Building an Impromptu Speech

November 7, 2012 | | Comments Off on Building an Impromptu Speech

A colleague recently asked me how I incorporate the impromptu speech into my course. This is a great question.

I make it a Week 2 assignment because I focus the energy on understanding the formatting of a speech. Knowing that students won’t be able to draw from sources, the speeches will typically be very thin. So, I get them to work on seeing the structure of a speech and put it together quickly.

Here’s how it works:

How to Develop an Impromptu Speech

I get students to decide if Topic X is important or not, and develop two “reasons,” making sure they are pithy (e.g. tastes great, less filling). Then I get them to follow the format as prescribed below (and please note that the topic is about as silly as it gets to prove a point):


  • Attention getter – “Are raisins important?”
  • Introduce topic – “Believe it or not, raisins are very important for two reasons…”
  • Preview main points – “Tonight, we’ll look at taste and health to show how raisins are important.”


  • Transition – “First, let’s look at taste.”
  • Point #1 – “Um, they are very tasty. In a world of bitter vegetables, it’s nice to have something sweet. I give you the raisin.”
  • Transition – “Next let’s look at health.”
  • Point # 2 – “Raisins are very healthy, full of antioxidants, according to what I vaguely remember reading about somewhere.”


  • Summary – “In conclusion, we’ve looked at the raisin and found that taste and health are what drive the importance of this very special treat.”
  • Next steps – “So, the next time you want a great tasting, healthful snack, pick up a box of raisins!”

Is this a good speech: not even close! As you can see, there are no sources beyond the dim memory of what the speaker read or heard once upon a time (Considering the impromptu nature, this is forgivable as a class exercise, but if you are a content expert– and you’d better be if you ever plan to give a “real” impromptu speech– then this shows a complete disregard for the needs of an audience (i.e. sources).

Though the speech lacks any real substance, the formatting is good (not perfect, as there are plenty of other considerations, to which this site, my class, and my book have been dedicated to explaining), and given time to develop a better thesis, the speech would naturally improve. Understanding the structure will help students/speakers improve tremendously. I’ve found that most things in life are easier to understand if you can start with some basic guiding principles.

An Imperfect System

The biggest challenge comes when a student thinks that this is as far as he need go when developing a speech. But, there will always be that group of individuals who seek to do the absolute minimum.

As discouraging as that may be, the majority of students tend to get that this is an exercise in understanding how a speech is built.

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