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Impromptu speaking is a speech and debate individual event that involves a five- to eight-minute speech with a characteristically short preparation time of one to seven minutes. The speaker is most commonly provided with their topic in the form of a quotation, but the topic may also be presented as an object, proverb, one-word abstract, or one of the many alternative possibilities. While specific rules and norms vary with the organization and level of competition, the speeches tend to follow basic speech format, and cover topics that are both humorous and profound.
Collegiate Impromptu Speaking
impromptu speaking is an Individual Event offered and regulated by both the National Forensics Association and the American Forensics Association, both of whom follow nearly identical formats in proctoring the event. Both organizations provide seven minutes of time to be allocated between speaking and preparation as the speaker sees fit, allow minimal notes (usually a 3"x5" index card) to be used, and provide undisclosed prompts to determine the speech's topic.
While the competitor's success and ranking is ultimately determined by the judge's decision, there are several general criteria that many competitors and judges adhere to:
- Experienced speakers are generally expected to avoid exceeding two minutes of preparation time, with some speakers preferring to use only one minute or less.
- The speaker is to create an interpretation of the prompt and use it to establish an argument/thesis that the speech will support.
- The speaker is heavily encouraged to use examples (e.g. historical events) in the 'body' of their speech to support their argument.
- Advanced speakers often use theories in conjunction with examples that illustrate them.
- As with any competitive speech, the speaker is expected to offer a clear and defined structure in their speech.
- Competitors are advised to avoid giving pre-prepared, or 'canned', impromptu speeches.
Neither the AFA nor NFA regulate specific speech formats to be used by competitors, however there are two formats that are predominantly used:
Two point format:
I. Introduction (Attention getter, interpretation of prompt, argument/thesis) II. First main point A. Supporting example B. Supporting example III. Second main point A. Supporting example B. Supporting example IV. Conclusion
Three point format:
I. Introduction II. First main point A. Supporting example III. Second main point A. Supporting example IV. Third main point A. Supporting example V. Conclusion
In 2008, the National Forensics Association officially introduced a new form of impromptu for competition. In this event students are given a short editorial (ideally 3 to 5 paragraphs) to which they will develop a response. Students will be allowed nine minutes to divide between preparation and speech time. Speakers must speak for at least five minutes. Limited notes, prepared in the round, are permitted. Editorial Impromptu represents an attempt to return “impromptu” to impromptu speaking. The speech should involve the development of an argument in response to the thesis developed or opinion shared in a given editorial.
High School Competitions
Typically in high school speech competitions, a competitor is given 30 seconds to select a topic from a set of topics (usually three). The competitor will then have 5 minutes to compose a speech of five minutes with a 30-second grace period. There is a general outline for impromptu speeches, it is as follows:
- 1. Introduction/Roadmap(1 minute)
- 2. First section(1 minute)
- 3. Second section(1 minute)
- 4. Third section(1 minute)
- 5. Conclusion(1 minute)
The introduction begins with an attention-getter, the statement of the topic and an outline of the speech. The conclusion is usually like the introduction except backwards, ending with a profound statement, although a lighthearted ending is also accepted. For the three body points, there are many kinds of formats that can be used. For example, if the topic is a quote, a competitor may go over how the quote is true, how the quote is false, and why he or she believes what he or she believes. Other examples are: past, present, future; local, national, international. More advanced speakers will use formats that look deeper into a subject such as: physical, moral, intellectual; books, video, digital (media.)
However, many speakers choose not to follow a format at all. That being said, most beginners who fail to follow a solid format often find themselves lost in a jumble of ideas.
Judging usually involves one judge in the preliminary round, one to three judges in the semi-finals/qualifying round, and a panel of three judges in the finals round. Judges look for overall coherency, impact, and confidence, and usually overlook basal errors due to the short preparation time.
Past Champions in Impromptu Speaking
Past AFA Champions
- 2017: Lily Nellans (Western Kentucky University)
- 2016: Nathan Leys (George Mason University)
- 2015: James Qian (Arizona State University)
- 2014: Andrew Neylon (Ball State University)
- 2013: Harrison Postler (University of Northern Iowa)
Past NFA Champions
- 2017: Kohinoor Gill (Arizona State University)
- 2016: Jerome Gregory (Bradley University)
- 2015: Paige Settles (Western Kentucky University)
Past NSDA Champions
- 2016: Jacob Womack (Aberdeen Central HS, SD)
- 2015: Josh Mansfield (Highland HS, ID)
- 2014: Michael Everett (Chaminade College Prep, CA)
- 2013: Alexander Buckley (Downers North Grove HS, IL)
- 2012: Matt Rauen (Pennsbury HS, VA)
- 2011: Alex Daniel (Dobson HS, AZ)
- 2010: Adam Conner (Loyola- Blakefield HS, MD)
- "San Diego Christian College Event Descriptions".
- "AFA-NIET Event Descriptions" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-21.
- "NFA Rules for Individual Events". Archived from the original on 2013-12-19.
- "Pi Kappa Delta Impromptu Event Description" (PDF).
- "Gustavus Adolphus College Forensics – Impromptu Speaking".
- "NFA Editorial Impromptu Rules".