Master Extemporaneous Speaking

Presented with the task of impromptu or extemporaneous speaking, competitors, rodeo queen contestant or not, assume there’s no way to prepare except to practice a lot. While practice is essential, another approach is equally powerful: deliberate preparation. You can plan equally well for impromptu as you would other speech types by pre-building pieces of information.

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These pieces of information, coined snibbets among some speech and debate competitors, can help you enter any contest prepared for any and all unrehearsed speaking.

If you think about the total length of a speech (90 seconds to two minutes), you can break it down further into parts of a speech, and then allot time segments to each part. You know you need an introduction or story to grab attention and connect to your topic (AKA thesis statement), three body points, and a conclusion. For a two-minute speech, you’ll likely only have one minute total for the body of your speech, maybe slightly more. To incorporate three body points, you know you can only spend 20 seconds per point. Broken down this way makes a two-minute speech less daunting. Anyone can talk for 20 seconds, right?

Prep Work

Extemporaneous speech has become the standard for young women who will compete at Miss Rodeo America. However, it's not just MRA hopefuls who must learn to speak off the cuff. Many (if not most) state-level pageants have moved to this format as well. For those who plan to compete at a local-pageant level, snibbets become valuable for media interviews and on-stage questions, and other impromptu-style speaking events.

To enter a contest confident and prepared, it’s recommended that a state-level pageant competitor have five sets of three snibbets practiced and memorized before the contest. Sets center around specific themes, and snibbets are examples related to those themes. National-level competitors are encouraged to have more sets. Local-level competitors likely only need one snibbet per theme that she can use to answer questions, such as "Why do you want to be Miss Rodeo [insert title here]?" or "What's your most embarrassing story?"

 Photo by  Ben Koorengevel  on  Unsplash

A few examples of topic areas (or sets) to build snibbets around are:

After you’ve created 20-second snibbets around these themes, have a speech coach or someone you trust help you adjust language to ensure that your word choice is correct, powerful, and that you don’t use any unnecessary words that eat your valuable time.

Depth is Better than Breadth

Give the audience information they don’t already know. With rodeo for example, don’t just talk about how a certain event sprung from the Western lifestyle. Give specific examples; in this case how rodeo has transformation over time. For example, saddle bronc riding started as a competition between nearby riders who competed to see who could stay on a fresh colt the longest, and who could break him the quickest. Most people who are interested in rodeo know this. As you create snibbets think about what may they not know. Maybe they don’t know about the saddle used in modern-day saddle bronc riding, so share about the origin of the association saddle, it’s ties to Hamley, specifics about the dimensions of the saddle, and current PRCA rules. 

Deep, specific information is more interesting to the audience than broad, general facts. Showcase your knowledge and capture your judge’s attention with snibbets that contain not-so-common knowledge.

Snibbets in Action

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With any topic, you’re given prep time. During this time consider what topic theme you want to focus on, and then use a set of snibbets that's most appropriate. After you’ve chosen the set you'll use, you simply need to jot down ideas for a lead and conclusion, and then use the remainder of your prep time to practice before you go on stage.

Sample prompt

A woman is like a bag of tea. You don’t know how strong she is until you put her in hot water. - Eleanor Roosevelt

If given the tea-bag prompt, you'd likely choose to focus on facts about your perseverance or work ethic and how you've been tested in hot water. You may also choose to talk about a strong woman who's been tested in hot water and persevered, such as breast cancer survivor. After you've chosen the snibbet theme, or set you'll use, your prep then becomes as simple as creating a quick lead-in and conclusion.

Practice Makes Perfect

You'll get better at quickly selecting sets or snibbet themes to answer a prompt as you practice. Use past examples from the contest you'll compete at or ask friends and family to give you prompts to practice with. If you know how long you'll be allowed to prep, for example, five minutes, hold yourself to this time as you practice. 

Good luck, and have fun! You can do this.