I didn't really talk before I was 4 years old. In fact, I learned how to read before I could converse with others. According to my parents, a doctor said that I would have to attend a special school for not knowing how to speak properly.
Some kind of speech impediment carried on through the beginning of high school. I stuttered whenever I was in social situations, even the most casual ones, and still do occasionally. The following is a list of things that have particularly helped me overcome stuttering.
Joining the debate team. I wanted to decimate my stuttering. The first time I walked into the debate classroom, I watched our school's two senior A-debaters spread, or "speed read", about nuclear weapon possession policies at over 300 WPM.
(Aside: The reason why debaters talk really fast is because their speeches are time-constrained, and they need to develop arguments as efficiently as possible. This is the nearly pure-logos model of debate that is present in many competitive debate circuits. Some people think it is bad, and others think it is good. I would argue that it is good because it fosters critical thinking skills (the human brain can process up to 800 WPM, BTW), creates time for arguments to be developed more thoroughly, and even if there were a good reason for it being bad, the best debaters still have to "adapt" their style to the many "lay" judges who prefer more pathos and slower talking anyway.)
I thought debate was cool. It was a domain outside of the sciences that I wasn't good at yet (I was terrible for a while), and it was very competitive. The camaraderie and trophies were thrilling, and I got to be out of town nearly every weekend. I ended up qualifying for debate nationals in 12th grade and teaching high schoolers how to debate at UT Austin's camp that summer, so it was an early resume-padder too.
Due to the research that debate evidence required, I picked up a lot of random domain knowledge in politics, philosophy and argumentation. Most importantly though, it helped me to be a more logical and persuasive communicator, a trait that has become indispensible in my career. From speaking to recruiters to career fair, talking my way through techincal interviews with engineers, to making friends in college, I would have a significantly different experience if it weren't for speech and debate.
Playing games. My friends introduced the game of Taboo to me in 12th grade, and I was hooked. Players have their partners guess the word on the player's card without using the word itself or five additional words listed on the card. I liked it a lot because it forced me to describe ideas with both time and strict word constraints. I also started playing Catch Phrase last summer, which has similar rules with more lax constraints. I have had a lot of fun with this game in particular, so much that I've been itching to code it up or discuss various tactics in depth.
Finally, I came up with this sort of ironic game while my girlfriend and I were out for dinner. While waiting for her, I went to the first link when Googling "funny long jokes". This "game" involves looking up a funny long joke (typically a story), summarizing it in your head, recalling its details without referencing the text, and delivering it (even embellishing it) in a way that people will "get". It's fantastic because it's fun socializing practice (however shallow it is 😛), and it also builds up your short-term memory.
Can you think of other ways to improve speech?