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  • Talon Stradley

S1E5 - Two Minutes

Shauhin: Impromptu at the very highest level, when Impromptu is good, it is hard to find anything better.

Talon: Hi, my name is Talon Stradley and this is Soapboxers, a fly-on-the-wall podcast about speech and debate. I used to competed on the Orange Coast College team and now I’m back after 2 years to document the speech and debate experience and bring it to you. Today, we take a look at limited preparation and what it takes to write a speech in as little as two minutes. This is Soapboxers.

Talon: Well, here we are! Diving into our fifth episode. You’ve learned about speech and debate, Orange Coast College, oral interp, and platform speaking. I figure it’s about time I finally give you the history of my involvement in the OCC speech and debate team. Just like Shauhin and Sean Connor, I started in the theater department. I actually chose Orange Coast College specifically because of their theater program. Throughout my first couple years, I was a full blown theater kid. I performed in plays, wrote and directed with our student repertory, and even stage managed a faculty show. In 2016, I took my first class with Shauhin Davari.

Stefan: Yeah, Shaw’s class. The one he taught to kids who weren’t in speech but it was about speech.

Talon: That’s Stefan, he was one of the returning competitors when I joined the team.

Stefan: Ay, yo, my name is Stefan Salazar. Is there a camera?

Talon: No, it’s just all audio.

Stefan: Tripping! You look official!

Talon: I met Stefan, not on the team, but in this Reader’s Theater class. It was essentially a whole class built around Oral Interpretation. Both Stefan and Shauhin tried to recruit me to the forensics team but between my involvement in theater and an outside service organization, I just didn’t have the time. I took the Reader’s Theater class to fill a GE requirement, but was told it wouldn’t work after I finished. I needed to take a public speaking class. So I took one, with Shauhin.

Talon: Yup. And once again I had a great time and once again Shauhin tried to recruit me to the team. It almost worked, I actually attended the first meeting, but then I got elected to a leadership position in that service organization and all my free time went flying out the window. I thought that was it, I was planning to transfer that year. But then…my mom pointed out something. I was only a few classes away from earning another degree. If I stayed on campus one more year and took a few classes, I could walk away with an extra degree. So, I did! I stayed, took the one class I needed, and because of the lower course load, I finally had the time to join the team.

In Fall of 2018, I officially joined the Orange Coast College speech and debate team. The first event that I was assigned was a shorter event that I had never heard of before. It was Impromptu, one of the limited prep events. Today, we’re talking about limited prep! One of my all time favorite speech and debate events.

So what is limited preparation?

Shauhin: Limited prep is exactly what it sounds like, which is you get a limited amount of time to prepare your speech.

Talon: Yeah, essentially you are given some kind of prompt by the judge, you spend a certain amount of time preparing your speech, and then you deliver it. The kinds of prompts, amount of time you have, and expectations of the speech are all dependent on what limited prep event you are running. To help guide us through it all is coach Hannah Haghihat.

Hannah: Alright. Hey everyone, I am very excited. We’re going to talk all about Limited Preparation events today.

Talon: Hannah was the first coach I worked with on the team, developing that first limited prep event.

Hannah: There are two events we’re going to break down. One is called Impromptu speaking and one is called extemporaneous speaking.

Talon: First, we’re gonna talk about Impromptu. That’s the event I competed in. In Impromptu, you have seven minutes to write and perform a speech based around a topic that is provided to you.

Hannah: Typically we advise that you spend a minute and thirty seconds to two minutes of that time preparing.

Talon: That’s kind of the standard range but as you get to higher level tournaments, some competitors will prep their speech in as little as thirty seconds. The less time they spend preparing, the more time they can be talking and the more impressive it looks to the judges. If you need to go longer than two minutes, that’s ok too! You have the whole seven minutes to prep and present to the best of your ability. Technically speaking, you could prep for six minutes and only give a minute long speech if you wanted to, though you probably wouldn’t do very well at that point.

Hannah: These aren’t hard and fast rules. As you’re getting started, it might take you a little bit longer than two minutes. That’s ok. The goal is seven minutes total, a minute thirty to two minutes of prep within that seven minutes.

Talon: As long as you don’t go over that seven minutes, you’re good! And don’t worry, judges of these events give special hand signals throughout the speech to make sure you’re aware of how much time you have available. So, that’s the timing of it. What about the topics?

Hannah: You will be handed a slip of paper that you can use while speaking. You can bring it up with you.

Talon: On this slip of paper are, typically, three quotations. You know, the kind of quotes you might see on a poster in the library, such as “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” By Mark Twain. Some of them are from figures from history, some might be modern pop culture figures, some might even be anonymous. Sometimes it might be three quotes from the same person, other times it might be completely scattered. Sometimes, it’s not even a quotation at all.

