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Interview with Rylan Schaeffer about Impromptu Speaking and Judging

On July 5, 2011, on behalf of Rate Speeches, Nura Kawa conducted an interview with Rylan Schaeffer, high-school TOC champion in the Tournament of Champions (TOC) 2011, third-place finalist in National Forensics League (NFL) in Congressional Debate 2011 and 2010, third-place finalist in California State Congress 2009, and second-place finalist in CHSSA States 2011 in Impromptu Speaking.  The interview was about effective impromptu speaking judge feedback comments and impromptu speaking techniques.

 

Nura:

When reading judges' feedback, what are the most effective comments that help you improve?

Rylan:

I don't entirely understand this question. Judges write the comments, not competitors. We have no control over what we receive on our ballots. Comments, by themselves, don't help anyone improve. It's how we, the competitors, use the feedback given to us. I think a much better question to ask is "How do you as a competitor use judging feedback to improve?"

Nura:

What is the best way to organize an impromptu speech?

Rylan:

I would never claim to know the "best way" to organize an impromptu speech. I approached my speeches the way that I learned from Jon Favreau, who said that his approach is to "Tell a story. That's the most important part of every speech, more than any given line. Does it tell a story from beginning to end?"

Nura:

What is the best method of planning an impromptu speech?

Rylan:

Once again, I can only speak to how I planned my speeches, as I would never claim that I know the "best" method. My time breakdown is relatively simple: 10 seconds to choose the topic, 20 seconds to choose my theme, 50 seconds to choose my introduction, 30 seconds to plan my points, 10 seconds to practice.

Nura:

In what ways can a person improve his ability to speak on the spot?

Rylan:

Practice. Going into the State tournament, my coach brought an envelope of hundreds of topics; whenever I had a spare seven minutes, I'd draw one and give a speech. Discipline also helps. I never wanted to practice, but having such a demanding adult forcing me to focus really helped me in the long run.

Nura:

What is the most effective way to practice for impromptu speaking?

Rylan:

Continuing from above, I found the most effective strategy for improving was to redo speeches, focusing on a specific aspect each time. For example, after giving a speech, I'd do it again, focusing on my word economy. Then I'd do it a third time, focusing on delivering my supporting evidence clearly, but making sure I didn't slip on my speaking efficiency. Many impromptu competitors don't practice this way, as they feel that repetition destroys the inherent spontaneity of impromptu, but this is wrong for obvious reasons.