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The Secret to Success In Extemporaneous Speaking

When I was thrown into the deep end of extemporaneous speaking at the ripe age of eleven years old, it would be fair to say I crashed and burned. I was placed in the event last minute to replace a team member, and I definitely did not perform at her level. However, despite my unusual introduction to extemporaneous speaking, or extemp, over the past five years I have grown fond of this event. Extemp. develops speech skills that are extremely helpful not only in debate rounds, but in all types of public speaking.

It is important to understand what extemporaneous speaking actually is before going into a round. The key is limited prep time. In a speech and debate tournament, speakers are given a topic about current events and have thirty minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech. Depending on the league you are competing in, you might be able to use a notecard in your round, but you also may not. Regardless, it is essential to use your thirty minutes strategically in order to give a successful speech once you enter your round. Extemp might seem challenging and unapproachable to new speakers, but these tips will help ease your mind and ensure your success in your first tournament!

Stay Updated

Foremost, keep up to date on current events; this is not extemp-specific. In order to be a successful member of speech and debate, it is vital that you stay updated with the news. But in regard to extemp, this is even more important. All the topics for an extemp round are going to be surrounding current events. Prior knowledge about your topic can cut down your research time and help your speech flow much more clearly.

How to Use Prep Time

Now let's talk prep time! How are you supposed to curate an entire speech (intro, three main points, conclusion) in just thirty minutes? The answer is simple… you don't! See, the whole point of extemp is to encourage informed off-the-cuff speaking (which is what makes it different from impromptu speaking!) While you should be researching the topic and have some idea of what facts you are going to present to the judge, it should all flow naturally, and it doesn't need to have a set structure. But, over the past five years, I have found an efficient way to allocate time in order to be successful in my round.

Use five minutes to quickly research the topic. If your topic can be answered with a yes or no, come up with points to support each side. After doing your preliminary research, decide which side you can more effectively argue, and pick the strongest points you came up with.

Spend five to ten minutes researching your three points in-depth and gathering sources. Remember, with sources, it’s always quality over quantity. Use trustworthy, academic sites that your judge will know are reputable.

And finally, use the fifteen to twenty minutes left over to practice. If your league allows you to use a notecard, the only thing that should be on it are your three main points and your sources. Don’t waste valuable time writing your speech down. Leaving this much time to practice your speech helps you organize your thoughts while giving you a pretty clear idea of what you are going to say in your round. Using this strategy will help utilize your time in extemp prep to the best of your ability.


I’m sure you’ve heard this advice from every single debate/speech coach you’ve had, but it’s an important one. One of the most eye-opening pieces of advice I was given when I was a novice was that judges are just people! It sounds pretty obvious, but take a second to realize what this actually means. Judges know that you’re a middle school/high school student, and you probably don’t have the knowledge of a world leader or a professional researcher. If you simplify something, get a fact mixed up, or stumble over a few words, nine times out of ten, they are going to understand. Being nervous about making a mistake is usually more obvious than the mistake itself. Take a deep breath, and be yourself when you’re presenting! Speak in an engaging tone at a normal pace, and you’re going to do great.

Extemp is different from other speech events; you can practice the event a hundred times, and you might still stutter in a round. That’s okay! Speech and debate is an activity for building public speaking skills, and messing up is a part of the learning process. However, using these tips in your next tournament will definitely make the process less stressful and can help you avoid some of the common mistakes that many other extempers are prone to making.

  • Maya Nair, Missouri City, 12th Grade, @_mayanair

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