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Forced Impromptu Speech Opportunity
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 04/11/2016

The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

They come in many different forms. Ghosts, dogs, drowning, airplanes and evil clowns are a few examples. Our fears are varied.

Yet, some fears are very common. Whenever public speaking is concerned, many of us experience trepidation. And though it can range from mild discomfort to cascading flop sweat and a complete inability to articulate, it is fear, just the same.

A few years ago, a version of the following exercise was conducted in a leadership academy which I attended. I don’t think that anyone knows the origin of this exercise, as it is lost in antiquity. But it is an excellent complement to any communications module. I have since used the forced impromptu speech opportunity (FISO) in corrections classes that I teach for Gogebic Community College. And, when it is all said and done, participants seem to enjoy FISO more than one would think.

There are very few necessary materials for FISO. Really, one just needs one or two scraps of paper for each person present. The instructor must write one interesting (or strange) topic on each slip of paper. See below for sample topics. The slips are then folded and placed into a bucket or hat.

Everyone in the audience selects a single piece of paper and is given five minutes to do one of the following things: 1. accept the topic and prepare to speak on it for a full minute, or 2. convince someone to switch topics with them. The latter serves the purpose of mingling, which can ease speech anxiety. It also gives the participant the feeling of some control over the process.

Participants are instructed that they will speak for one minute on a topic. It is not a problem if the speaker knows little to nothing about a topic. The point is to speak in front of an audience for one minute. The clock starts ticking when the speaker emits the very first articulation. In other words, the speaker cannot remain mute for a full minute then walk off the stage.

The facilitator will solicit a volunteer to start things off. The very first volunteer can be awarded a choice from the “Box of Dubious Awards,” a collection of cheap but funny prizes. This is offered to the first speaker after that speech is completed.

There will be a variety of styles from each group. I have witnessed speakers who ramble on in a long-winded way only to introduce the topic in the last few seconds. I have seen speakers turn into facilitators and ask the audience to give information. I have observed information-packed renderings. I have also seen what looks like open mike night at the comedy club. You may even experience the stage hog, one who will ignore the signal to stop and continue with the soliloquy. All of those are valid, so long as the speaker speaks for one minute.

There are so many ways that topics are handled. It is a great way to assess individual talents. It is also an interesting way to observe group dynamics.

Sometimes, it pays for the instructor to have an extra set of topics. It is not unheard of for participants to ask for additional speech time with new topics.

Here are some ideas to write on the topic slips. These fall into the serious side of things:
  • The greatest American is…
  • My favorite year is…
  • Global warming…
  • If I were in charge…
  • Survival in the desert…
  • How to travel in airplanes with less stress…
  • Managing your money…
  • The essentials of teamwork are…
  • Why [blank] is my favorite holiday…
  • Children are our future…
Remember that controversial topics can cause friction and may derail your class. Use discretion when selecting topics.

Here are some additional ideas to write on the topic slips. These fall into the strange side of things:
  • What would your dog say if it could talk?
  • What if humans were born with tails?
  • Bigfoot and Chewbacca get into a fist fight
  • If [insert cartoon character here] were in charge…
  • Do parts of a salad get jealous of each other?
  • Is it better to be a dish rag or rodent poison?
  • What do lawns do when they hear the lawn mower?
  • I really hate this commercial
  • Why I wish I had two extra toes on each foot
  • Monsters have these sorts of bad dreams…
There are so many ideas. And the instructor lets slip some personality in crafting these.

Even if you don’t fear spiders, heights, or the reaper for that matter, public speaking is a very wide-spread phobia. But, in most cases, this can be overcome by practice. The FISO is an excellent way to gain such practice.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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