Impromptu: Blind-sided By A Topic

Impromptu topics can derive from anything.  Topics can be names, proverbs, quotes, news items, random words, lyrics, rhetorical questions/situations, or whatever else can be conceived.  Impromptu is an endless event in terms of what speakers may be required to talk about during a round.  Thus, from an outsider or novice's point-of-view Impromptu can be slightly intimidating at best.  Dreading what to say is almost as frightening as wondering what happens when you are speechless.  The question arises, what does happen when a topic leaves you flabbergasted?

  • Remain calm.  Allowing yourself to panic is one of the worst things to do.  Try to keep cool and think about a solution.  Focusing your brain power on negatives will only waste time, cause you to lose composure, and inform your audience you are lost.  Thus, by spazzing from the moment you receive a topic you may have already forfeited a rank even when you do recover.
  • Be clever.  It does happen that Impromptu topics are given the speaker is clueless of, yet they think of something to talk about.  This is speech!  Find some words.  If you know little about the topic take what you do know and expand it into a full speech.  Speak what you know.  Even if you are unsure your definition of something is totally accurate, Impromptu welcomes perspective.  This is yours, so deliver.  However, if you know NOTHING about the topic you can always do the tried and true Impromptu re-direct.  Basically, you have an intro where you admit to not knowing the topic and give a speech on overcoming uncertainty, or something similar.  You could also admit to not knowing the topic and talk about something you do know.  True, you are hardly on topic, and this is not necessarily original, but it is funny and gets you active in the round.
  • It's practice.  Even if you do the re-direct you are still in real competition performing.  This is excellent practice!  Most judges will still write comments about your speaking skills, how your organization was, and whether or not you kept your calm under pressure.  Treat this blunder as you would any competition, and you can receive some good advice on your speaking.  Sell your faux speech.  You can even try new tactics in this round, see how the judge reacts, and learn if you should implement them regularly.  Plus, overcoming fears of bombing and not knowing a topic will make you a stronger performer--if you can survive that you're golden.
  • You are eligible.  Even if you are off topic because you do not know it, choosing to compete still leaves you in the round.  Normally, this could lead to an automatic 6th rank.  However, if another Impromptu speaker is floundering over a topic you could out-speak them to 5th.  Every little point matters!  Your team will thank you.  You might thank yourself if by freak ballot ranks you broke after one "botched" round and two stellar ones.  It's rare, but it does occur. 

Therefore, before you sit down speechless think of what you can say and deliver it with conviction.  It might not be the most profound Impromptu, or the most on-task one, but at least you tried.  Impromptu is a gamble because you never know when a topic you know nothing about will ambush you.  But that's the risk.  When you trade hours of piece tweaking and practice for two minutes prep you risk being blind-sided.  But it is your task to blind-side that unknown back and talk your way into the Impromptu round.