I was asked to give an impromptu speech to new College of Business Administration (COBA) students at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) during an orientation session on September 26, 2017. This video was captured by a colleague in attendance. The text of what I said follows:

“By the end of your four years or three years or five years, whatever it is, you are a changed person for the better and part of that change comes through your participation and engagement in the whole academic experience — beyond just the grades, beyond just your one area. So, I guess my suggestion is to open yourself up to many different opportunities, meet different people, participate in activites, do your best in your class, participate in your class, and make the most of your time in your moment here. I often joke with my students that I was in a hurry to graduate; in fact I graduated early from my undergraduate school. And then, the minute I graduated, I said “why did I do that?” Make the most of your time here; it’s a special time, it’s kind of a magical time, even though you’re going to have stress and moments of anxiety and pressure. But, overall, your college experience is a very unique and positive time for you.”

How well can you give a speech on the spot?

Thanks to an in-class exercise, the students in my COM-103, Public Speaking class at National University now know their answer to this question.

During a class on Saturday, December 3, 2011, I challenged them to give one-minute informative or persuasive speeches about one item they randomly selected from a bag.

They energetically engaged the assignment and succeeded superbly (as I anticipated, despite initial hesitancy on their part)! Here’s how completed the exercise:

I brought a bag I had earlier filled with 20 random items. After announcing and explaining the exercise to my students, I walked around the room, bag in hand, instructing each student to reach in and retrieve one item without looking.

The selected items included:

  1. Bac’n Buds Plastic Jar (3.25 oz)
  2. Black Wine Gift Bag
  3. Blueberry Muffin Mix (7 oz)
  4. Göt 2 Be Hair Gel (2.5 oz)
  5. Hand Sewn Bag of Marbles
  6. Hand-Held Hole Puncher
  7. Large Yellow Sponge
  8. New England Patriots Helmet Bank
  9. Playing Cards from London (52)
  10. Rayovac 6 Volt Lantern Battery
  11. Red Bandanna Neck Cooler
  12. Synthetic Pillow Stuffing.

I then gave my students 15 minutes to research and prepare a minimum one-minute speech about the item (using the computers at their desks).

Once they were ready, we began. While each student spoke I clocked their presentation without giving them any indication as to their progress or total time.

After giving the speech, each student wrote his or her name on the board and, next to their name, the length of time they guessed their speech to have been. I then told them how long their speech actually was, which they then wrote down on the board next to their estimated time.

My intent was to help them understand the differences in perceived time versus actual time — while also gaining practice giving speeches in a somewhat improvisational way.

Notably, with one exception, all of the students underestimated their total time, generally by a large margin. In one surprising case, a student’s estimate of her time was exactly the length of her speech!

The results are as follows:

  1. Guess: 0:55 | Actual: 3:20 | Difference: -2:25
  2. Guess: 0:45 | Actual: 1:11 | Difference:  -0:26
  3. Guess: 1:05 | Actual 1:05 | Difference: 0.00
  4. Guess: 1:00 | Actual: 0:26 | Difference: +0.34
  5. Guess: 1:01 | Actual: 0:51 | Difference: -0:10
  6. Guess: 0:40 | Actual: 1:00 | Difference: -0:20
  7. Guess: 0:40 | Actual: 0:57 | Difference: -0:17
  8. Guess: 1:21 | Actual: 1:31 | Difference: -0:10
  9. Guess: 1:07 | Actual: 2:04 | Difference: -0:57
  10. Guess: 1:04 | Actual 2:09 | Difference: -1:05
  11. Guess: 0:12 | Actual: 0:15 | Difference: -0.03
  12. Guess: 1:30 | Actual 1:35 | Difference: -.05

In one particularly poignant speech, the student with the red bandanna neck cooler first presented a thorough overview of the history and uses of the item, but then explained how it also represented gang affiliation and death in her Los Angeles neighborhood. I was touched and impressed by how mature and meaningfully this student presented something so personal.

Overall the students seemed to enjoy the exercise . And, as I anticipated, each approached his or her item with a unique angle, but with an equal ambition to achieve. In total, the exercise took an hour to complete, and it really helped us start the class off with exceptional energy and excitement.

So are you ready to give your surprise speech?