introductory and concluding tactics.