How to Answer “How” Questions

Questions calling for extempers to prescribe a feasible solution to one of the world’s many problems are unavoidable for the average speaker. While the difficulty of these questions vary, Daniel Kind helps outline some easy-to-follow guidelines for how you can best approach and answer these questions.

Some of the most common questions extempers will find at tournaments are the ones that ask them to solve the world’s problems. Whether that be resolving electoral issues in Nigeria, crafting an effective military response to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, or the best way to tackle America’s housing crisis. At face value, answering these common kinds of questions seem simple, but the burdens placed upon the extemper who answers them are extraordinary; properly dealing issues with practical solutions is a daunting task even for world leaders and experts, much less a high school student. Nevertheless, these kinds of questions will need to be answered, and any Extemper with the hopes of finding success in the event will need to have the knowledge and skill to answer them properly. This article will be a comprehensive guide for answering the “how” questions and offer tried and true guidance and advice on these questions. Questions like this that posit an initial problem require you to prescribe a solution to solve the problem. Thus, “how” questions are often called prescriptive questions. There is a disclaimer, though, in an event as mercurial and subjective as Extemp, no rule is set in stone. The tips and advice outlined here are not going to apply to every situation; different questions require different speeches to properly answer them. Consider this guide as a broad guidance tool for prescriptive questions rather than a universal set of rules. Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty and answer this question.

This first and perhaps most important part of your speech is the introduction. It’s your judges’ first impression of you as a speaker and your first and only opportunity to frame your question and answers before you get into your points. Thus, it’s extraordinarily important to properly frame prescriptive questions before you even say it in your speech. For the most part, your AGD should remain the same as a good AGD usually is, as long as it’s interesting and topical. Perhaps mention or poke fun at the problem posed by the question in the AGD to go above and beyond, but doing so is certainly not necessary. By the time you get to your background, there’s a couple of key things you need to mention. First, you must include the problem in question in the background. This should be the first, if not one of the first things that come out of your mouth as you start your background. An Extemper who neglects to properly mention and frame the problem in their introduction makes it difficult for the judge and the audience to follow along with the rest of their speech. Talking about the problem right out of the gate in the background shows your audience that you care about their engagement and helps maintain structure throughout your speech. After talking about the problem, the second part of your background must talk about why the problem has yet to be solved. The problem you get is usually a major geopolitical issue, one that the world has to be aware of. If you fail to adequately explain why solutions to the problem have yet to be implemented, all the ethos the judge has to rely on is some random high school kid talking about some random issue. Talk about why Nigeria has yet to implement proper electoral reform or the motives behind the ECOWAS’s lack of geopolitical relevance. In this, you’re also injecting a sense of urgency into the introduction. This should be the third and final part of your background. Explain that the actors involved in the question are looking for a solution or why they should be. This sentence, specifically pushing for the urgency of the question, is called the conflict statement. Most successful Extempers, whether they know it or not, have this sentence in their speeches. Ideally, it should be at the end of the background and just before your Statement of Significance. On the topic of the SoS, this sentence should mention the negative impacts not solving the problem could have on the actors involved. For example, if the question is asking for ways to reduce carbon emissions, your significance statement should mention the devastating impacts a climate crisis would have on the world. If the question is asking for further guidance on American foreign policy in the Middle East, talk about the possible negative impacts of the continuation of the status quo. At its most fundamental level, your significance statement should make the judge care about your speech. For prescriptive questions, getting your judge to care about the problem you are solving is going to make them intrinsically care about the solution you have for it. For more emotional appeal, mention the broad impact on human lives. Good ideas for things to mention in the significance statement is money, people, and power. Now that you’re finished with the majority of your intro, and you’ve stated the question verbatim, the next part is your answer. Keep this answer concise, on the topic, and an umbrella solution for the more specific methods you will mention in your three points. The taglines used to introduce your points in the roadmap should be structured using “noun, verb, noun” and be long enough to get your point across but short enough that the judge can understand and write it down. With these methods, properly framing the question in the introduction is relatively simple. The introduction, as the most important part of your speech, is the judges’ first good gauge of your abilities. By proving you can set up problems and solutions in the first minute and effectively articulating why your speech matters, you’ll be in extraordinary shape for the rest of your speech.

The next and most crucial step to effectively answering “how” questions is using the appropriate substructure in each of your points. For prescriptive questions, the question requires you first to establish the problem and then explain a solution in each of your points. For example, if your question is asking how America can establish a better diplomatic relationship with Spain, let’s say your umbrella answer is to solve the underlying problems that have led to Spanish-American diplomatic apathy. Hypothetically, you have a point about creating more trade between the US and Spain to facilitate better diplomacy. The first part of this point should be dedicated to explaining why America and Spain don’t trade very much and how it affects their diplomatic relationship. Then, the second part of the point should be dedicated to solutions that could help bolster trade between these two countries and facilitate better diplomacy. In this subpoint, you would need to explain what the solution is (ex. Lifting tariffs on Spanish natural resources), how it would work, and why it would be effective. Then, as with any point, finish it off with an impact subpoint that connects your point to the question and your thesis. In short, explain the problem (how, and why), then explain the solution (what, how, and why), and finish by linking the point back to the thesis in question. Rinse and repeat this three times. For a great example of how this is effectively done, see Olivia Shoemaker’s 2017 NSDA IX Final speech. This simple structure setup for each point not only makes it easier for judges to understand your speech and analysis, but it makes it easier for you to write and remember the speech. Substructure is the pathway to easy, effective, and easily-digestible analysis and presentation that can still have top tier analysis and skillful presenting flair. By using this structure for prescriptive questions, Extempers can elevate their abilities to a much more consistent and adept speeches.

How you say your speech is just as important as the words you say in it. After all, not every judge will pick up on nuanced analysis and every word of seven straight minutes of complicated political analysis. When it comes to prescriptive questions, Extempers also need to consider how they are presenting the speech. Prescriptive questions are unique in the sense that they allow extempers to vary their tone and lean into their pathos. For a quick break from the tough real-world issues Extempers bring up in their speeches, it may be beneficial to throw in an interesting fact or quick joke to re-engage the audience before they move back into the main parts of the speech. Presentation-wise, Extempers need to keep in mind that when they talk about the problems in the world, they need to say them and use diction that indicates that they are problems. If they use the same tone of voice and vocal intonation that they have been using for the rest of their speech, not only will their judge be bored and glide right by that part, they’re going to recognize the lack of passion or care for the subject at hand—something, which hurts your ethos immeasurably. Often, judges will rank a speaker who passionately spoke about an issue than one who spoke monotonously and glosses right over real-world problems even if the latter’s analysis is better. The second side of this coin is being optimistic about the solutions that you are offering. Speak in a way that shows you legitimately think this issue will help solve the problem. Smile a bit and pitch your voice up to end the sub-point on a high note that makes the judge appreciate your personality and genuine passion. Changing the way you speak can powerfully affect your speech. By showing you care about the issues you talk about, your speeches will be unequivocally improved.

In conclusion, seeing as Extempers will come across prescriptive questions as one of their most common kinds of questions, properly answering these questions, and using the right tools for them is essential to being successful in the event. By tailoring analysis, substructure, and speaking style to the type of questions you answer, the quality of your speech will drastically increase. Whatever the topic may be, using these tips will undoubtedly help you be an expert on answering “how” questions.

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