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Extemporaneous Speaking: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Updated on February 13, 2011

Competitors in Extemporaneous Speaking can find everything they would ever want, or need, to know about the competitive speaking event Extemp right on this page. Box organization ideas, tips for delivering and outlining a speech, things NOT to do, EVERYTHING a speech competitor needs to know in order to be successful in Extemporaneous Speaking!

Extemporaneous: Overview

Welcome to the event of the little black box, and I am not talking about that amazing, resilient device found on airplanes. Although, I am sure these boxes are non-destructible and hold great power. No, this is Extemporaneous Speaking, referred to as Extemp.

Extemp can be broken down into International and Domestic Extemp. International meaning the topic is of foreign affairs, Domestic being related to events of America. The same basic set-up for both variations ensues: the competitor is given three questions, they choose one to answer, and they have thirty minutes to prepare a seven minute speech about that topic.

Extemp is kind of like extended Impromptu. Except Extempers are allowed resources. That’s right. Actually, Extempers are required to use resources for their speeches—which must be cited at some point in the speech. These resources come from newspapers, magazines, journals, and various other published materials that the Extemper has filed away in a storage box, typically black, for safe keeping. The box, or Extemp file, is only to be used during the thirty minute preparation period prior to competition. At the start of every tournament, the location for storage of the Extemp file and where the preparation period will take place is given.

An Extemper’s box should be well-organized and updated frequently with useful articles. A poor box can mean failure. This box is essential, so devise an organization system that works for you to succeed. Seriously. No matter how great of a public speaker you are, or how knowledgeable of a current affair, if you lack citations you will lose points. If you like analogies, Full Metal Jacket: Rifle as Extemporaneous Speaking: Extemp File.

Note cards with an outline are permitted in competition; no pre-outlines or fully-written speeches are allowed. Extemp requires excellent researching skills, knowledge of current affairs, great public speaking abilities (gestures, tone, movement as transitions/emphasis, etc.), diligence, and the capability to think under pressure. If you like being completely prepared going into a competition, this event is not for you. However, if you like research papers, news, writing speeches, and carrying an awesome black box, then you probably are already an Extemporaneous Speaker or should be.

Extemporaneous: Structure and Rules

At the start of the tournament, the Extemp competitor will be told which room will be the preparation room. The speaker is to move their Extemp file into this assigned room where it will remain for the rest of the tournament. At an assigned time prior to the first round, all speakers will proceed to the prep room, receive three topic choices and choose one to write about, have thirty minutes to prepare a speech, and then deliver this speech from memory (with the aid of a note card to write an outline on) during three rounds and possibly a fourth if the speaker breaks to finals.

Rules are:

--Only published materials are to be used as resources (newspapers, magazines, books, on-line resources); no resources that are student written!

--All resources used are to be cited at some point

--Can only use a note card for aid while delivering the speech

--Extemp. files/boxes are to remain in the prep room at all times

--Only Extemp. files/boxes, note cards, and writing utensils are allowed in the prep room

--Time limit is generally seven minutes in length

-- Eye contact is important

--All gestures, movements (as transitions/emphasis), facials, intonation/vocals, etc. need to be clear and help support the piece

--Must be truthful and honest

--No help from others is allowed during prep

--Topics can either be of Foreign or Domestic issues (pending on what type of Extemp. you are competing in)

--Speech must answer the question prompt, have clear introduction, support, and conclusion, and be well-researched/supported

--No fully-written speeches or previously prepared (as in outside of that tournament) material is allowed

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.

--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.

Keys to Winning Extemp

Extemp seems to be one of those events that breeds a whole different type of speaker. You have to be witty and quick on one hand, yet on the other, eloquent and refined. The difference between a good and bad extemper is a mile. In order to consistently dominate extemp and qualify to nationals, you have to master each of the following components.

The first and most important key for excelling at extemp is understanding current events. You simply can't rely on your boxes to carry you. The reason for this is the depth of extemp topics. Those who place first or second in a round are the ones who take a topic and bring a new element to it. You can only do this by being informed of not only major news events, but how they progress over time.

