Becoming a Better Extemper: Considering Interp (pt.1)

Letting your personality shine in a speech is often what sets you apart from other speakers in a round, allowing you to establish your abilities as a speaker to the judge. In this multi-part series, Akshita Krishnan discusses using Interp as a way to build your speaking style.

In an interview done by SpeechGeek after the 2021 National Speech and Debate Tournament, the US extemp champion for that year, Laurel Holley, described herself as finding her niche through “telling people’s stories” and as a “storyteller who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable” when asked about her style and approach to extemp. Holley stated that this style was mainly developed through doing other speech events, including Original Oratory and Declamation, which really allowed her to capitalize on the fact that extemp was an event that relied on persuasion and building a connection. Unfortunately, citing source after source and stat after stat just won’t get you that connection

Don’t get Holley (or me) wrong: using evidence is (obviously) still important, but there is a wall that will continue to pop up when the route you want to take is the technical, theoretical extemper, who fills the time with analysis, and doesn’t leave much room to develop the actual speech in terms of persona, emotion, or even humor. In the world of Speech and Debate, dominated by political thought and lists of sources, interp events are often ignored for debate or platform. As tempting as it sounds  not to have to cut, write, or memorize additional pieces, extempers should not make this decision—if used correctly, interp can be a really important tool in building expressions, understanding vocal intonations, and realizing the way that gestures can be manipulated into a powerful tool to enhance your speaking.

While there isn’t anything wrong with having a speech that’s more technical, there is a very fine line that dictates when your speech is higher on the content level versus when your speech is only content. The sad part to all of this is that these assumptions often take root in your first year in doing extemp, leaving your speeches filled with content, yet lacking any persona. This is exactly where interp comes in place—it forces you to stop making such a mistake. 

To explain exactly how it works, I’ll share my own experience with interp. 

At the end of a very underwhelming freshman year season, I was determined to improve, but I kept hitting that wall, even though I had been reading more and trying to provide my own analysis instead of rattling off the conclusions of my sources.  When I worked with our extemp captain at the time (shout out to Natasha, the best captain/friend I could ask for) during practice, the comments I received were mostly about the inconsistencies in my delivery. I was incredibly sloppy: my hand gestures were unnecessary and excessive, I rocked back and forth, and I faced a slew of fluency breaks, causing my voice to go up an octave because of all of the nerves… Additionally, I didn’t have good body language, and even if my voice demonstrated that I was passionate about the topic, I looked uninterested and bored about everything I was saying, depleting the quality of my speech. After I was able to identify all of this, however, I had no idea how I could go about fixing all of it. 

Enter: Interp. 

Determined to improve, I began splitting my time with extemp and interp, and I was assigned to cutting and paginating a poetry piece for UIL (more shout outs to Diya and Mrs. Gossett, who helped me with it every step of the way). Over the course of the year, I slowly worked the piece to perfection, nailing down the way I needed to deliver each and every single word. Although I never competed with the piece, the most important thing that came out of this was the fact that I found every mistake I made in extemp to transcend the boundaries into interp, and worked persistently to be able to fix what I was doing wrong. I could see the results of my work: my extemping was leveling up, and I broke at most of the tournaments I competed in. 

Now, I won’t claim that I never made any of those mistakes again, but what I will say is the fact that those errors became few and far in my speeches, all thanks to interp. I also learned a few tricks to be able to avoid certain habits that I had, including how to stop fidgeting, something that I would do all the time. By putting in the work for interp, all of the delivery based aspects of the skills will become second nature, so the next time you prep a speech, saying it will certainly not be the hardest thing that you have to do. 

For those of you who are still hesitant to put up a POI, check back tomorrow for a cheat sheet on the applications of interp to extemp, especially if you’re someone who struggles with understanding pathos, humor, or incorporating visual elements. 

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