Extemporaneous Speaking: A Guide Toward Excellence

Thirty minutes before rounds actually begin, Extemporaneous Speaking competitors have to head to “Extemp Draw,” usually held in the school’s library or gym. Each competitor must “draw” a topic, which is usually a single question written on a piece of paper. Questions normally concern a current event or significant political matter. Competitors are expected to elaborate on their topic using resources such as case studies and articles from news outlets. While performing in an extemp round, here are a few things to consider:

  • Speak slowly: This will help you in three ways: One, it will extend the time of your speech, helping you to meet the time requirement. It will also help if you get nervous; you’ll breathe more and it will calm you down. Two, it will make it easy for your judge to understand each point you make, and it will give him or her time to digest what you are trying to explain. Three, it will give you time to think about what you’re going to say next.
  • Make sure your team’s files are organized: If you’re sitting in Extemp Draw with a question about global warming, but all of the files in your box are organized by year, then by publication and then by author, you’ve got a serious problem. Have a discussion with your teammates on how you can organize your files so that everyone has equal access, and so that everyone knows where everything is. Read Brian White’s post about organizing Extemp files here: http://www.forensicscommunity.com/blog/team-organization-extemp
  • Stay up-to-date on current events: It’s important to stay informed when you’re preparing for a tournament. Read newspapers, listen to radio news, or browse the web for news updates. This can be helpful in the event that you draw a topic and you have limited resources concerning that topic in your files. You will be able to expand on your point more thoroughly and with more confidence if you have a basic idea of what is going on with that topic. For example, right now, every Extemper in the country should have up-to-date files in their boxes about H1N1.
  • Make the best of what you know:Gathering knowledge is part of extemp, but your judges will understand if your memory is not perfect. If you are aware of a particular statistic or quote, but you are not sure exactly where you heard it, or you cannot locate it in your boxes, you can still say it during your speech. Don’t make up information just for the sake of filling time, but don’t leave out valuable insight just because you forgot the source.
  • Decide whether or not you want to use a card: In Extemp, competitors have the option to bring an index card into the round and reference it while giving their speech. The competitor is allowed to make notes on the card before the round, which may include titles of articles, sources, or even an outline of the speech with a summary of the conclusion. In some states, the number of the words written on the card cannot exceed 50, though this is rarely checked by the judge. You can use this card to keep a record of what points you want to make, what sources you will be citing and what your ultimate point is. There are advantages and disadvantages to using a card in a round. Some judges prefer that you do not use a card, particularly in advanced rounds and senior division rounds. But most judges don’t mind whether you use one or not, and as long as your speech is solid and you present yourself well, you'll be successful.
  • If you are using a card, don’t stare at it: Never make the mistake of reading directly off of your card, or you will look unprepared. You should never write your entire speech on your card, but it’s important to write down the key words you plan to use in your opening statement and your conclusion. Also, don’t grip your card very tightly or gesture with it too much; it will make you appear nervous.
  • Remember posture, gestures and articulation: Like any good speech, a good Extemp speech must possess elements that show your talent for presentation. Stand up straight and speak loudly, articulating each syllable clearly. Make eye contact with your judge, but don’t stare. Because it is just you and the judge in the room for Extemp, you need to find something else to look at, because if you stare at your judge the entire time it will make him or her feel awkward. (This is one of the advantages to using a card.) You can move your hands around, but don’t gesticulate wildly because it will be distracting.

Above all, be confident. Confidence is always critical as it will lend you credibility, no matter the quality of your speech.