With an understanding of events, it is also important to have good files. You need recent magazines for the sake of quoting sources and authors. Regardless of how much you know about extemp, you have to back up your understanding with authority. It is the only way a judge will respect your point of view. If you are able to pull this off, then the last step is charisma.

It is imperative that you have a smooth speech when you are competing in extemp. Stuttering is an easy giveaway that you are a novice speaker. You have a half an hour to prepare your extemp speech. It should only take ten minutes to formulate the structure and the last 20 should be used to hone the speech direction.

Do these three things and you will quickly rise to the top. And the one added benefit of extemp is that you never have to start over each year. You just build on your talent and hit the ground running. Other events, you gain skill, but you have to find a new piece or topic. Start as a freshman in extemp and by your junior year, you should be crushing the competition at each tournament.

Extemporaneous Speaking and Staying Informed

Behind any competitor's success is a regiment of training, hard work, and dedication. Every competitor has their secrets for achievement. Forensics is no different. If you were to ask any Extemporaneous speaker what was the one thing they could recommend to do well in competition, a majority would say to stay informed. An Extemporaneous speaker's main task, one of them anyway, is to keep current with World and National news. Two main principles for keeping current are:

--Being prepared --> saving time. Extemporaneous Speaking's topics are chosen from current news ranging from the serious (Economic issues) to the ridiculous (celebrity gossip). The more you know of current affairs walking into a round the more likely you will be given a topic of some familiarity. As most Extempers file new reports into their tubs on a regular basis, if you know of an event chances are that you have some articles located within your box, ready to be cited. This level of preparedness will save you time pulling articles to quote, formulating an outline, and with the general organization of your thoughts. The more time you save on putting together a speech, the more time you can spend on polishing your work.

--Being prepared --> increased confidence. A direct effect of the above time saving can lead directly to increased levels of confidence in your round. People who feel confident and relaxed about a project tend to reflect that in their presentation. They know their speech, know their topic, and know they were able to put together the best Extemporaneous piece possible. And confidence is a main ingredient to a good presentation, and therefore, potential for a good rank.

--Where to look? On your quest for Extemporaneous knowledge there are an infinite number of sources for you to pull from. Below are listed some:

1. Newspapers, magazines, and on-line. Read the daily newspaper (preferably from a credible source, such as the Tribune). Get a magazine subscription. Cutting out and cataloging articles from major, reliable sources is a good way to build up your Extemp box. Also, go on-line and checkout news websites. The Internet opens up a wealth of information newspapers and magazines might not offer. Plus, printing is relatively cheap! Some resources Extemporaneous speakers tend to choose include: Time, The Economist, US World and News Report, Newsweek, Tribune, Washington Post, CNN, BBC and BBC America, and Science News. Some Extempers even pickup a celebrity tabloid prior to competition on the slight chance that the topic will be celebrity based.

2. Television. Though you should read your news (more information available AND you can print/clip articles for filing), if you watch your news to get an idea of what is happening you are still helping yourself. Keep up with the evening local and world news on the major stations. Explore CNN as well. Also, the BBC delivers news for the entire globe and is well respected so tuning into BBC America, if available, is encouraged. If you are not in the mood for serious news, due to all the knowledge you have been reading, watching comedy shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is perfectly acceptable (hey, you will learn AND laugh so why not?).

Staying up to date with current affairs is crucial to Extemporaneous Speaking success. Knowing what is happening will keep you prepared for most topics thrown your way, which will help increase your confidence, and lead to a better presentation. Keeping current can also be an easy process if you know where to look. Even if you do not have a massive team, and cannot divide the research labor, simply picking out a few resources to follow can turn a one-person Extemp team into a well researched machine.

The 3x2 Extemporaneous Speaking Approach

Approaching the analysis of an Extemporaneous topic can be overwhelming without a plan. It is difficult enough developing and supporting a thesis statement let alone trying to structure the speech. However, Extemporaneous Speaking is much like a research paper in that the structure of one is often the same for the other. Thus, taking what you know from school and applying it to Forensics is not a bad idea. If, however, you are still craving a skeletal frame to base your Extemporaneous speech around, a common structure given to many speeches is the 3X2.

