The Top Ten Don’ts

Impromptu is one of the more straightforward categories (nuances of skill aside), but one of the toughest to gain improvement. Because it is so fast paced, there are some paralyzing mistakes a speaker can make if not careful. In order to be an effective speaker in this event, here is a list of the top ten mistakes to avoid.

1. Do NOT Panic – many Impromptu competitors make the mistake of panicking. They panic while they are choosing a topic, while they are prepping, and even while they are speaking. This is a very difficult event, but remember that everyone feels the same stress and is in the same situation. No one has it easier. Choose a topic that elicits the most confidence. Do this and that speech should place highly in a the round.

2. Do NOT Stammer – whether a novice or varsity, having to repeat words or phrases always sounds worse than looking confused or using run-on sentences. It is an obvious mistake. Regardless of if the judge is watching or writing, he/she can easily hear this loss of control. Try to relax when speaking and attempt to talk continuously. If a point has to be reiterated to cover blankness, do it. Otherwise, do not stop talking to take time to think. There only five minutes and every moment must be used to get the point developed.

3. Do NOT Use Sources – this is a technique that some Impromptu competitors use to try and stand out. Because there are no sources used in the prep room, it is expected that they will not be used in a speech. However, from time to time, it is okay to quote something notable. Just do not quote a major publication like this is Extemporaneous Speaking to impress the judge. This will backfire because the judge will assume it was made it up or an exaggeration at the very least. Judges are very aware that there are only five minutes to prepare. Go overboard with “sources” and it will trigger an alert in the mind of the judge and could hurt rank.

4. Do NOT Lie – when competitors get nervous, they tend to make stupid mistakes. One of these would by lying. If ever stuck, think. Do not make things up. Some competitors fabricate facts and sources to try and add flare to their speech. This will backfire for two reasons. First of all, if the round is won, what is the satisfaction in knowing that it was a jaded win? Secondly, a speaker that is caught lying will not only get tossed from the tournament, but will earn a poor reputation for themselves and their school which can take years to reverse. Do not lie. Ultimately, this is only a round of Impromptu and not worth tarnishing a reputation for.

5. Do NOT Be Weird – Impromptu is a category to be creative. Yet, shocking the judge with something embarrassing or outlandish is inappropriate. Anything from swearing to screaming has been done in rounds. Why? This does nothing but lower the speech and a competitor’s credibility. Feel free to be creative, but do not try to make an impression by looking uninspired and reliant on shock. There is no benefit.

6. Do NOT Request Odd Time Signals – this is Impromptu. Time signals from four minutes down to zero are unnecessary. It is a five minute speech. First of all, if that many signals are given, the amount of time focusing on the content is lowered in order to focus on signals. Secondly, this practice could annoy the judge because then time to critique and listen is shifted instead to watching a stopwatch. Besides, less critiques means less insight for speaker improvement.

7. Do NOT Avoid the Room – This has been confessed by competitors. They took a few extra moments before they walked in the room. This is cheating because everyone is supposed to have five minutes to prepare their speech. Be fair to fellow competitors and do whatever it takes to uphold the integrity of the event.

8. Do NOT Peak at the Topics – this is yet another case of where honesty is needed. When drawing a topic never look into the bag. Pick three and then look at them. If the judge in the room catches a competitor sneaking looks, they will be thrown out of the tournament. Once again, is cheating worth the loss of reputation?

9. Do NOT Be Bland – this event offers the opportunity to use humor. Do not try to be too deep or philosophical. Yes, offer merit and thought, but refrain from avoiding a light, less formal manner. All it takes is catching the judge off guard once and first place might be possible. Plus, Impromptu speeches are expected to have a more humorous tone.

10. Do NOT Watch Other Competitors – sometimes in a given round the first speaker will stay behind and watch the other competitors. This is rude, and worse, gives an unfair advantage. To begin with, this can really distract a performer because they know that those watching are comparing performances. Therefore, a speaker’s mind drifts to thinking about the audience’s thoughts and away from their speech. Also, this is not fair because the other competitors did not have the same luxury of watching the first few speeches. In general, watching others’ rounds adds pressure to their performance with the added variable of an audience; a variable they did not have a choice of. Be courteous in a round. Deliver the speech, show respect to the judge by thanking them, walk out of the room, and be done.

Everyone has their own style and approach to Impromptu Speaking. Finding a method that works is what matters. However, if a competitor is able to avoid the Top Ten Don’ts of Impromptu, then the chances of success increase. And providing oneself with as much control possible to win a round is a competitive edge any speaker should attempt.