Obviously preparing for limited preparation events is different than preparing for other events.  While it would be possible to prepare and possibly even memorize generic impromptu speeches that could be force fit to a topic for the round that is not the intent of the event and it is a bastardization of what this activity seeks to accomplish.  As a coach I do not want students doing this and I know that it happens and know of at least two instances in which students were disqualified from competition because they were doing it.  This is often referred to as "running canned speeches".


A good impromptu speaker has a large pool of exemplars from which to draw in rounds.  I believe that every student has a pool of knowledge from which they may draw supporting materials for impromptu speeches.  Some of the more common areas are listed below.





Classical Literature


Current Events

War /Military

Social Movements



  Popular Culture



Activist Groups  


Television Shows


This is by no means an exhaustive list but it does give you ideas about what kinds of information you might already have that could be used in an impromptu round.  One of the most popular examples I have seen used in the last few years is Lance Armstrong.  His perseverance in his battle with brain, lung and testicular cancer is nothing short of heroic.  The message(s) he sends through his example of tenacity is a versatile example that can be used to make many points.  After National Treasure with Nicolas Cage became a box office hit we saw several impromptuers using Thomas Jefferson's attempt to perfect the electric light bulb as an example.  Examples to support your claims are all around you, take the time to identify some of them and think about the kinds of claims you would be able to support with the examples you have.


In the same way that some contend that there are a limited number of types of stories in the world (the buddy story, the coming of age story, the fish out of water story, etc.) there are those who contend that there are only so many interpretations of the quotations we usually see in impromptu rounds.  Take a handful of average impromptu quotations and see how many of them don't fall under one of the following general headings.  













These tend to be common threads in impromptu quotations in the same way that writers find common themes in literary works and movies.  These, and general areas like these, can serve as a lens for analysis of impromptu topics.   That is not to say that you should look at a quotation and say "this is about perception, here is my speech on perception."  But rather if you have given thought to how our perceptions shape our worlds you have a lens through which to analyze the topic you have been given.  If for example you know that "social constructivists" believe that we co-create a reality through our words you would be able to talk about how the language of the quotation you have been given inherently denotes a particular value system.   On a more basic level if you have thought about your perspective on "change" and how we resist and fear change and thought of some examples of how people have resisted change even when it was better for them to embrace change (or conversely thought about times when people tried to change things for the sake of change).

  Try it with some of these sample quotations.


If things go wrong, don't go with them. 
Roger Babson

Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. 
Booker T. Washington

What's done to children, they will do to society. 
Karl Menninger  

In life, you can never do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Organizational Patterns for Impromptu Speaking

If there is one aspect of impromptu speaking that can be well thought out before the tournament begins it is your method of organization. Many impromptu speakers will pick one organizational pattern that they really like and stick with it in every round.  While that might work, I think having the option of drawing on a variety of organizational patterns will allow you to make better speeches that are more tailored to the topic in the round.  Let's run through a few of the more common organizational patterns.


A Basic Three-Point Analysis

This is a common organizational pattern and one the beginning speakers find particularly easy to use. The three points form an inductive argument that the speaker claims is indicative of the general body or reasoning and examples out there.  For example, if the quotation you receive in the round is "If at first you don't succeed, try try again."  You could use Thomas Jefferson and the Light bulb, Abe Lincoln's running for political office and the Fulton's attempts to build a steam engine.  Using these examples you could support the claim made in the quotation (that if you fail you should keep trying).  But it is not as conclusive as we would like to believe. There are countless examples of people trying to accomplish things that simply can not be done and they should have given up.  For example, the Flat Earth Society believes, and tries to prove the Earth is really flat, legislation is proposed every few years that seeks to split North and South Dakota into three or more states, GW Bush was reelected.  A three point argument could be considered a hasty generalization and because of that some judges don't consider it to be as strong as some other organizational formats.  But I would contend that there is no organizational format that is immune to fallacies of some type.  

The key component of a three point speech is the quality of the examples.  Start thinking of your examples as your supporting material for your claims.


The Two-Point "Problem-Solution"

  The quotation for the round is viewed as an argument or claim by it's author. The the speaker analyzes the claim as a problem seeking a solution.   For example, if the quotation is "If things go wrong, don't go with them." by Roger Babson .  The speaker could argue that Babson is saying that as a society we too often allow ourselves to believe that we are the victims of circumstance.  In the Problem point of the speech the speaker could talk about how we shift blame and seek scapegoats.  As examples the speaker could say we shift blame when people sue McDonalds for making them fat or try to sue cigarette companies even though the boxes are clearly labeled.  When we talk about seeking scapegoat we can look at how, after the Columbine school shooting we tried to blame everything from video games to music for the actions of the boys involved.  When people have problems in there lives they often blame it on the way they were raised. Those four examples are more than enough to support the claim that there is a problem in taking responsibility.  Then the speaker (in the second main point) offers possible solutions.  It might start with taking responsibility.  Admit that we are responsible for our weight gain and that guns don't kill people people kill people.  But more to the point for most Americans, we are unhappy with our political system but barely half of us vote and less than 1% run for any kind of political office.


The "Mini-Crit"

This approach uses the claim made in the quotation as a framework for the analysis.  In short you say "This is what the author is telling us we should do.  Here are a couple of instances in which we could apply this approach and this is likely to be the result."    If the quotation is "Honesty is the best policy" then you could say "if that were true we would be able to see this on a national and interpersonal level.  On a national level let us suppose that our government knew that an asteroid were hurdling toward the earth and we would all die within three weeks.  Following this paradigm the government would tell us.  But what would the likely result of knowing we were all going to die be?  Mass hysteria, panic, fear, etc. In our interpersonal relationships we quite often tell small lies to make people feel better.  if you have ever watched a novice poetry round you know what I mean.  Judges find some small aspect of an otherwise horrible performance and address it as if it were a significant accomplishment that the competitor should be proud of (good voice for example).  Then the throed point is the conclusions we can draw from this analysis.  in this case we can see that honesty is not the best policy."


In a nutshell your first main point shows how the quotation is true (i.e. supporting the thesis of the quotation) then shows how the opposite of the quotation is false (i.e. showing the anti-thesis is wrong) and finally, telling us what we can take away from this analysis.   I find this organizational pattern particularly helpful when you are given a trite quotation .  For example, "Successful people rise to meet the challenges they face"  No kidding!  Sure we can come up with hundreds of examples to back that.  But the antithesis  is that unsuccessful people don't rise to meet their challenges.  That is simply not true.  Many people have risen to a challenge only to fail.   Perhaps the most well known would be the battle of the Alamo.  They rose to meet the challenge but failed just the same.  Then the third main point becomes one  of synthesis.  We have seen that the claim is true but the opposite of the claim is not true, so what can we take from it.  Well on a very base level success is a result not an effort.  To be successful is not so much about meeting challenges as it is about successfully completing tasks.

Accept No Substitutes