At What Point Is Extemp No Longer Extemporaenous?

Canned speeches have a terrible stigma among extempers. It's easy, it's cheap, and it's not fair. It just simply isn't extemp. Unfortunately, once you have competed in speech for three years, it is hard to NOT have canned speeches. By my senior year, I had my education speech memorized. I had statistics, quotes, and facts at my disposal for the most often seen topics. At times, it would only take me 2-3 minutes to prepare my speech because I had delivered it so many times before.

A lack of creativity on the part of the tournament organizers and my three prior years of speaking turned my senior year extemporaneous speaking into something else. Sure, I would occasionally receive an interesting or new topic, but generally I was seeing "How can we solve America's education woes?" or "Should the United States have stricter gun control laws?" I remember these questions well because I would see them every week. While that certainly eased my stress level and ensured me the win, I wouldn't say I felt proud of the competing I was doing.

The point of extemp is that it is spontaneous. You take what you know to formulate an answer to a completely new question. But, the questions weren't new. The questions were predictable. The challenge wasn't there for those of us who had been there for three years. How can we ensure that extemp is still extemporaneous?

First, the topics should be specific and current. A question that was written in 1998 should not still be applicable in 2009. Instead of "How can we solve America's education woes?" we should see "Is Arne Duncan the right person to lead America's education system?"

Second, they should require more analysis. Instead of "Will Sarah Palin be a front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination?" we should see "How will Sarah Palin's resignation impact her future political goals?"

Lastly, in order to promote more thinking and consideration, we should aim for more persuasive questions rather than informational ones. Instead of "How is the United Nations responding to the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe?" we should see "Is the United Nations responding adequately to the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe?"

Essentially, we can keep extemporaneous speaking exciting and challenging if we ensure that the questions are truly questions for the competitors and not simply catalysts for regurgitated information they've delivered numerous times already.

A good extemper should be able to speak, but should also be able to think. Unfortunately, it seems like many questions are only looking for the first talent to be showcased. If that's the case, we should just call it Political Original Oratory.