The 3x2 Extemporaneous Speaking outline is less cryptic than you might think. The numbers literally are the representation of main points and sub-points. Three is the number of main points you should have in a speech, and two are the number of sub-points per main point. Ergo, if you were to outline this structure you would have:

1. Main Point

a. sub-point

b. sub-point

Repeat this two times (for a total of three main points), add an introduction and conclusion, and you have a full speech. Well, almost. At the end of every second sub-point you must have an impact (the implications, or the "impact," this point has on a person, society, idea, YOU, etc.; why this matters). Thus, the basic outline can read:

1. Main point

a. sub-point

b. sub-point


Remember that each of the three main points helps support your thesis statement (the main idea of the speech; your stance) and each of the two sub-points, and IMPACT, supports the main idea. Also, when writing a research paper or Extemporaneous speech it also helps to link the impact back to the thesis to drive the point home--if applicable to your situation and flow.

To demonstrate this structure further let's use a completely silly thesis and provide a paragraph of support.

THESIS: Vanilla is the best ice cream flavor.

1. Most Popular

a. Voted most popular in poll (evidence from Food Network)

b. Vanilla ice cream is highest selling flavor (NPD Group’s National Eating Trends Services evidence)

c. Not only is it voted to be the tastiest of ice creams, but buyers back their vote by purchasing more vanilla ice cream than any other by a 20% margin. With such a large percentage choosing vanilla over all other flavors, vanilla is clearly the taste testers', and majority, vote for best flavor both in poll numbers but in dollar sales. And why buy something not desired?

Okay, this is a completely ridiculous and weak/amateur/2nd grade thesis to develop, but it does demonstrate how to use the 3x2 structure. All you would need are two more main points (perhaps: health benefits of the vanilla bean; does vanilla offer fewer calories; are humans drawn chemically to vanilla's smell and taste?), two sub-points per main point, and the Extemporaneous speech would be complete. If you are lost on how to expand on sub-points a and b try first finding evidence that supports the main point (a) and then asking/answering why this is happening or how it got to be a problem (b) and end with the impact. You could also offer a solution (great for main point 3)!

The 3x2 structure is a great Extemporaneous speech framework to follow. It ensures you find support for your thesis, offers enough main points to fully develop your thesis, and all you need to know about how to write the outline is captured in the name--excluding the impacts of course. However, it should be said that having a speech of two main points with two sub-points each (2x2) is perfectly acceptable. Actually, depending on the topic and your depth of sub-points per main point, doing a 2x2 could work better than the 3x2. Never limit or confine yourself to one structure. Look towards your Extemporaneous topic and analysis for answers of structure.

Extemporaneous Speaking Key to Analysis

Extemporaneous Speaking is a hard event. Practice entails not only scheduled practice runs but also regular updating of files for the box, keeping current with National and World affairs from research, improvements to public speaking, enhancing outlining/speech writing skills, and analysis work. It is an event that, when done properly, will push you due to the sheer amount of skills you need. But all of these abilities can be taught and honed. However, it is with analysis where growth can be slow. It takes an eye for knowing what details and facts to pull in order to delve deeper into the issue and spark revelations. Yet, if you keep these four tips in mind, your analysis may improve quicker than anticipated:

1. Thesis Statement. Behind any good analysis is an equally good thesis statement. A thesis statement is the main idea of a paper/speech. It is the author's opinion or stance on an issue. It tells what the Extemporaneous piece will be about or what the speaker is going to prove. Thesis statements need to be clear and strong. If you know exactly what your speech is about, finding the evidence and rational as to why it supports your thesis comes easier.

