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I was taught by at least two speech professors that an impromptu speech is one that is given on the spot, with no formal preparation, whereas an extempore speech is one that is prepared in advance. If this is so--contrary to some dictionary definitions, could the similarity between the words "extemporaneous" and "spontaneous" have created confusion in this regard (as they both contain the ending letters -aneous)?

An impromptu speech is, after all, given spontaneously. Could an extempore/extemporaneous speech be neither strictly spontaneous nor strictly planned but an admixture of both?

(Perhaps I've answered my own question by suggesting an extempore speech has elements of both spontaneity and planning. Having done a good deal of public speaking, I have on many occasions departed from my prepared remarks by either adding or subtracting elements in an impromptu or spontaneous way. A sudden "brainstorm" could trigger such redacting, or even a puzzled look on the faces of my auditors(!), not to mention time constraints.)

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closed as general reference by FumbleFingers, Kristina Lopez, tchrist, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, StoneyB Jan 2 '13 at 2:20

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
    
For a speech to be truly spontaneous it would have to be written by monkeys on typewriters. A good speaker is always in some sense "prepared" to speak. Even when not reading from a prepared speech or notes, one reads from one's memory and training. –  MετάEd Jan 1 '13 at 20:42
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Impromptu is French for 'sudden'; extempore is Latin for 'at the moment'. They're both borrowed, and they're formal categories in competitive speech events, and therefore they have a formal definition in that context. Outside that context, you can call them anything you want. –  John Lawler Jan 1 '13 at 20:47
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I think it's General Reference that an extempore speech is one that is not prepared in advance, so a question asking us to distinguish this from an impromptu speech seems pointless. –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '13 at 20:50
    
@FumbleFingers We would say an extemporaneous speech, since that is the category in high school forensics competitions. –  tchrist Jan 1 '13 at 20:51

3 Answers 3

As both a high school and collegiate forensicator, these are the distinctions I followed. They were roughly the same (times varied by a couple minutes) in both high school and college.

Impromptu Speaking: A speaker was given 6 minutes to prepare and deliver a speech on one of three topics presented to him. The amount of time devoted to prepping and to speaking was up to the speaker, but the adjudicator could (and commonly would) dock speaker points from someone who prepped for more than 1 minute. The speaker could not write anything down during prep time.

Extemporaneous Speaking: A speaker was given 3 current event-based topics to choose from. After choosing a topic the speaker had 30 minutes to use his team's research library to prepare a 7-minute speech. The speaker could use notes from his research time in his speech.

The main distinctions between the two speeches and, perhaps, between the two words are the following: an "extemp" speech is less spontaneous than an impromptu speech and allows the use of notes. An impromptu speech is done all of a sudden while an extemp speech is premeditated but unrehearsed.

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This distinction follows what I learned as a member of Toastmasters: an impromptu speech is one where there is no time to prepare at all; an exteporaneous speech allows the speaker to at least prepare a mental outline, but the body of the speech is supposed to be unrehearsed. This distinction is further echoed in this newspaper column. –  J.R. Jan 2 '13 at 0:11

The opinion of speech professors that “an impromptu speech is one that is given on the spot, with no formal preparation, whereas an extempore speech is one that is prepared in advance” is correct in a limited context, in spite of dictionary definitions that suggest extempore means “carried out with no preparation; impromptu” (1, 2, 3, 4).

The context where preparation is relevant is that of competitive extemporaneous speaking, in which a 30-minute preparation period is allowed before a 7-minute speech is given. In addition, competitors typically will have read in advance numerous articles in the subjects they know will be considered; they will have made notes, practiced speaking on common topics, etc.

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I think consulting a corpus such as COCA or BNC or Google Books will quickly satisfy you that general usage makes no such distinction between extempore and impromptu as that you describe. Both mean essentially “improvised” or “unprepared” without further qualification.

This is not by any means to say that your Speech professors misinformed you, merely that that discipline requires a fine distinction which the larger speech community does not ordinarily find any need to draw.

A distinction which you will find is that impromptu has a wider range of reference than extempore: extempore is largely (but not entirely) confined to performances (speech, debate, remarks, questions), whereas impromptu is also used of events and activities (an impromptu concert, party, meeting, meal, tour, shoot, lesson), of performing persons (an impromptu squad, team, trio), and of objects (an impromptu kite, table, kiln). But it's not clear whether this wider reference is inherent or merely a function of more widespread use.

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