Hannah: But what’s cool is it’s not always quotations. Sometimes it's tweets, sometimes it's a meme. Sometimes it’s an object. Sometimes it could be a horoscope. It could be a variety of things, but typically it is a quotation.

Talon: One minor note is that, in Impromptu, we always refer to them as Quotations and not Quotes. It’s not a huge deal, but it is one of those specific traditions that speech and debate tends to have and judges might mark you down if you don’t follow it. So, you’ve got your slip paper, you open it, and you’ve picked your prompt. The next step is interpreting the prompt. This is essentially boiling down the quotation to a simple and digestible take that you can build your speech around. For the Mark Twain quote above, I might interpret that as “We must look for patterns in our past.”

Hannah: Interpretation, this is the most important part of your speech. Tell us what the quotation means to you and make it short and simple and to the point. It should not be longer than a sentence. You should be taking something complicated and making it simple. If you’ve ever seen a complicated movie or a complicated lecture and someone came up and told you and broke it down in a sentence or two? That’s exactly what you’re you doing. You’re taking something that has layers, is kind of a little too flowery, and you’re making it simple and concise.

Talon: After you interpret your quotation, you are either going to agree or disagree with it.

Hannah: And you’re allowed to agree to disagree with that quotation. That’s what’s really nice about impromptu speaking. You’re not confined to “Yes, I totally agree! Risks are great. We should always take risks. Let’s take risks.” No! Maybe you’re not the type of person. Maybe you’re like “Absolutely not. Play it safe! I don’t want to take risks, I don’t think taking risks is smart. I’m going to disagree with that quotation. You can agree or disagree as long your examples support that. Right? As long as the examples you come up with show why you agree or disagreed with that quotation and with that interpretation.

Talon: The examples are the real meat of the speech. Typically, you have three and most of your speech will be spent discussing these examples. Examples are anything you can use to support your interpretation. And when I say anything, I mean anything.

Hannah: Examples can be so many different things. All of you already have so many examples at your finger tips. They can be movies. They can be TV shows. They can be podcasts. They can be historical events. Historical events, songs, musicians. Oh my gosh, so many things can be examples.

Talon: The only thing that can get a little dicey is using personal experience as an example. You want something that has been documented and is verifiable. But even that is not a hard and fast rule. While the coaches at OCC strongly discourage it, I have definitely lost rounds to people who regularly use personal examples. It all depends on the judge. Some really don’t like it, while others you can get away with it. Aside from personal experience, if you can use it to support your interprtation, you can use it as an example!

River: My examples are a little atypical.

Talon: That’s River, veteran Imprompter for the OCC team.

River: I have a lot of death ritual examples. Funeral strippers, oven crypts, things of that nature. A lot of astronomy related stuff and then a lot of weird science or weird trajectories of human development of things. I go a little rogue.

Talon: My examples tended to pull from more seemingly mundane options that turned out to be deceptively interesting. Some of my favorites included things like sand, city planning, chairs, and fonts. I’ll admit, most of my examples were from the podcast 99% Invisible.

River: That’s kind of what’s cool about Impromptu is you see what people are absorbing in their daily life.

Talon: As an Impromptu competitor, everything you watch, hear, read, or learn or can be an example. It can get a little overwhelming organizing all of that.

Hannah: So what can be really, really helpful, that I’m going to ask all of you who compete in Impromptu to do, is create an Impromptu notebook.

River: So if I see an example and I do not write it down. It is very cool but it will immediately exit my brain or I won’t know what to do with it. So I have a notebook that look fully crazy, but is just a notebook of examples that I have found or things that I think could be used for a speech. So if I see something or hear something that could be used as an example, I’ll write it down and typically I’ll write down a couple things that are either important about it or what it can be used to prove or support or different themes that are related to it. If it’s about ingenuity or overcoming an obstacle I’ll make a note of it so it’s really easy to flip through while I’m practicing.

Talon: The impromptu source book is helpful for a ton of reasons. Like River mentioned, you can start thinking about what kinds of interpretations will work well with certain examples. Even the act of concisely describing an example can help prepare you for impromptu.

Hannah: If I asked you what is the first Harry Potter book about, how many of you think you could summarize that book to the T, beautifully, in under a minute. High fives, high fives. But it’s difficult! I have read it, I’m a big Harry Potter fan. If someone asked me to do that on the fly I’d be like “Um, there’s a kid? And he’s an orphan.” And you’re kind of stumbling over your words. So, prewriting out your examples also make it so you can condense that information.

Talon: Ok, so we have your quotation, interpretation, and examples. After the break, we’ll tackle the structure and find out what goes on in an imprompter’s mind,

Shauhin: What the hell is going on in your brain when you’re doing impromptu? Talon: That’s coming up next on Soapboxers.