2. Structure. Give your Extemporaneous speech form with "blanks" to fill. I.E. have an outline in mind. Many Extempers use the 3x2 formula. This means that a speech will have three main points and for each main point two sub-points of support for their main. After the two sub-points have been made an impact statement (the analysis that details the implications/impact of this point) follows. Anyway, having an outline with spaces to fill for structure keeps you on task and ensures you provide enough support. Although cold facts will not win a round, having enough does set you up to deliver the impact, rather the ANALYSIS, you need to make a point. Not having thorough analysis is bad, but have analysis and a response without any support/evidence is just as bad. More on the 3x2 technique can be found here.

3. Prove your point. Thinking about a thesis statement as a point to prove makes analysis easier to understand. You would not go to your parents and ask to borrow the car without having reasons and explanations. No, you would come up with a few reasons like why you need the car (to get to the movies), how it benefits them (they will not have to drive you around), why is makes sense (that you have a license that is not being used), and some reveling fact about why it is vastly important to you (you feel like you mooch off your friends who always drive you--it's not fair to them having to spend money on gas all the time, they waste time picking you up, and they are beginning to stop asking you to go places because of the inconvenience...besides it is embarrassing to be 17 and not fit in with the social norm of driving freedom --> outsider feeling). See how a simple issue goes deeper than just you wanting to drive because you have a license and it helps your parents? Analysis is all about digging deeper and thinking about the real, underlying reason behind things; though, wanting to drive is a base example! You need to prove your thesis to the audience by explaining why your main/sub-points have relevance. Because of this, some Extemporaneous speeches could use the 3x2 structure while others can suffice with a 2x2 one. As long as you support your cause you are golden.

4. Ask why. Part of what makes or breaks analysis is the speaker's ability to ask why. ALWAYS ASK WHY. Why does that sub-point support the main point and thesis? Why did that person do or say what they did? Why did that event take place? Why did people follow an individual or idea? The more you ask why, the more in depth your response will grow. Example: why does any country go to war? For political/economic gain and security. Why is that important? To prove our country is better, to prevent future attacks, to help the people. Why prove our dominance? For reputation; to be the country no one wants to mess with so we can pursue other endeavors elsewhere to further advancement WHILE enlisting the help of others who normally would have done nothing. Why would they help us now? Fear. Profit from our strength. As you can see, this chain of childlike whys expands a generic answer into a broad web of rational that goes beyond the initial question into the substance beneath.

These four tips can be the key to improving your analytical skills. Ultimately, the only true way to get better is through practice. Athletes become giants in their sport with the building of their knowledge and strength. Extemporaneous speakers, actually all Forensicators, can advance with the development of their brain. Use it, challenge it, and in time you will be an analytical master.

Extemporaneous Speaking: Timing Breakdown

When you are doing an Interpretive event timing is something that can be whittled down and shaped outside of competition. Timing is one of the lesser worries; every performance may have slight nuances, but the words do not change. In Extemporaneous Speaking though, timing is critical. The structure of a speech might translate across rounds, but being in control and aware of timing and structuring your Extemporaneous speech around limited time is a practiced skill. In order to enrich your time keeping abilities, here are some helpful hints:

--PRACTICE. Part of Extemporaneous self regulation is being personally conscious of time. You do not have to be a natural stopwatch, but through constant practice you do begin to hone a sharpened awareness of how long it feels to do a particular component of your speech. Mostly, it will come to being cognizant of your regular speaking speed and patterns (slow/fast/pauses) and how those influence your timing. With practice you will also learn to better think on your feet and eliminate time by not searching for words. This saves time, but it also helps with delivering a better speech. Further, ALWAYS do a practice run of your speech during your prep time to give yourself an idea of where you can improve.

--Pay attention. There is a reason why the judge gives you hand signals. And not just the one minute, thirty-second, wrap-up signals! Look for all of them. Knowing how much time remains for your Extemporaneous speech will better help you structure your piece while you talk. Do you need to stretch or slow down? Who knows unless you look! This will allow you to give a balanced speech and fully demonstrate your timing expertise.

