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Intro to Intros

In this article, Katelyn Cai and Peter Alisky run through everything you need to know about the introduction to an extemp speech.

Communism has always been doomed from the beginning. Must be all those red flags.

That’s a terrible, unoriginal joke… aka a classic attention-getter device and the perfect segue into the topic of today’s article: intros. 

Introductions are notoriously fickle creatures. You have to jampack an interesting AGD, knowledgeable and relevant background information, a powerful significance statement, the question, and the answer into (ideally) under 1:45. In our opinion, it’s one of the most important parts of your speech because your intro is the first impression the judge has of you. You always want to be a put-together, charming, passionate speaker, and if you’re stumbling and rambling in the first 30 seconds, you’ve lost your credibility already. So let’s walk through all the parts of the intro, and we’ll give our four cents on it. 

A quick disclaimer from Katelyn before we get started: extempers all pad their intros differently. I personally don’t write links, but instead verbalize them. Others don’t write an SS, and some people don’t call AGDs by the same name. Just find a system that works for you!

Attention Getter Device (AGD)

Attention Getter Devices are aptly named, given that they’re meant to get your audience’s attention. They can fall into one of four categories:

Funny: Humor is one of your strongest tools as an extemper. A funny AGD can consist of anything from ridiculous quotes from a world leader (think: Jair Bolsonaro suggesting people can turn into crocodiles from the COVID-19 vaccine) to a traditional set-up & punchline joke (eg President Joe Biden said he wouldn’t put America into anymore forever wars. Yeah, because politicians always keep their promises). Make sure that any joke you make is topical and tasteful. And make sure you think your joke is funny! The judges won’t buy it if you aren’t selling it. You should pause and smile when you want your audience to laugh, because otherwise, your audience may miss your wonderful joke to begin with. 

A lot of extempers create or come across a good joke, use it in a speech, and then run with it for every speech that’s remotely similar. That’s called canning and please do not do it. If a joke doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Canning makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about off the very first sentence. 

Evocative: There are topics where humor, or even a fun fact, just don’t work. A speech about famine in Yemen really should never start on a light note. Please don’t forget that extemp is about real people, suffering in real crises, however far away they may be. That being said, you can use evocative AGDs to really hit home the gravity of the topic. These really take time to create – anyone can drop a stat about how a child under five in Yemen dies every ten minutes of preventable diseases, but it takes a great speaker to give the stat in a way that really makes a judge think for a moment. The best delivery is one that is slow, punctuated with pauses when you drop heavy information, and somber/passionate depending on the content you use. 

Context-Driven: Some topics are really information heavy, or just structurally challenging (like triads or hypotheticals, for example). Attention getters here can jump straight into the context of the topic and mesh with the background. For example, for a speech on Hong Kong independence, one could start with a brief history of Hong Kong’s relationship to China and Britain. A speech with multiple actors would benefit from an explanation on how they’ve interacted with each other in the past. This archetype allows you to give your judge a lot of information while working into your limited time frame. 

Anecdotes*: Don’t. Just don’t. Anecdotes are for impromptu and platform events, not extemp. Your relationship with your brother is not like China’s with the US. 

Link (L) 

(Courtesy of Peter): As it’s named, this part links your attention getter to your topic/background. In the best attention getters, the link is natural and flows with whatever you’re already saying. Otherwise, you’re canning a joke or analogy that doesn’t fit. More than anything, a link is a one sentence transition that changes the focus of your speech as you enter the background. 

Background (BG)

You should assume that your judge knows nothing. You shouldn’t patronize them, but you do need to tell them something before you jump into the question. The background is generally the lengthiest part of the introduction. It sets important context and definitions that are vital to understanding your answer or the topic as a whole. The background should always be sourced. A lot of questions include information already: For example, 

Will Hyundai’s recent merger with Boston Dynamics threaten Tesla’s grip on the emerging autonomous car market? 

In a background for this speech, you have to explain what Hyundai is, what Boston Dynamics is, their recent merger, what Tesla is and their current role in the autonomous car market, and maybe even what the autonomous car market is. Without this information, your answer doesn’t make sense because the judge doesn’t know what you’re talking about. 

Remember that there simply is not enough time to fully explain every facet of a topic. A good extemper selects the most vital and pertinent information to include. A good rule of thumb is to define the terms in the question (like in the above Hyundai-Boston Dynamics-Tesla question). Any major recent developments around the topic (like a potential renegotiation of the merger) are also important to include. 

Skipping over portions of your background can also mean that you screw up your substructure later on in the speech. If you try to shove context in your transitions and A point, you can lose time, clarity, and the chance to amplify your delivery in on-tops. 

Advanced Technique (fancy!): If you feel comfortable with the basics of good background, you can start to move to the idea of framing your answer. The idea behind this strategy is to subtly poke and prod your judge to share your viewpoint before you’ve even given the answer. A lot of this comes from the accompanying rhetoric to your background. 

For example, let’s say you’re answering the question: Will Republicans see big gains in the 2022 midterm elections? A very simple framing method would be to throw in a single sentence along the lines of, “In just nearly every midterm election since World War II, the party with a president in office has suffered.” This gets your judge to thinking right off the bat that Democrats aren’t in a good position, and by the time you say that Republicans are probably going to win big in 2022, the judge is already agreeing with you. As much as we’d all like it to be, extemp is by no means an impartial activity. The more you can resonate with a judge, the better. 

Significance Statement (SS)

This is a one sentence statement given right before you recite the question. In the significance, tell your audience why they should care about your question. It’s often begun with “Given that…” or “considering…” and followed with a fact or consideration that really puts the topic into perspective. For a more detailed explanation of the significance, check out this article.

Question and Answer

This is pretty standard. Repeat your question (word for word!), give your thesis statement, and provide your three taglines. Try to slow down and pause between each tag, so your judge has time to process the information and write everything down. 

Whatever you do, don’t start a speech by reciting the question. Even if it’s the worst AGD in the worst, the thinnest link, the most rushed background, and a practically non-existent significance statement, it’s better than nothing. 

Intros can be really tough to manage at first! It was for us. But even if you start off with more red flags than communism, with time, practice, and a good foundational structure, you can create intros that not only help you get 1s, but also make you feel great about your speech too. 

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