Impromptu Public Speaking Simulation

This activity equips students with communication skills necessary for impromptu public speaking. 


  • To enable students to gain practice applying public speaking skills
  • To provide students with an opportunity to reflect on how to communicate effectively, and where they could improve going forward
  • To expose students to the experience of being interviewed on television, enabling them to become more comfortable with this process and add television interviews to their basic professional skill set


In class students learned about speech structure and content, techniques for connecting with an audience, vocal variety, body language, and mental preparation for public speaking. The students also read How to Tell a Story, a Stanford Business Case by Jennifer Aaker that outlines the components of an effective story; How to Become an Authentic Speaker, a Harvard Business Review Article by Nick Morgan, which describes how speakers can effectively connect with an audience; and How Do You Make a Memorable Presentation, a Stanford Business Insights article by Matt Abrahams that discusses presentation preparation and structure. Before the activity, students read several articles (see handouts) and attended class sessions on effective public speaking. These included content on physical preparation, content preparation, and the use of various techniques to connect with an audience.


  1. Before class.
    1. Students prepared for the exercise by reading the articles mentioned in the background section above, and by attending in class lectures. Students were given instructions for the specific exercise via email and in person when they arrived at the public television studio. [See the attached Exercise Guide for details on the instructions.]
    2. The Teaching Assistant, who formerly had television experience, contacted the television studio and set up a time in which the students could use the studio for a taping.
    3. The instructor prepared a list of topics to be used on the talk show. These questions were developed to become progressively more challenging for students to effectively answer. Specifically, the show was designed to begin with questions based on student memories (e.g. what was your favorite childhood vacation and why?) and progressively move to more philosophical questions (e.g. if you could implement one worldwide rule, what would it be, and why?)
  2. In class.
    1. The instructor introduced the activity in class by informing students that they would have the opportunity to practice the public speaking skills they had learned by participating in a public television program. Students were tasked to formulate and deliver impromptu 1-2 minute speeches.
    2. The class then went to the studio of a local community television station (SCATV –Somerville Community Access TV).
    3. Students received a tour of the studio and were provided with a 45minute overview of best practices for appearing on television (e.g. understanding when to look at moderator and when to look at camera, using a lavalier microphone, etc.).
    4. Students were next oriented to the set of the show, and were given an overview of how the show would run. Several students would appear on the show at a time, and the group would be asked a series of questions to which each participant could choose to answer. This created a safe environment in which students were experimented by answering questions they felt comfortable answering without being forced to address any particular topic.

Comments from the instructor:

  • The instructor notes that this activity presents an exciting, novel, low-stakes way for students to utilize and evaluate their public speaking skills.
  • Students not only learn to apply a variety of lessons, such as techniques to reduce their fear, effective body language, and vocal variation but also enables them to build confidence, and stretch out of their comfort zones and build confidence.
  • The recorded nature of the activity enables students to review and reflect on their performance to build their public speaking skills.
  • Additionally, the instructor highlights the exposure to the inner workings of a television studio
  • The instructor recommends this exercise also as a way to strengthen collaboration between educational and public television arenas.
  • Instructors should reach out to local television shows, who are often eager to host this kind of activity


  • Students were given a list of evaluation points (e.g. body language, structure, etc.), to consider as they watched themselves. They were also provided with written feedback on these points from the instructor.
  • At the end of the class, students were instructed to write a final development paper on how they improved their public speaking over the semester, and how they plan to improve going forward.

Material/Resources: A more detailed outline of the activity can be found in the Exercise Guide.

Follow Up:

  • After the activity (the recording of the talk show), the students were instructed to review and reflect on their performance. The show aired on Boston, Cambridge and Somerville public television three times each, and then was placed into a national database for any community TV group to air throughout the U.S. Students were also provided with a copy to review on Dropbox and YouTube.

Submitted by Hayley Blunden and Michael McCarthy, Social Sciences

art_of_communication_hblunden.pdf2.49 MB
public_tv_exercise_guide.pdf279 KB
sample_link_public_tv_show.pdf177 KB
authentic_speaking_hblunden.pdf392 KB