--Breakdown. Here is a breakdown of the structure for an eight minute Extemporaneous Speaking piece:

Introduction: 1:30

First Main Point: 1:30 (5 minute hand signal)

Second Main Point: 1:30 (4 or 3 minute hand signal)

Third Main Point: 1:30 (3 or 2 minute hand signal)

Conclusion: 1-1:30 (1 minute hand signal)

This comes to a total of 7 minutes, to 7 minutes 30 seconds of speaking time. This leaves you a 30 second-1 minute margin of wiggle room in case you are moving slowly. Obviously, time is tight--all the more reason to practice and look for hand signals!

Master Extemporaneous Speaking timing to gain full control of your piece. Your timing authority will cause you to exude full confidence from your calm in knowing you are in charge--and confidence is always a determining factor of success! Go grab a stopwatch and practice. Pay attention to signals. And always remember you are in control.

Extemporaneous Organization

Putting together a good Extemporaneous speech full of relevant, quality sources is only possible if a speaker maintains a well organized tub. That black box is every Extemper's life source really. If you are sketchy on a subject that tub could hold an article of enlightenment. If you have a fantastic argument the box should hold exquisite evidence to support your claim. But what good is that if you cannot find it!? Ultimately, what effort you put into organization is what you will get out of it. Tricks for organization used by Extemporaneous speakers include:

--Alphabetically by topic. Arranging article topics alphabetically works if you have an alphabetical mind and do not mind Iran being by Healthcare. If you like everything laid out before you this could be your method.

--Rows/sections with sub-folders. Another method of Extemporaneous organization is to separate topics into corresponding rows or sections. For example, one row/section can be on Foreign Affairs/Countries, another row about National News, yet another on Economics and so on and so forth. Whatever seems to be a rather large category that can be divided into sub-categories qualifies. The idea is to go from a main topic into its branches (sort of like a word web/cluster graphic organizer; the bubble with branches expanding out). For instance, row/section Foreign Affairs could have Iraq, England, Afghanistan, etc. sub-folders. To create rows/sections, either color coordinate rows/sections (like all Economic folders be green) or place one row/section indicator folder at the start (use manila to distinguish from the colored sub-folders you have for example). Do not go overboard with too many rows/sections though as this can become too tedious.

--Electronically. The new trend is to copy/paste articles into word documents, organize articles into sub-folders, and sub-folders into a master folder (such as Foreign Affairs-->Afghanistan-->War). This is basically the rows/sections with sub-folders concept but electronic. Electronic Extemporaneous organization is wonderful in that files can be shared easily with all teammates through use of a flash drive. Electronic filing also saves the lives of trees. The only issues are if a laptop/flash drive fails--which can be fixed with computer sharing--or if team members cannot afford or have the technology.

--Be on the same page. If you are the only Extemper on a team then devising a system is truly entirely your plan. However, most people belong to a team with a few Extemporaneous speakers and sharing tubs is essential. Divide research and organization labor between the Extempers to save yourself time AND pull more information! Though, with sharing tubs comes the problem of sharing the same filing system. Before you even begin to build a tub, sit down with your teammates and work out a system you all love and can easily use. Fail to do this and sharing tubs, or working together, will become a nightmare.

--Don't organize by source. This is just impractical. How many different topics can one source have? Endless, that's how many. You will never find anything.

--Be specific and save. Although you might be tempted to cut and file every article in a magazine, do not. Keep what is most likely to be an Extemp topic; that means major issues and news events. Too much useless paper slows down your research and takes up space. You DO want to keep folders on oddball things like celebrities and major sporting events. But do try to not file information that is so mundane it will never be used. Use discretion; be a pack rat with limits. Further, save all your articles during the season because you never know when you might need something you filed weeks ago.

The key to any Extemporaneous speaker's success is in their tub. Organize it. Take care of it, and your research will take care of you. Obviously every Extemper has their own system for filing--these are only a few techniques and words of advice. Have anything to add? Please share your wisdom with comments below, for what works for one might not work for another.

Find your niche of organization and go forth with confidence.

Extemporaneous Speaking: Who Should File?

