Timing is Everything

In any event timing is always a present concern, but many would argue that it becomes more challenging in Extemporaneous Speaking. In Original Oratory and the interpretation events, a competitor gets to practice and perfect the piece’s timing before tournaments. In Congress and Debate, timing is not as difficult because the speech is not expected to be as polished as it is in Extemp. The “secret” to any form of timing is getting to the point of internal clock mastery. There are quite a few ways to achieve this, and they all relate to the structure and knowledge behind a speech.

An obstacle most Extempers have in regards to timing is distraction. Many Extempers are busy trying to improvise for lack of knowledge. By doing so they forget the rhythm and pace that they need in order to finish on time. For instance, if the topic is about China but an Extemper does not grasp what the prompt is asking, the speaker will not be able to pace themselves because they will be focusing on trying to interpret the prompt instead of focusing on time. In order to alleviate this problem make sure to do the necessary research. Be informed about many different topics in order to spend prep/speaking time focusing on pacing the speech’s points. Further, if one is at a lose there is nothing to do but breath, and do the best with what is available. Clearly, presenting in a state of panic will only further lower a speech’s rank because the judge can visually see the lack of confidence.

Another distraction Extempers have is that they often have difficulty remembering their sources. Attempting to recall a source mid-speech can cause a loss of focus. This is understandable--especially when dealing with quotes. Quotes can be very challenging, and correct wording might be critical to a particular point. However, hard as it might be, stumbling during a round while attempting to quote a source is not without punishment (it can be the difference between first and second). Do not despair though! With practice all speakers can become better at compartmentalizing quotes and sources in the back of their mind.

In time, all Extempers improve at eliminating unnecessary distractions deriving from citation and limited knowledge. The best Extempers consider knowledge of the topic and source retention to be second nature. Only when these become natural can focus truly be given to expert timing. The goal is to use one minute combined for the introduction and conclusion and a maximum of two minutes for each of the speech’s three points. This will put the speech at the seven minute time limit. Because speakers receive a thirty second grace period, this time breakdown should alleviate all worries. In addition, speakers receive time signals which will allow Extempers to further gauge where they are in the speech. For example, when the judge gives the signal for two minutes the speech should be in the middle of the third point. If ever behind just quickly, but smoothly, wrap-up and press on.

Keeping an introduction to approximately 30-45 seconds can be tricky, but it is very doable. The key is to have a decisive attention getting devise and then swiftly transition into the thesis. If it takes up to a minute to get through all of this, things are not yet problematic. Simply limit the time used for the body of the speech. As for the body of the speech, do not target six minutes as a whole. Break the body down into increments by point. In other words, target each point of the thesis as being around two minutes in length. This will allow a speaker to introduce the point, substantiate it with facts, make one point of commentary, and move forward while consciously timing each body paragraph. Many Extempers make the mistake of thinking that they have more time than they really do. No one wants to get to the end of their second point and receive the time signal for one minute remaining.

The last 30 seconds of the speech should be for a conclusion. Extemp is different in that there is no need for a conclusion that is very involved. Restate the thesis and points in new words and be done. A conclusion should only take a few sentences to summarize the speech and leave the audience with a clincher (thought provoking final statement). An Extemporaneous speech clocking in between seven minutes to seven minutes fifteen seconds is fantastic. That is the ideal timing for NFL timing regulations.

One last note, when trying to get timing down do not ask judges for absurd time signals. Judging is already involved because there is so much to do in a short amount of time. A time signal at two minutes, one minute, and 30 seconds is plenty. Asking a judge for what some may consider ridiculous requests can form a bad impression before a speech has even begun.

This is just a general outline of timing. A speaker can decide to shorten the substance and spend some more time on the introduction if it is needed. That is fine. But whatever timing breakdown is chosen, be sure to practice it and stick to it for a while. It will take many rounds to be able to internally know how much time is left. Until an internal clock is mastered, it is suggested to keep a simple style and focus on substance.