Impromptu Speech

The skill of speaking clearly and concisely with a short preparation is very useful. It’s not as hard as you might think if you practice and follow few basic principles.

Impromptu speech

Impromptu speech is a short speech. The typical length of the speech is between 3 to 6 minutes. It is focused around two main points. The important thing is the preparation - it’s very short and if you are a skilled speaker you can do it from the top of your head.

You can use impromptu speech almost everywhere - during an interview.

“… I think I should be a great fit for your company and this is the reason number one and this is the reason number two …“.

And then you provide a support for your main points. Also, you can use it when you have to deliver a project and you are late.

“… The project couldn’t be delivered because of this and this … these are the reason to support my first point and these are the ones for the second …”

Lot’s of real life situations could be handled much better with a skill of impromptu speech. It relies on quick thinking, sound argumentation, strategic word choice and engaging delivery.

The basic structure of the simple impromptu speech looks like this.

  • Introduction
  • Point 1
    • Support
    • Support
  • Point 2
    • Support
    • Support
  • Conclusion

This simple model gets easily into your memory and we’ll take a closer look at this structure a bit later.

Canons of Rhetoric

If you are not familiar with the canons of rhetoric read the introduction to public speaking. There is five of them - invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. The impromptu speech focuses mostly on three.

During invention you find out your two main points. Main points supports your thesis and it should be obvious how they support it. Support is the evidence for your main points. It convinces your audience that your main points are correct.

Arrangement is about the preview of the speech. It provides a smooth transition between your main points. The internal structure of the speech is built in this phase and the result must be clear and effective.

The speech needs to be delivered with a confidence. An effective and appropriate projection helps the delivery. The way of pausing and phrasing is very important for putting the right accent on key things you want to share with the audience. Also, your gestures and motion support greatly your main ideas.

Outlining and Flowing

The impromptu speech has an hierarchical structure. Creating this structure is called outlining. It helps you with memorization of important parts of your speech - not the whole speech, just the structure.

When creating a new speech you can follow the rule of three P

  • plan,
  • practice,
  • prepare.

Flowing is taking notes from the speech in an outline format. It highlights where the argument is strong and where is weak.

The key of the good speech is having the same notes from flowing as a presenter has from his outlining. You can use flowing for practice when listening to your favorite speakers.

Elements of Argument

The argument is based on three solid parts. The most important part is a claim. The claim is an assertion you want your audience to take as valid. It’s the key thing you want to communicate.

The second part of the argument is support. It is an evidence and information to demonstrate your claim is right and valid.

The third part is the link between claim and support. It is called a warrant and it ties the previous two together. It helps you to focus a chunk of talk to deliver a claim.

How to Invent Main Points

Idea invention

The important question is how create those claims. You have a thesis that you want to talk about. The first thing you have to do is to decide your position on the thesis. Do you agree or disagree with a statement?

As a second step think about why do you think the thesis is (in)valid. Mumble those reasons to yourself. Don’t write them to the paper. People tends to stick with the first reason that is written even though it is not a good one.

There are several methods how to find your two main points (claims). They have to work together well. First thing you can do is a simple division. Just divide the topic in two parts.

Another method is to create short term vs. long term claims. What impact the thesis have in the near and in the distant future. You can use the claims based on increase and decrease. Creation of the main points based on past and future is also a popular solution. You can focus on the cause and the effect. This one is a classic.

Arrangement

As the impromptu speech has just two main points the arrangement is pretty simple. You present the first one and than the other one. Not much to worry about. The important thing are the main points themselves. The relation between them and the thesis and the relation between each other. It is described by following terms

  • subordination,
  • coordination,
  • discreteness.

The subordination means that main points supports the thesis. They drive the thesis forward. Also, we should be able to reconstruct the thesis from those main points (from bottom to top). Therefore, they shouldn’t be too broad or general - this is one of the common mistakes.

The coordination is about working the main points well together.

Finally the discreteness is about overlapping. Each main point has to focus on the different part of the subject. Overlapping is another common mistake when creating an impromptu speech.

Phrasing

The main points has to be concise and memorable. You should have good claims that works together, does not overlap themselves and are related to the topic. The next thing to work on is phrasing.

Phrasing helps you deliver the main points in a clear way to the audience. How you can achieve such thing? Try using

  • short sentences,
  • active voice,
  • more vivid verbs.

Don’t use a passive voice.

Ball was kicked by the boy x The boy kicked the ball.

Go with the second, active, one.

Developing Evidence

The last part of the successful impromptu speech is delivering the evidence to support your claim. You show the audience what experience and knowledge do you have to reason about the thesis.

You can relate to the past. Provide an example that already happened. If you provide and argument that is hypothetical it should by plausible. Also, if the argument is not hypothetical it has to be easily verifiable.

Don’t just make things up. You will lose your credibility!

This article is based on Introduction to Public Speaking - a great online course from University of Washington by Matt McGarrity. If you are interested in the topic I strongly recommend you to sign up for the classes.


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