Interview with USX National Runner Up Adam Hamdan

Written by Dev Ahuja and Vikram Sundaram.
Adam Hamdan, runner-up in USX at Nats 2020, sits down for an interview about his extemp career and greatest tips.

Adam Hamdan was a runner-up at the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament in United States Extemp. In the state of Ohio, he was a three-time state finalist and the state champion in 2020. Fellow Extemper’s Bible writer Vikram Sundaram and I interviewed Adam on our podcast, Disquisition, back in May of 2020 (before Nats). This article will contain extemp-related questions and paraphrased answers between us that day, but the full episode can be found here.

Adam Hamdan speaking in the final round of the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament, as tweeted out by the official @speechanddebate Twitter account.

Vikram: What started your interest in speech and debate, and more specifically, extemporaneous speaking?

When I first came to Jackson, my high school, I transferred from another smaller school district. My brother did speech and debate and got a lot of his friends from there, and after I transferred, I realized that a lot of my friends were doing the activity as well. As for the category, since my brother did US Extemp and I already had some existing knowledge on it, I thought, why not do it myself. 

Dev: Were there any notable individuals that played a role in how you evolved as an extemper? 

It has to be Arjun Shanmugam. He and I were always practicing together, giving tips to each other, and just hanging out. He really helped me grow as an extemper. There’s also Eli Abboud, who was the state champion in IX my freshman year and definitely helped me during those first crucial steps.

Vikram: What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses in extemp, and how did you improve on the weaknesses and maintain the strengths to become the extemper you are today?

As for strengths, I always thought my work ethic was pretty good. During the season, I would always try to do a speech a day, and during the postseason I would ramp it up to two speeches a day. Just always working, and at times having an obsessive mindset towards extemp.

As for weaknesses, I’ve always been a pretty awkward person. Still am today. For example, whenever I’d open up with a joke, I would always give a ‘serial killer’ smile. So, working on my personality was one of my biggest obstacles. I had to work to not spew information and try not to sound like a robot, which took a lot of time to just slow down and take a step back. 

Vikram: What’s the best advice you can give to rising extempers?

It’s just as simple as pushing through it. Extemp is the hardest category to start out in, but it’s the easiest one to do once you get the ball rolling. Once you get that first speech, you start to become a little more familiar with the mechanics of the event, and it turns out to not be as scary as you might’ve initially thought.

Dev: How does it feel to finish off your extemp career as a state champion?

Good, I gotta say! It was pretty disappointing to hear that Nats was gonna be online this year. I was really looking forward to ending my career in person and capping off one last round. Having ended my state career off on a win was definitely very nice… especially when I can stick it to my brother who never won states. 

Vikram: How do you plan on staying in contact with the speech and debate community?

Right after I committed to Georgetown, my judge messaged me asking if I could judge some of the local tournaments or help out by coaching. I, personally, don’t want to do that as much as my coaches want me to.  Don’t get me wrong, I love extemp, but I thought, once I’m done I kinda wanna be done. But, whenever I’m free, I’ll definitely still try to stay involved to an extent. 

Dev: What are the stupidest things you’ve ever received on a ballot?

I got a six once because the judge didn’t like how I shaved my beard. Apparently, I wasn’t clean-shaven enough. I also got a four in another round because I ‘violated their personal space’ during the speech.

Vikram: What are you planning to do in college at Georgetown?

One of my friends has been trying to convince me into doing Mock Trial, so that might be something I consider doing. Improv has also been one of the things that I have taken interest in lately, so I might pursue that in the future. As for my major, I am thinking about double majoring in government and economics. So fittingly, I wanna have some sort of career in the political sector, maybe consulting in the private sector, maybe public office, or lawyer. I haven’t really worked out all the logistics concerning my profession, but definitely something along those lines. 

Vikram: What was your biggest takeaway from the speech and debate community? Something you might use in the future from this event.

Definitely being able to talk and think on the fly. Being able to have interviews, like the one right now, I could’ve never done before. I was a very shy kid, and this helped me to be able to articulate my thoughts clearly and succinctly so I could pass down my knowledge.

Dev: What would you say is one of your biggest tips for prepping and getting ready for a speech?

As for prepping, definitely don’t over prep. When rounds ran behind, I knew people who would spend upwards of 45 minutes prepping and then go into their round giving a terrible speech. Don’t exclusively focus on being able to recite your speech verbatim, you simply won’t be able to do that in your actual speech. Regarding standard prepping tips, I would always like to break up writing and rehearsing into 15 minutes each. While researching, I like to write down key ideas and important sentences to help me streamline my speech. When rehearsing what I researched, I personally like to spend five minutes on each point. ‘

Dev: Where do you see yourself in five years using the skills you gained from speech and debate?

In five years, I’d hope to either be in grad school or have a job. As for the skills I’ve gained from speech, especially for the internships right out of college, there’s a lot of these interactive interviews with case-by-case scenarios. I see speech and debate helping me with those, as the skills I gained from it will help convey what I want to say concisely. I think extemp will be able to help me clearly write out a lot of my essays for the grad school style of formulaic writing.

You can find the full episode on Spotify below.

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