Impromptu Speech


Students have a total of five minutes to select a topic and brainstorm thoughts, organize/outline points, and deliver a speech. The speech is given without notes and should include an attention-getting introduction, body, and conclusion. The speech can be comedic or serious. Prompts are provided to festivals by the State Office, and include proverbs, objects, abstract words, events, quotations, and famous people.

How Festivals May Offer Impromptu

  1. Individual festivals may volunteer to hold exhibition rounds of Impromptu. These will not count toward advancement from one festival level to the next, nor will students be eligible to earn awards. Therefore, students may enter Impromptu in addition to their regular WHSFA category. Interested festival managers should:
    1. Complete this online form if they’re interested in offering an Impromptu Speech pilot, so the state office can provide topics
    2. Collect registrations from coaches at schools participating in their festival
    3. Obtain a number of note cards equal to the number of students participating, and the number of rounds the festival can feasibly run
    4. Recruit additional adjudicators from among participating schools, or use spare/unassigned adjudicators if there are extras (we cannot emphasize enough how important it will be to have extra adjudicators for this)
    5. Set aside a few classrooms in which to run Impromptu rounds
    6. Photocopy topic slips and put them in envelopes for each room/grouping and round
    7. Since this is a pilot, the state office will not provide copies of evaluation sheets, however, festival managers can download the PDF of the rules/evaluation sheet, and make copies at their school.
  2. There are a few different ways Impromptu might be offered at festivals. Festival managers should plan on no more than 9 or 10 contestants participating per round time block, as that can give the adjudicator fatigue.
    1. If the festival is short on classrooms and spare adjudicators, a single classroom could be set aside for the day, and students could drop in — once — during the festival to try it out. To make this work, contestants — if entered in a main WHSFA category — would need to request to present in their main category early, and then ask to be excused to participate in the Impromptu pilot. They should wait outside the Impromptu room door until invited in by the adjudicator.
    2. If there is a lot of interest, the festival should consider adding additional rooms and adjudicators; otherwise, it should limit the number of participants to two (or the first “x” registered, depending on how many schools enter) per school.
    3. As a variation of option “a,” if interest is minimal, contestants could be allowed to return each round, to try speaking on different topics. Festival managers should exercise care in determining available rooms and adjudicators, and how much participation could be allowed without disrupting the main festival with this pilot.
  3. Adjudicators participating in the pilot should be given copies of evaluation sheets (with rules on the reverse side), prompts to be used in the round, note cards, and master ballots to record which students participated (we will be asking festival managers to report on participation numbers afterwards).
  4. The state office also would like to collect data from participants and adjudicators about the pilot, through surveys. Please share this flyer with them.

How Impromptu Rounds Work

  1. Students will wait outside the contest room until they are called in by the adjudicator (after students have participated during any given round, they may remain in the room to observe other contestants).
  2. When a contestant enters the room, s/he should deposit personal items (i.e., bag/back pack), and only keep a writing utensil and a timing device (which may be a cell phone, which the adjudicator may ask to verify usage to ensure the contestant is not using prepared notes). The contestant should then approach the adjudicator.
  3. The adjudicator will ask the contestant to draw three topic slips from an envelope, select one and return the others (the adjudicator should also instruct the student to not write on the selected slip, since it will be returned to the envelope for future contestants).  The student may, however, keep the slip during her/his speech.
  4. The adjudicator then begins timing. The contestant may sit (or remain standing) to brainstorm and prepare. If the student does not bring a timing device, the adjudicator can give oral time signals during the preparation period to indicate how much time has been used (this is often done by saying, “30 seconds have elapsed,” “one minute has elapsed,” “one minute, 30 seconds have elapsed,” and so on). Once the student begins speaking, oral time signals should cease, and the adjudicator may offer countdown signals by holding a number of fingers indicating how much time remains (or a curved/arched hand to indicate 30 seconds remaining).  How students divide the five minutes into preparation time and speaking is up to them, but subject to critique by the adjudicator (if the student spends too much time preparing, and gives an insufficiently developed response to the prompt, or if the student spends hardly any time preparing, but gives a disorganized speech and/or rambles; those are examples of when an adjudicator may offer some constructive criticism).
  5. When the student finishes, the adjudicator should make note on the evaluation sheet of total time used for preparation and speaking together, collect the topic slip and return it to the envelope, and finish writing comments as soon as possible before calling the next contestant into the room.

Advice to Students

The five minutes available to prepare and speak are each student’s to divide how they see fit. This could involve brainstorming and outlining ideas for two minutes, then speaking for three; or brainstorming and outlining for one minute and speaking for four minutes. There is no minimum time required for brainstorming and no minimum time for speaking. Therefore, the student should work to develop the best possible structure and reasoning in as short amount of time as possible. Sometimes contestants think it’s more impressive to speak longer, but if the ideas aren’t clear or well developed, it can diminish overall performance. On the other hand, an over-prepared yet short speech denies a student adequate time to present all of her/his ideas.

An Impromptu speech follows a basic structure in which a student presents an introduction, body, and conclusion. Similar to other public speaking events, the introduction should provide adequate context for what is to come in the speech. If a student has illustrated an example, recited the chosen prompt, and provided a thesis statement, s/he has given a solid introduction. The most common approach to the body of a speech is to explore two or three topic areas in greater depth. For example, if a student’s thesis focuses on overcoming obstacles, s/he would likely introduce two effective ways to do so and use examples to illustrate these. The student will conclude by reiterating the prompt, thesis, and summarizing the points.

The most effective Impromptu speeches are well organized, and draw on a number of types of examples (from literature, history, current events, entertainment, pop culture, etc.) to engage the adjudicator and/or audience in a meaningful way.

Sample Prompts

  • “Men are like steel. When they lose their temper, they lose their worth.” -Chuck Norris (Actor)
  • Balcony (object)
  • Positivity (abstract word)
  • “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” (Chinese proverb)
  • Birthday (event)
  • Abraham Lincoln (famous person)