Nonverbal Communication in Speech

In this article, we take a look at how good gestures, posture, eye contact, and facial expressions can really improve a performance in Extemp while discussing ways to improve them.

Depending on who you ask, anywhere between 60 and 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. This is especially true in Extemporaneous speaking, where gestures and eye contact can make or break any speech. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to improve nonverbal communication to impress judges and win rounds. 

1- Eye contact

This is perhaps the most essential item on this list. Confidently looking the judge in the eye is essential for a variety of reasons. It makes you appear more authoritative while making it easier for the judges to feel engaged. Unfortunately, many novice Extempers struggle with this. I remember when I was first starting out in Extemp, I often felt nervous and didn’t make enough eye contact as a result. Thankfully, this is a really easy one to fix. Just make a conscious effort during a practice speech to make direct eye contact with one specific point most of the time. If there are multiple judges, try spending one sentence making eye contact with one judge, moving one judge to the right with the next sentence, and so forth. If you’re competing virtually, pretend that your computer’s monitor is the judge’s eyes. 

2- Gestures

This can be a tricky one in Extemp. Competitors in events like persuasive and Informative have the opportunity to plan out hand gestures to emphasize certain points during practices. Extempers are not so fortunate. It’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to choreograph specific gestures during the thirty minutes of prep. As a result, the only way to get better at gestures is to simply make them into a habit. Watch some national extemp finals and try to emulate the gestures they use. Have a few specific gestures that you routinely turn to and use them throughout your speeches. If you do this for a few practice speeches, it will soon become second nature. Additionally, when not gesturing, let your arms hang at your sides. Overused gestures are almost as bad as none at all. 

3- General Posture 

Another essential way to project confidence is your posture. When your mind is wholly focused on remembering your content and sources, it’s easy to sway from side to side and stray away from having an authoritative posture. Again, just making a conscious effort can go a long way with this one. During practices, make sure to firmly plant your feet and stand up straight, and your posture will naturally improve. 

4- Facial Expressions

An important way of communicating with the judges is your facial expressions. Make sure to smile and convey an eager persona to the judges when entering the round. During the round, utilize a variety of facial expressions to match the various tones of your speech. When telling a sad story or citing a horrifying statistic, make sure that your expressions communicate sadness and empathy. When telling a joke or making a lighthearted jab at a politician, be sure to smile. It can be easy to forget about facial expressions in the middle of a round, but the truth is they can make your arguments substantially more convincing and let the judge know that you care about what you’re talking about.

In competitive speech, it’s easy to get caught up in having great content and good memorization. These things are essential, no doubt, but it’s also important to communicate non verbally as well. Gestures and eye contact can easily affect how the judges see you as a competitor and how persuasive your speech really is. The list above represents just a few of the many things that can help your speeches look and feel more authoritative and convincing. Thankfully, in the age of virtual competitions it’s easier than ever to film yourself and take a look at what you can improve. This is perhaps one of the most essential steps in your journey towards becoming a better extemper. 

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