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How to Win Impromptu Speech Competitions: By Past President and National Topics Champion Bill Russell

June 5, 2013

In this post, Bill Russell, twice national champion for impromptu speaking shares his advice on speaking off the cuff.

How can I prepare for an impromptu speech?

Mark Twain once said it takes him 3 weeks to prepare for an impromptu speech.  The reality is that it’s simple the repetition of getting up over and over again that removes the variables, lowers the heart-rate and allows you to find the best solutions to the matter-at-hand.  Look seriously at your life.  As an adult, you’ve probably had to deal with death, serious break-ups, losing jobs, severe illness (to yourself or to a loved one) – all life-changing events.  And you’re worried about looking stupid for not handling a Table Topic?  When looked at against this backdrop, how bad can it be to botch up a Topic?  When you don’t allow the “moment” to control you, you control the moment.

Should you “prepare” stories, quotes and anecdotes for Topics?

NO!!!!!!! It is so obvious that this is fake and forced.  I cringe when I watch someone try to cram a giant foot into Cinderella’s slipper.  The only person that doesn’t seem to know it’s never going to fit is the person with the bleeding foot.  BUT, if you take the time to listen to the question with an open and clear mind, you’ll actually find that your brain will supply you with the answers and stories from that vault of wonderful anecdotes – your life’s memories.  When you get in the habit of doing this you find that every shoe (topic) is a comfortable fit and you’re on your way to the ball!

How do you win Table Topics contests?  

Entering the contests is step one.  Listen to the topic and answer the question given, giving the answer that will work best for that audience.  If you give a “canned” story or quote you will get marked down for it.  If you repeat the entire topic to give yourself “time to think” you will be marked down and lose valuable time that could have been used on your response.  Stick with whatever opinion you initially start with and ride the wave as far as you can.

The biggest fear in the western world has NEVER been public speaking.  We all have known how to speak from our earliest years.  The biggest fear actually is that people will not want to listen.  Trust your abilities, your stories, your emotions and your innate ability to communicate.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  Fear never trying.  Now go forth and multiply!

Bill Russell

Bill started his career in Toastmasters as a Corinthian in 1995.  He was asked if he wanted to participate in Topics at his first meeting as a guest and won the coveted blue ribbon – and was immediately hooked.  Bill was a member from 1995 until 2010 when he moved to South Africa and served as our club President in 1996-1997.  He represented either London Corinthians or our Advanced Toastmasters club, Excalibur, in four District 71 Table Topics Championships winning the gold in 1999 and 2002.  He then “retired” from Topics competitions until moving to Southern Africa’s District 74 where he took 2nd place in the 2011 District 74 Finals – his first foray into competitive Topics in nine years.


Working or living in the LondonVictoria area? Want to know more about becoming a better public speaker? Visit London Corinthians on the 2nd, 4th and 5th Thursdays @ 7.30pm.

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