Talon: Welcome back, we’re about to dive into the structure of Impromptu speeches.

Hannah: Ok, so let’s talk about the structure a little bit. So you have an introduction. The introduction is really important because it kind of holds the key for the entire speech.

Talon: The first part of the introduction is the Attention Getting Device, or AGD.

Hannah: So something that’s just gonna grab our attention. You can think of this as a fourth example. As Jimmy said, a fun fact is really great for this. Something short, concise, to the point, that’s gonna hook us, gonna get us addicted to whatever it is that you are talking about.

Talon: One of my favorite AGD’s was radiotrophic fungi, which are fungi that get their energy from radiation instead of the sun like most other plants. It’s a quick, interesting tidbit that does a good job of getting attention, which is the point of an attention getting device. After the AGD, you read your quotation, state your interpretation, and whether or not you are going to agree or disagree. Next up is…

Hannah: The body! You have three main points in your speech. They all follow the same structure and it’s called the SERT method, S-E-R-T. Each letter stands for something.

Talon: Yup, more acronyms! First up is S.

Hannah: S stands for state your claim. Just tell us what your example is. First we’re going to talk about LeBron James. I threw a sport thing in for you.

Sean: Thank you!

Talon: Then, E.

Hannah: The E stands for Explain. You can also think of this as a synopsis. Ok you’re talking about LeBron James. There’s so many different things you can say about him. What specifically are you talking about?

Talon: Next up is R, which stands for Relate.

Hannah: Relate is the most important step. Relate is where you connect it all back to your interpretation. That shows the judge you’re doing the analysis. You aren’t just using the same examples all the time and making them fit. You’re really thinking critically about how all this connects and you are literally going to say “this relate back to my interpretation because LeBron James had to work hard to get to where he is today.”

Talon: And finally, T is for Transition.

Hannah: Transition, that’s just smooth movement from one main point to the next main point.

Talon: That’s SERT! State your claim, explain, relate, and transition. After you use that on your three examples, you go into your conclusion. The conclusion is basically a rehash of the intro. You’ll state the quotation and you’re interpretation again and then, as the last morsel you leave to the audience, you bookend it with your AGD. Once you’ve done all of that you’ll have completed an impromptu speech! Now remember, all of that happens in just seven minutes with all of the prep, choosing the quotation, interpreting it, planning out examples, happening in just a minute and a half. Many people have no idea how this is even possible. The answer is… practice.

Hannah: And this is all a muscle. If this seems overwhelming to you, just do drills. That’s something I like to do. You pull up a quotation, get your horoscope out, get a tweet out, get whatever out that you have access to. Set two minutes on the clock. Try your best. Interpret it and try to come up with three examples. That’s it. That’s a drill.

Talon: These drills are a large part of how imprompters build that muscle. Unlike other events, where you memorize and perfect a single speech, Impromptu is about honing a certain process. By running drills, coming up with interpretations, and finding those examples, you start to train your brain to construct these speeches in such a short amount of time. Shauhin has never competed in Impromptu, but he has tried it to get a better understanding of this process.

Shauhin: I did one Impromptu cuz I’ve been coaching it for like three years, but I was like “What the hell is going on in your brain when you’re doing impromptu.” What’s the problem that you’re going to run into over, and over, and over again and then figure out how to assess that problem. I think the number one thing is like calming— It’s like any trivia. You ever play Taboo? And you know how you see those list of words and you can’t say them, but because you see them, and if you hadn’t seen the list of words.

River: You never would’ve thought about them.

Shauhin: Yeah, you never would’ve thought about them. But because the list of words is in front of you you’re obsessed about the thing.

Talon: I ran into this all the time as a competitor where one example would wedge its way in my brain and make it hard to think of others. It takes a lot of practice, drills, and training to navigate around that in such a consistent manner.

So, that’s Impromptu speaking. The other limited preparation event is called Extemporaneous, or extemp for short.

Hannah: Alright, so let’s talk about extemp. Extemp doesn’t get a lot of love but it deserves love so let’s talk about it.

Talon: We’re not going to go too far into extemp quite yet for a couple of reasons. One, it shares a lot of structural similarities with Impromptu, and two, no one on the team is currently practicing extemp. This is because extemporaneous is normally picked up as a second or third event by debaters or imprompters. Extemporaneus is essentially a longer limited prep event that is based around current events instead of quotations. Instead of two minutes to prepare a five minute speech, in extemp you get thirty minutes to prepare a seven minute speech.