Extemporaneous Speaking should be a team effort. For any one tub there will be numerous sources used, enough paper to burst, and an organizational system to be followed. Regardless of how user-friendly a team has devised their Extemporaneous tubs, maintenance of files is ongoing and always tedious. And most teams use more than one tub, so the task multiples. Therefore, someone will always have to play caretaker for the Extemp tubs. But why should the job be distributed to only a select group?

Some argue that filing is a novice's job--they can learn the organization system and "pay dues." Others suggest that only varsity file as novice are "inexperienced" and might misplace items. If either of these are you team's methods, and they work, by all means utilize them! However, there are some benefits of having EVERYONE in Extemporaneous Speaking filing away and making the tubs useful at rounds.

1. Training. Pairing a novice with a varsity member for filing is an excellent way to train a novice about the team's Extemp tub filing system. This way of training helps cut down on misfiling by throwing a novice into work with little guidance; this way there are always experienced watchdogs and teachers.

2. Awareness. By all Extempers being active in filing everyone knows precisely what is available for use in a tub and where it it located. This complete knowledge cuts down on research time used during prep, which means more time can be spent on practicing and polishing the piece.

3. Division of labor. The more people filing equates to more people capable of researching articles to add to the tub. With more people researching, that means less hours for all are spent researching. Less time spent filing results in more time available to practice. And practice, of course, leads to better ranks. Further, with more eyes looking for tub material the extensiveness of sources grows--this could reflect in a tub that has everything you'll ever need, making you well prepared.

4. Organization. Assuming you only let varsity or novice file, for whatever rational, there may be issues with overall organization at the start of the season. At the start there will be people who do not know the system 100% touching files. This will result in misfiling at some point. Once a file is out of place that can ruin the whole system if it is allowed to avalanche. By everyone being together the chances of the organization's integrity slipping will be minimal or at least limited.

5. Bonding. If everyone does the same level of work odds of animosity growing are slim (when work is monitored). Also, filing allows Extemporaneous speakers time to bond and grow together as a unit while doing a shared activity. Extempers that learn respect for another, or even become friends, will work better together and function as a tight team at tournaments.

Whichever Extemporaneous filing system your team has created, the main objective is to have workable, well-stocked, and well-organized tubs that allow for maximum use. In the end, if the following objective is met than clearly your technique works. Polish it, but a mass overhaul is not necessary. If, however, your team is in need of a revamp, consider using your full resources and get everyone in Extemp involved. Of course, with more Extempers comes greater responsibility towards retaining accuracy and quality (more cooks making the soup, right?) so establishing an organizational hierarchy of checks and balances could be in order.

Extemporaneous Source Memorization

When something is optional should you make use of it or forgo its help and look more professional by working unaided? This is a query every Extemporaneous speaker must pose to themselves. The event of Extemporaneous Speaking allows for the use of a note card during the speech. The note card is intended for notes, mainly to be used to remember sources. The question becomes should you take advantage of this helpful piece of paper?

--Use it? If you are new to the Extemporaneous Speaking world, or have a poor memory, it could be in your benefit to write your sources down. Having to research, "write"/outline a speech, and then improvise your Extemp is stressful. Fun, but stressful. Why place added pressure upon yourself by trying to remember your sources? Relief of unnecessary stress will help boost your confidence and thus lead to a better delivered speech.

--Ditch it? Those who aspire to Nationals, or dominating their circuit, need to be professional. That usually includes not using a note card. In some areas of competition it even is expected to not use a card if you even want to consider breaking. There is just something smooth and fully engaging about an Extemporaneous speaker who can deliver a speech without glancing down at notes. It gives the subliminal impression of total control and knowledge, and audiences love a confident speaker.

Decided to lose the card? These tips will help you with memorization:

1. Just jump in and force yourself to not use cards. It will be hard when you first begin, but practice makes perfect.

2. Create a mental image of the source logo/date to go with each point.

3. Make up a pattern or quirky way to remember a date and source name. It's amazing, but a silly jingle or rhyme helps with retention. Actually, anything you create for memorization increases the chances of you remembering because you spent time thinking of the topic.

4. Repetition. Many people memorize through speaking or writing (or both) something over and over and over and over again.

