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The impromptu speech

In the impromptu section of the Plain English Speaking Award students are asked to prepare a short speech in four minutes, immediately prior to delivering the speech. In life, it is common to be asked to speak ‘off the cuff’ with little or no preparation time. This is therefore excellent practice for such situations.

Length of impromptu speech

In the school and state heats the length of the impromptu speech should be no longer than 3 minutes. A warning bell sounds at 2 minutes and a final bell at 3 minutes. Adjudicators will allow you to finish a sentence if it requires going over the final bell.

Topic of impromptu speech

The topic will be set by the VCAA for Victorian state heats, semifinals and state finals.

You will have 4 minutes to prepare the impromptu speech after sighting the topic.

Important notice: Printed materials and pre-written notes are not allowed to be taken into the preparation room (e.g. dictionaries or notes on palm cards), although you can use writing material (pen and paper) to plan your response. 

Mobile phones are not permitted in the preparation room either.

The set topic will be broad and will assume knowledge of current social and political issues. A broad general knowledge is an advantage as it enables speakers to quickly recognise the context of the topic and draw on relevant references at short notice.

Impromptu speech topics should be familiar ground for all speakers. They should be open-ended and allow for a range of interpretations.

Some examples of past impromptu speeches

  • The best things in life cost
  • Home is where the heart is
  • The power of one
  • Make my day

Constructing the impromptu speech

Although the impromptu speech can not be prepared prior to the day it is delivered because the topic is unknown, it is definitely possible for you to speak ‘off the cuff’ with confidence. Having a plan or structure can minimise the fear associated with impromptu speaking.

Hints on how to approach the impromptu

As soon as the topic is sighted, brainstorm ideas/responses on paper. Three or four headings should be sufficient.

Starting with one concrete point, extend your response to include two or more related points. For example:

  • personal response, wider arena (e.g. school or family), even wider arena (Australia or the world) OR
  • three separate responses/reactions to the topic, preferably signposted at the start of the speech OR
  • make a point, state your reason for believing in it, give an example to illustrate your belief and also draw a conclusion at the end of the speech.

Draw on life’s experiences and knowledge and try to discuss the topic in broad terms. It is preferable to move beyond your personal response and refer to world or local events/issues.

Open with a definite statement or turn the topic into a rhetorical question followed by a comment that gives some indication of what is to follow.

Close on a decisive note.

Try not to repeat the issues discussed in your prepared speech.

Prepare your palm cards with headings and key words/phrases which can be recalled at a glance when you are speaking.

Awareness of current events/issues/personalities is crucial to performing well in the impromptu. Read the newspaper and watch or listen to the news in the media – particularly on the day of the Plain English Speaking Award final.

Delivering the impromptu speech

The impromptu speech is intended to reveal your ability to develop a point of view on a general topic and to organise a three-minute presentation within a limited preparation time (4 minutes).

Adjudicators look for clarity of thought, structure (see Constructing the impromptu speech) and the effective use of plain spoken English.

The guidelines provided under the Delivering the prepared speech and Using Plain English sections of the Prepared speech  apply to the impromptu as well.

It is common to experience anxiety during the delivery of the impromptu speech. If this happens and you freeze, it is advisable to pause and take a deep breath (from the diaphragm) in order to gather thoughts before speaking again.

Avoid repetition, unless it is intended. You can avoid repetition if you have prepared three main headings as suggested in Constructing the impromptu speech as these enable you to make new points.