Hannah: You get a significant amount of time to prepare but in that thirty minutes you’re doing a lot of research. In extemp you are given three options, three questions, or statements about what’s going on the world. That could be domestic, that could be international, that could be economic, and you are taking up the role of answering how we should handle some of these situations. Should we have pulled out of Afghanistan? Was that a mistake or was it a good thing that we did? Then you answer that question by citing multiple sources. Typically we like to see around seven to eleven. || It’s a very current type of event in the sense that all of the topics you’re given are going to be in the news that week. They’re going to be things that are very much so important in the ether of what’s going on in the world so it’s very important to keep up with the news and keep up with what’s going on.

Talon: Because it requires a nuanced up to date understanding of current events, it tends to be picked up later in the season. Debaters, who are used to speaking on the fly about current issues, often take up extemp after IPDA or parliamentary, and imprompters will sometimes use their knowledge of limited prep, the SERT method, and timing to pick up extemp as well.

Limited preparation events, as a whole, seem to carry a different air. Because there is no speech to memorize and it relies on a lot of the public speaking skills present in all events, impromptu is normally one of the most entered events and will be comprised of oral interpreters, platform speakers, and debaters. While cross pollination between all events is common, I think impromptu tends to be particularly diverse when it comes to what other events the competitors are running. On top of this, many individuals find a distinct passion for the limited preparation events, myself included.

Hannah: I love limited preparation events.

River: I almost like, I don’t know, those sand mandalas? Where people will make art and it kind of blows away in the wind?

Talon: And, it’s super useful!

Shauhin: Impromptu is one of the most useful events and there’s no argument about that.

Hannah: I think they’re the best thing you can possibly do for job interviews. I think it’s incredibly helpful for job interviews because the structure you follow is exactly how you want to answer job interview questions.

Sean: They ask you a question. Hey, give us an example of having to interact with students. Ok, here are my three examples, this first example shows how I blah blah blah, my second example — Like, I literally use this exact same structure for answering interview questions.

Shauhin: Impromptu at the very highest level, when impromptu is good, it is hard to find anything better.

Talon: I love impromptu, it was my favorite event as a competitor. The fast paced, always changing, and enjoyable atmosphere made it one that I was always happy to compete in. That’s why I was so excited when Hannah asked me to demonstrate impromptu to the team. If you want to hear my full impromptu speech, including my thoughts during the prep, then please stick around to the end of the credits.

Talon: Next time on Soapboxers. Finally, after all this time, we are going to move from speech to debate. And we’re going to answer that age old question, what do you debate about?

Christian: Uh, the resolution today is that this house believes TikTok has more value than YouTube.

Talon: That’s next time on, Soapboxers.

Talon: Soapboxers is produced by myself, Talon Stradley, and mixed by Chris Moore. Our Executive Producer is Shauhin Davari. Our theme music was created by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our podcast art was designed by the delightful, Rhiannon White. Other music in the episode was provided by Special thanks to our sponsors, Hired Judge and the Professional Speech and Debate Association. An extra special thanks to Clark Moore, John Farkas, Fuzzy, Ben Steidl, Aaron McGuire, Ali Beheshti, John Lewellen, and of course, my mom, for their support on Kickstarter. If you want to join these saints in the fiscal support of the show, you can visit us at where we have recurring and one time donation options. Check it out to get ad-free episodes, buttons, and shout-outs.

If you want to stay up to date on the show you can follow us on Instagram at SoapboxersPod. We’re also on Twitter and TikTok.

Soapboxers is a production of Newtons Dark Room, a podcast studio set to explore imagination through antiquated audio dramas and non-fiction expeditions. For more information visit

Talon: Ok, before we get to my impromptu speech, I want to just clarify that this is not some big shining perfect example of impromptu. I’m sure many of the returning competitor’s currently on the team can deliver a better impromptu than this. That being said, this is my impromptu and after two years of leaving this skill alone, I’m pretty damn proud of what’s left. I’m gonna play the whole seven minutes here, including the two minutes of prep time. I’ll kind of give a commentary on that process and what was going through my mind at the time and then we’ll leap into the speech. So, here we go!

Hannah: Starting time… now.

Talon: Ok, I open the slip of paper. What kind of quotes do we have here? Do I see a pattern? Are any from an author I know? No? Skim through them, I don’t like that first one. The last one seems confusing. This second one looks like one I can use, I have a lot of tool based examples. Common sense is like deodorant, the people who need it rarely use it. I interpret that as ‘use the tools provided’ and I’m going to agree. Ok, examples. Well, I wanted to use Bachelor in Paradise as an example. That’ll work great. Oh, and I can use Montecitio as an example of what happens if you don’t use the tools provided. What else, what else. Nothing’s really coming. Curb cuts? I used that example a lot. They made their own tools. Does that work? It’s gonna have to. Ok, AGD. Anything? Anything? What have I been thinking about lately. Vaccines, that’s a tool provided. Ok, it’s gonna have to work. Here we go!

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