Whichever you choose to do, always remember that using or not using a note card will not deter you from receiving a good rank if your Extemporaneous speech is excellent. Extemp is about your analysis, not whether or not you can memorize the date of a particular CNN article. However, if you do freeze or mess-up never show it and continue forward as if that was meant to happen. The best part of an event where you improvise a speech is that there are no lines to remember; you can pick-up from any spot and speak yourself back to the point.

Extemporaneous Speaking: Things to Know

Extempers are some of the most diligent people in Forensics. Not only are they competing in an event most speechies know little about, Extempers need to be masters of organization, research, improvised speech delivery, public speaking, and current events in politics/history. They basically have to deliver a research paper after being given a fraction of the time you would take to write one—and deliver it with only the aid of an index card. With so much to focus on, what are some basic things to remember to excel in Extemporaneous Speaking?

1. Know what is happening in the world and America. Because topics are chosen from current, major events being aware of the world you live in is critical. Find a way to follow the news that works for you: read the paper (newspaper or on-line), watch the news, or listen to radio news programming. Whatever you choose to do, be consistent with your following and try to learn from a few different sources—tracking only one news provider limits your news intake.

2. Know how to research. There is magic inside that Extemp file folder, and it’s found within the articles filed away for competition. From following the news you will be aware of what is happening and able to speak on a subject. However, Extemp requires sources. And sources equal research. Learn how to use a library, on-line data bases, and the internet. Be sure these sources are reliable!

3. Know how to stay organized. Those articles will mean nothing if they are disorganized. If you have to share a box, be sure to come-up with a system that everyone knows to avoid chaos. Separate by subject not by source.

4. Know how to utilize your note card. If you chose to use a note card as an aid during your speech, you better work it. Make sure you know how to make an outline so that you do not get lost in the card. Write legibly to avoid the blunder of trying to read your notes when you should be speaking. Further, master the art of the glance to help make the card as unnoticeable as possible. Your speech is to be delivered to the audience, not a card.

5. Know the basics of impromptu speaking. True, you get to research and plan a speech, but you ultimately are left with a note card and your wits. Practice impromptu speeches to get better with quick thinking. Remember to slow down your speaking voice. This helps keep your voice clear and allows you and your audience to process what you are saying. If you are having issues forming a sentence, remain calm and try not to use placeholders (your “um”s and “ah”s).

6. Know the basics of public speaking. Diction, volume, facials, hand gestures, movement, eye contact, presence, etc all need to be polished. As this event is somewhat improvised, you will need to be more aware of how you are speaking/moving. Are you rocking? Is your right hand doing the same gesture too often? Are you being articulate? Can those in the back hear you? Do your eyes scan the room or are they stuck in one corner? Do you look confident? All of these questions, and more, need to be an undercurrent in your mind. As an Extemper you must be in control of not only the words you craft into a speech but also your body.

Knowing these six essentials will help you to be a better Extemper.

Domestic vs. International

For someone who has never competed in extemp, the categories of Domestic and International seem pretty self-explanatory. But in reality, there are more to these categories than what first meets the eye. And the challenges that come with each one can be equally surprising.

When students here about domestic extemp, the obvious explanation is extemporaneous speaking involving domestic affairs. However, this category is much more broad than that. While current events and economic issues tend to comprise the major components of this event, there are some less obvious topics covered within the boundaries of DX. I remember specifically 2006. There were many questions directly involving the Olympics and impact it would have on American spirit. Other topic areas have included the implications of the Martha Stewart trial and Michael Jackson. What was once merely domestic governmental issues has now become a glorified version of Impromptu. While this would seem to be easy, the difficulty comes in with the number of students who are familiar with domestic issues. This element alone can make it very challenging.

International extemp, like domestic, isn't as simple as it seems. There are two different angles covered here. The first one is how American foreign relations are affected by other countries. The other is how other countries interact with each other. That makes this category much trickier. A foreign extemper has to understand the dynamics not only of foreign governments, but religion and society and how those beliefs affect others. That takes a lot of time to cultivate because each country is completely unique among several different factors.

