Impromptu – Practicing (part 3) By: Kaitlyn Butts

“Prepare to be Unprepared:” Practicing Impromptu Every Day

In the world of speech and debate- Interpretative speeches require hours of cutting, blocking, and intensive rehearsal. Platform speeches require brainstorming, editing, memorizing, and regular repetition to keep them stored solidly in your mind. Apologetics requires studying theology and searching for Scriptures. Extemporaneous, at least theoretically, requires surveying the weekly news highlights and becoming familiar with the political mindset of various sources. Impromptu offers the luxurious opportunity to compete in a speech event without doing a lick of work. Wrong. Participating in impromptu offers such an opportunity. The entire point of speech and debate, however, is not mere participation, but visible growth both in character and capability. Mastering impromptu and honing your ability to think on your feet requires rigorous practice. While you can never prepare for a specific impromptu round, you should be perpetually preparing to be unprepared. Practice impromptu every single day.

We live in a world of excuses. I hear these excuses all the time when students are thinking about impromptu, and here is what my response is…

I don’t have topics.

A legitimate concern that surrounds the notion of practicing impromptu is “where will I get topics?” If you’re brand new to the world of competitive speech, your mom hasn’t collected sheets of topics from tournament rounds for you to practice with….yet. There are three broad categories that topics fall into: words, phrases, and quotes. To practice words, open a random word generator webpage (there are several available). Instruct it to provide two words, and deliver your impromptu on one of the results no matter how wacky it may seem. I’ve given speeches on words like hairbrush, brake, and duck. If you’d like to learn the meanings behind commonly used idioms, there are many webpages that offer comprehensive lists. As a gentle warning, not all idioms will be appropriate for impromptu speeches, but a parent can easily print out the list and cut them into topic slips for ready use. My favorite resource for practicing quotes is, a website that provides hundreds of quotes categorized by topic.

I don’t have time.

I used this excuse regularly throughout high school, and in reality, there are many things we don’t have time to invest in. One impromptu speech a day does not make that list. Once you’ve taken the initial step to collect envelopes of topics or identify the websites you’ll use for topics, you only need devote ten minutes a day to this endeavor. In fact, from start to finish, prepping and delivering an impromptu speech takes seven minutes. If you’re worried about forgetting, why don’t you tape a note to your bathroom mirror? In the words of Nike, just do it.

I think it’s boring.

Make it a game! The possibilities are endless, so I’ll leave you with three suggestions that can mix things up and target specific challenges. These are perfect ideas for the competitors who perhaps already are practicing…

1. Time Management: Plan your impromptu speech and decide how much time you’re going to spend on your introduction, each point, and your conclusion. Sticking strictly to a 30 second introduction, 2 minute first point, 1 minute second point, 30 second third point, and 1 minute conclusion is far more difficult than it sounds, even for the most experienced speaker.

2. Devil’s Advocate: The first time I played this game with my sisters, we were rolling with laughter. Do you think you can deliver a speech on a random word without saying anything you believe in? This exercise demands that you address your topic with three such points. Sharpen your processing skills and amuse your friends with outlandish claims about forests, vacations, pirates, fashion, etc. The more light-hearted the topics are, the more fun you’ll have.

3. No Prep: Take your impromptu preparation to the next level by glancing at your topic and beginning immediately. If you can train yourself to remain calm and make words fall out of your mouth without any preparation time, you’ll suddenly revel in the length of two full minutes. I used this drill up until my very last tournament in the NCFCA.

It won’t make that big of a difference.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As I mentioned earlier, practicing impromptu is the simplest way to see improvement in all areas of your delivery. Slowly but surely you’ll find yourself eliminating verbal fillers. Your hand gestures will become more natural and your breathing more relaxed. The practice you put in at home in front of your bathroom mirror will allow you to persuade your audience with cohesive insight and an impenetrable level of poise. If you care deeply about concrete proof, I ask you to consider that I regularly took all first or second place ballots in impromptu preliminary rounds after two seasons of daily practice during the academic year.

Secondly, to hearken back to some support outlined in the second article, life is all about being unprepared. Challenging questions about theology, job interviews, family reunions, and debate rounds alike place individuals in important situations that they can never fully prepare for. The only preparation you can take into these circumstances are the skills you have developed at home by consistently incorporating practice into your lifestyle. You may be rewarded for your diligence with a host of trophies, but the lessons you learn will benefit you for the rest of your life. I find this perspective to be the most beautiful aspect of competing in speech and debate.

Impromptu intimidation can be a phrase from the past.

By the way, since “impromptu intimidation” is a phrase, why don’t you make that your first practice topic!

Kaitlyn competed in speech and debate for six years in all of the Limited Prep and Platform events. Highlights of her career included ten top-10 finishes at the NCFCA National Championship, including a win in Apologetics in 2016 and Biographical Narrative in 2017. She was delighted to receive the title of 2017 National Sweepstakes Champion. Kaitlyn will be pursuing a double major in Piano Performance and Communications at Grove City College this fall. She hopes to continue speaking competitively and pursue her passion for the art of communication through coaching. She loves to help students craft their Platform speeches with beautiful rhetoric and polish their Limited Prep delivery through a range of persuasion techniques. Kaitlyn is one of our Lasting Impact! coaches, scheduling coaching sessions now!

photo by : Hannah Seymour