Impromptu Drills

These are all drills that I have seen help my speech and debate club, not just for learning impromptu, but for any kind of limited prep speaking, including debate. The level of the drill isn’t to indicate how hard it is, but what kind of skills it helps with.

Drills for Everyone


Speak on the same impromptu topic twice in a row. Take two minutes of prep before your second speech.

Variation: if you’re short on time, just take prep for your second speech but don’t actually give it.

Helps with: analyzing what went wrong with an impromptu, and building confidence. I use it whenever I give a really bad impromptu in practice, because I want to be more prepared if I get something like that topic in competition. Plus, it’s always encouraging to end practice on a good note.

Um count

There are many variations of this drill, but basically you give a speech and ask someone else to count how many filler words you used. You can also try to speak for as long as you can without saying a filler word. More interesting variations can be found in this ethos article.

Helps with: noticing and eliminating your filler words.

Hand signals

Find someone to help you with this drill. The point is for someone to give you feedback as you speak. Before you start your impromptu, establish some hand signals with your helper. They can mean things like “talk louder”, “less movement”, or “more passion”. As you give your speech, your helper will show you the hand signals. Let’s say I have a problem with mumbling. Whenever I start to mumble during my speech, my mom taps her mouth to tell me I need to speak more clearly. This is similar to the dynamics drill, but reversed.

Helps with: whatever you need help with. Personalize this drill to address your weaknesses.

No prep

Draw a topic, read it, and start talking. You don’t need a fancy intro or a clear roadmap, but your speech should develop as you go along.

Helps with: thinking on your feet/ reducing dependence on prep. If you give a speech with no prep, two minutes feels almost long :)

I pulled this drill from this acepeak article. You can see their other impromptu drills at the link.

Acepeak blog: 6 advanced impromptu drills

Beginner Drills

Three stories

Pick three diverse stories from your impromptu notebook and write them on a sticky note. Pick a random topic, and bring the sticky note with you during prep. You must use at least one of the three stories in your speech. If you want to stretch yourself, you can try doing this same drill with one story.

Helps with: thinking of stories during prep time. This drill forces you to creatively adapt your stories to fit different topics. Sometimes the key to using more stories is not having more stories, but knowing how to use the few that you have.

Counting down

Decide on a goal for how long you want to speak. A good measure is to do one minute longer than you usually speak (so if most of your impromptus are around two minutes, set your goal at three). Prep as usual, but instead of setting a stopwatch, set a timer for your goal time counting down. You are not allowed to end your speech until this timer rings. You are allowed to pause for as long as you want to think of what to say next. This might mean you speak for two minutes, think for forty seconds, then give an amazing conclusion.

Helps with: speaking longer. The skill of impromptu speaking is to think on your feet, and keep going even when you don’t really know where you are going. Speaking when you don’t have anything to say is not usually the best strategy for competition, but in practice it can teach you to stretch yourself.

Advanced Drills

Time management

Divide your speech into five sections: intro, three points, and conclusion. Choose an arbitrary time for each section. You must keep speaking in a section until time expires, at which point you move on even if you’re mid-sentence. For example, I decide to speak for one minute in each section of my speech. When my one minute timer rings, I’m not done with my intro, but I have to move on to my first point.

Helps with: time management/ being concise/ balancing each point. If you often go over time or have to rush your conclusion, this drill will force you to even out your speech and stick to a time limit.

I pulled this drill from this acepeak article. You can see their other impromptu drills by clicking the link.

Acepeak blog: 6 advanced impromptu drills

Odd topics

Choose a weird, random topic you would never get in competition. Examples: kittens, beige, Christmas lights, cream soda. The challenge is to make your speech persuasive, impactful, or even emotional. The easiest way to do this is by using an analogy. (What does chapstick teach us about life?)

This list has some odd topics

Helps with: impact and emotion. There are some topics you will get in competition that are hard to make impactful without using analogies. If you can make one of these topics impactful, you can do it with anything.

I pulled this drill from this acepeak article. You can see their other impromptu drills by clicking the link.

Acepeak blog: 6 advanced impromptu drills


You need a helper for this drill. Start by picking a dynamic you need to work on, (for example, volume, speed, passion, articulation, or pitch). Let’s say I choose speed. I begin my impromptu at my normal pace, and my mom holds up a certain number of fingers for how fast she wants me to go (1 being so slow it’s awkward, and 10 being the pace of an auctioneer). Throughout my speech, she will increase or decrease by one the fingers she is holding up, forcing me to vary my speed from incredibly fast to boringly slow.

Helps with: developing a more varied, entertaining speaking style.

I pulled this drill from this Acepeak article. Click the link for further explanation.

Acepeak blog: warming up for a tournament? Try this drill