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Alright, enough said about strategy and prep work, “let’s get down to the nitty gritty” (Nacho Libre). In this article, we are going to be examining basic techniques for how you can optimize your practice time for impromptu. Practice? Yes, you heard me correct. If you truly desire to get the most out of impromptu, the next step in your journey is to begin practicing. Granted, there are probably people out there who have earned podium finishes in impromptu without actually practicing it but it is of my opinion that they did not earn that ranking without some type of effort. 

As you look through these drills and begin using them, it is useful to note that most of these drills are best done with a partner. First, because they often make the setup of the drill easier and second, because they can provide first-hand feedback to your speech. 

This main part of practicing impromptu is the use of drills. While there are likely many various drills that you can use to improve your skills, the first one that I want to focus on is… 

  1. Pre-selected topic 

In this drill, you will not have the option to select a topic like you normally would in a competition round. Instead, your practice partner will randomly select a topic for you to speak on and give it to you. After that, you will proceed normally with an impromptu speech. The value of this drill is that it forces you to make do with topics that you may not understand or may be challenging. This is important because it improves your ability to analyze difficult topics and to become more familiar with various strategies and approaches to topics, especially if you are not comfortable with them. An additional reason to use this drill is because it helps you become more confident in your creative abilities. If you have talked to a beginner impromptu speaker, one of their greatest fears is that they will receive a topic that they won’t know what to do with. This drill will help you overcome that fear through trial and error. 

  1. Rehearsing stories 

This drill is plain and simple. Spend some time looking through your impromptu notebook and practicing the various stories that you have recorded. Practice them in front of a partner who can help you by analyzing things like your word economy, your use of voice inflection, your social cues, your physical movements. Keep practicing the stories until you know how to present them in the most effective way possible. Besides perfecting your ability to present the various stories in your notebook, this drill is valuable because it ensures that you are familiar with all of the stories within your notebook. If you are not consistently reviewing the stories that you have collected, then you will likely find yourself only using one or two examples that do not fit your topics. 

  1. The multi-purpose story 

Within your impromptu notebook, you will likely end up with some extremely solid stories. Some of which seem to be applicable to a wide range of topics because of their complexities. For example, the biography of Louie Zamporini was one of my favorite stories to use in competition because his life had so many incredibly interesting moments that seemed to apply to almost any topic that I drew. With this drill, you will identify one or two of those stories within your notebook and practice applying them to a variety of topics. Your impromptu partner can pull up a range of topics with a wide variety of content and formatting and start reading them off to you. As they read them off, you will analyze the topic and attempt to find a decent and usable connection between your multi-purpose story and the topic. This drill is valuable because it builds up your familiarity with your stories, reduces the amount of stories that you need to be familiar with, and improves your topic analysis skills. 

  1. 90-60-30 

If you have seen it once, you have seen it a thousand times. I absolutely love this drill. It is incredibly effective at improving word economy and at analyzing your ability to identify a concept and elaborate on it.  To use this drill, you will select some part of your speech like a story, an introduction, a key point, etc. and you will practice it until you can articulate it in 90 seconds, 60 seconds, and then 30 seconds. This drill is sometimes the most useful when you have already given a speech and are working to improve certain areas of the speech. If your impromptu partner or coach has already given you decent feedback on how you could improve the speech that you just gave, this drill is often the best next step to implementing those pieces of advice. Essentially, you will identify one comment or challenge to the speech that they identified and practice it in a 90 second time window until they see the improvement that they were looking for. Then you will repeat it in the 60 second time window, and finally the 30 second time window. This is a valuable drill because of the way that it clearly allows you to visualize what progress looks like for you. 

  1. Repeat the speech

This drill is fairly straightforward. After you have received feedback from the people critiquing your speech, you will go and repeat it while aiming specifically to improve on the primary points that your impromptu partner or coach identified. In order to maximize the effectiveness of this drill, it is important for you to intentionally identify one or two areas of your speech that could be improved upon as well as specific things that you can say and do to see that improvement happen. 

  1. Time blocking

The final drill worth discussing is called time blocking. In this form of practicing, you will decide how to allocate your time before your speech begins and challenge yourself to stick with that time schedule. If you find yourself exceeding the time boundaries by more than 5-10 seconds, then you should go back and redo that section of your speech. The value of this drill is that it improves your time management skills and ability to speak concisely. 

Here is an example of how you could organize the time blocking of your speech: 

1 minute – Introduction 

1 minute – First point 

1 minute – Second point 

1 minute – Third point 

1 minute – Conclusion

Alright! Now that you have both the knowledge and practice, its time to go and become a champion!

Jala Boyer has earned numerous 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place medals and competed at the NCFCA National Championship in five categories. As an intern on the Student Advisory Council of the NCFCA, Jala worked alongside the executive director, Kim Cromer, to learn the inner workings of competitive speech and debate, helping students create long-term and meaningful success. Jala is currently an Honors student at Liberty University studying communications with an emphasis in politics. To book a coaching session with Jala, follow this link https://www.ethosdebate.com/ coaching/book-coach/ 

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