The Single Best Way to Improve Your Delivery

Delivery naturally improves with practice, so for the first year or two, most debaters don’t need to do much more than show up and talk. But at a certain point, structured delivery practice becomes very helpful.

There are an effectively infinite number of ways to practice delivery, but one stands above the rest: Impromptu Speaking. In this popular event, speakers are given two or three speech topics – quotes, words, nursery rhymes, cartoons, objects, anything – and have two minutes to prepare a five minute speech on the topic they chose.

Two Specific Skills

Impromptu is not about content. In fact, content is so unimportant that some experienced impromptu speakers can’t remember what they talked about minutes after finishing. That’s not to say that impromptu is full of drivel, but rather that coming up with something to say becomes an automatic process. It becomes as effortless and natural as reading from a restaurant menu: you may never have eaten there before, but you know how to pick something you like.

While there are ways to improve your content, profound thoughts in impromptu are rare. Delivery is what separates first place from sixth in a panel. That’s actually a good thing, because the minimal content puts so much pressure on the two things impromptu teaches.

Impromptu teaches essay writing. In two minutes, you’re expected to come up with a thesis and three(ish) supporting points. Essay writing is an essential skill if you want to go to college. Even if you don’t, there’s a lot of potential use in creating structured content that quickly. There is absolutely no better way to learn how to draft an essay than to compete in impromptu.

Impromptu teaches fluency. Want to improve your vocabulary, speak conversationally, and get rid of verbal pauses? Get in the fast lane with impromptu. You’re not operating from a script and are probably not talking about an area of expertise. You’re structuring your speech off occasional time signals. That means you need to scale the length of each point not off how much you have to say, but how much time it’s supposed to fill. Some points need to be simplified; with others, you must go in-depth on the fly.

Other competitively viable limited prep events like extemporaneous are good for delivery and offer other benefits, but when it comes to raw delivery improvement, nothing holds a candle to impromptu.

Where to do Impromptu

Impromptu is supported by NSDA and NCFCA. The NCFL doesn’t offer it, and Stoa USA effectively killed it off a few years ago. Whether or not your league offers impromptu, it is an indispensable component of a well-rounded forensic experience. You absolutely must do impromptu if you want high-level delivery. Because it is impossible to prep for it and the event takes seven minutes start-to-finish, the only reason you shouldn’t be doing impromptu is because you’re maxed out on other events.

If your league offers impromptu, great! Go forth and improve. It doesn’t, there are two work-arounds. Look for NSDA or NCFCA tournaments in your region and see if you’re allowed to compete there. You can probably take your other speech events too, with only minor tweaks. If you can’t attend other league tournaments, do it in-club. Spend time on impromptu, and everything about your delivery will soar.