With that said, if you are just starting out in extemp, I would suggest domestic. It is relatively easier and the competition seems to be as well. With that said, both provide a unique challenge and the skill necessary will take time to master.

An Extemporaneous Interview

One Speech event that has always captured my intrigue is Extemporaneous Speaking. The whole event boggles me. I can research and write well. I can form solid arguments, and my analytical skills earned me A's in even the more challenging college courses. Yet, having to do all of that in the amount of prep time allotted to Extempers terrifies me. Working under pressure is usually when I produce my best work, but Extemporaneous Speaking is insanity; only Superheros of intellect need apply! Extemporaneous speakers always seemed like human encyclopedias--knowledge filled beings that knew more about international and national news than most adults.

I may be intrigued by Extemporaneous Speaking, but I have never considered doing the event. The box alone intimidates me with the promise of hours of weekly research for the thirty-some minutes a week it would be opened and in use. I suppose an Extemper would look at Prose, my event of choice, and see the hours of devotion to the binder as a lame payoff as well. Everyone has a preference. And though mine always sided with the acting events, my researcher, nerdy side appreciates and loves the effort Extempers exude.

Anyway, in an attempt to better understand the average Extemper, I asked my friend Denis Dupee some questions about Extemporaneous Speaking and what he learned while competing in the event in our high school days. There is some good advice in here, so enjoy!

1. What is your experience with Extemporaneous Speaking (years competing, major awards, etc.)?

I competed in Extemp for 4 years with my high school speech team. Although I occasionally tried other events, it was by far the best fit for me and the most rewarding. Apart from learning a lot, I met a lot of interesting people as well and the skills I learned in Extemp translated well to high school debate. I was only an average Extemper however, no state metals etc.

2. How do you prepare and practice for Extemp. competition?

Primary preparation is staying current on news, both international and national. I read the major papers and the Economist. Another way to prepare is by going through a list of potential topics and making sure you have a good understanding of them before an event. A lot of people categorize their news sources by topic for easy quoting.

3. What are some organizational systems you have used for your box and why did they work (or not work)?

My box was not as organized as it could have been, but essentially you think of possible categories and sort articles accordingly. The challenge is that there are always new topics in the news, so you have to keep current with the clippings. Quoting a 6 month old article is really not appropriate.

4. What type of materials should every Extemper have in their black box arsenal? Any resources you always found reliable for good material to cite?

You should always have a copy of the most current Economist, New York Times and one other publication so that you can add at least one up to date reference to your speech.

5. What advice can you give for utilizing prep time efficiently?

Advice for prep time is to pick your three key points right away then use your time to add in detail. If you spend 15 minutes deciding what to say (what your main ideas are), you are in trouble.

6. When outlining/drafting the speech, what are some tips you have?

When outlining and drafting the speech, you should not really go into detail, just bullets, but make sure it is like a good essay, points with sub-points and supporting examples or sources. The intro and conclusion should relate to each other, but again, don't spend half of your time thinking of a clever intro.

7. What tools should every Extemper bring to a tournament?

Your box, several pens, a few index cards to practice, a notebook, current news editions, a smile.

8. What do you do when you know nothing about your topic?

Okay, when you know nothing about your topic, at all, it means it really is an obscure topic or you are unprepared. Go through the current Economist, New York Times etc. and see if there is anything on it there, if not, sorry, all you can do is your best.

9. Any tricks for delivering your speech?

Tricks for the speech: I think what really works well is a clever intro reiterated in the conclusion. This takes practice though. Watch a few good Extempers and they will have mastered the intro/conclusion tie in.

10. Anything else to add?

You don't have to be "smart" to do Extemp; you have to be knowledgeable about the world and current events. Don't let the boxes intimidate you!!!

There you are. Some good, strong advice for the Novice or average Extemper. I guess Extemporaneous Speaking is not as alarming as I once thought. All the same, I look towards Exetempers in awe and will leave those boxes to the Superheroes of Speech.

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.


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