The following is the ultimate guide for novices on how to succeed in extemporaneous speaking. Covered are the following sections: what is extemp, what goes into a speech, the art of substructure, confidence in this activity, free extemp resources, and concluding commentary. This guide was written by Ananth Veluvali.
Part 1: What is Extemporaneous Speaking?
Extemporaneous speaking (usually called “extemp”) is a limited-preparation speech event focused on current affairs. Here’s how a typical round unfolds:
Step 1: The speaker is given three random questions that are based on current affairs; then, the extemper picks their favorite question and returns the other two. For a better understanding of what these questions may look like, head to our weekly questions page. Ideally, you’ll feel comfortable answering any of the three questions you draw. For that to happen, though, you’ll need to read up on the most important news events ahead of tournaments. Here is a list of some news sources to check out. Rule number one of extemp? Reading is your best friend.
Step 2: Following that, you have 30 minutes of preparation time to write and memorize a speech on the assigned question. Because your time is so limited, it is advisable to limit the amount you write on your paper. Rule number two of extemp? Less is more. If you write out your speech word-for-word, you won’t have enough time to memorize, practice, or even finish writing your outline. Instead, write general ideas and bullet points. As a rule of thumb, there should be about 100 words or less on your paper. You should aim for three points when answering a question.
Step 3: After thirty minutes are up, you’ll head to your room (for the 2020-2021 speech season, that “room” is likely virtual) and deliver your speech. You’ll have 7:00 minutes to do so; if you go too far over, the judge will likely dock your ranks or even disqualify you. Accordingly, the third rule of extemp is that proper time allocation matters. When delivering your speech, remember to stay confident and poised—after all, extemp is a persuasive activity, something too many extempers forget.
Part 2: What Goes Into a Speech
An extemp speech, much like a persuasive essay, can be organized into three components: an introduction, some body paragraphs, and a conclusion. And unlike in your English classroom, where five-paragraph essays are discouraged in higher-level classes, “five-paragraph” extemp speeches (an introduction, 3 points, and a conclusion) are a good thing!
Let’s start with the introduction, which has the most moving parts in a speech. In your introduction, you need an AGD, context/background information, a statement of significance, a recitation of the question, a thesis, and a points preview. You’re probably wondering, What the heck does that mean?, so let’s break it down:
- AGD (attention-getting device): This is similar to the hook of an essay, where you’ll utilize a quote, a joke, a surprising statistic, historical parallel, or sad story to grab your audience’s attention. Unlike an essay, though, jokes are the most common kind of attention-getting device. Capturing the audience’s attention in one to two sentences can be challenging, so be sure to check out this article on how to “master” the art of AGDs.
- Context: This is the information the audience needs to know in order to understand the topic. In a few sentences, you should define any key terms in the question, including subjective or relatively unknown words & phrases. Here is an article on how to provide effective background information during the intro.
- Statement of Significance: This is the so what? of a speech. In one sentence, you should establish why the question you are about to ask matters. In this article, we delve into the statement of significance & offer some effective formats.
- Question: This is pretty intuitive—you’re just reciting the question you drew. Make sure you don’t mess up the wording of the question because a lot of judges look down on that.
- Thesis and a points preview: The thesis is a roughly 5-7 word analytical answer to the question, and the points preview is just a preview of the three points you have that answer the question. For a better understanding of this, watch a few extemp speeches (located in Part 5 of this Ultimate Novice Guide) and see how extempers structure their answers.
If you would like some more information on the introduction, check out this article written by Katelyn Cai and Peter Alisky!
After your introduction, you’ll have to get into each of your specific points. There, you should spend around 1 minute and 30 seconds on each point, utilizing direct and indirect evidence to answer the question. As a fourth rule of extemp, the more persuasive, educational, and creative your reasoning, the better.
Finally, once you’re done with your introduction and all three points, you should spend the remaining 30 seconds – 1 minute reflecting upon the question. Here, you should recite the question, your thesis, and your points preview. Then, you should conclude with 1-2 more sentences that give your judge something to think about (similar to the clincher of an essay).
If you’re still confused, check out this excellent video by Annie Zhao and Katherine Hu on how to prep an extemp speech below.
Part 3: The Art of Substructure
You’re probably wondering how should you structure the information inside each of your points. To answer that, you’ll need to understand substructure. The following three articles take you through substructure and how to structure your arguments. Each article pairs general principles with specific examples, so you can become a substructure maestro.
The first article delves into what substructure is and the most basic and prototypical format.
The second article delves into some more specific and complex substructure formats.
The third article concludes the substructure series with some final substructure formats (including my favorite!).
By the end of these three articles, you’ll know what substructure is, the general way to structure a point, and six specific substructure formats. When you’re starting out, try to employ a few of these formats in your speeches, so substructure will make more sense!
Substructure is the trickiest part of extemp, so don’t worry if it feels complicated when you’re starting out. With sustained practice, it will eventually become second-nature.
Part 4: Being Confident in Extemp
A fifth golden rule of extemp is that the best extempers are the most confident ones. If you exhibit confidence while delivering your speech, your judges are more inclined to believe your analysis and give you a higher rank.
However, it’s easy to get discouraged in this activity—after all, extemp isn’t for the faint of heart. To prevent that from happening, read the four following articles on how to be a more confident and assertive speaker. Not only will this improve your delivery, but it will make you a more contented extemper.
This first article doles out advice on how to “conquer the crowd,” revealing how you can speak confidently in front of larger audiences (or even smaller ones).
This second article incorporates the perspective of a small-school extemper, who gives advice to other small-school extempers on how to stand-out, even with fewer resources or a smaller team.
This third article discusses how you can fight impostor syndrome in extemporaneous speaking. At times, it’s easy to feel as if you don’t belong in this activity, but just remember, you do.
Finally, this fourth article highlights how you can “dress up” your extemp speech when you don’t feel fully confident about it. This is a must read for all extempers.
Part 5: Resources in Extemp
So, you’ve made it through! If you’re still curious on how to succeed in this activity, check out a few of the resources below (plus this website!).
- A list of twenty free presentations from an extemporaneous speaking camp we hosted in the summer of 2020. These presentations cover topic areas like the Middle East, US Politics, and China, plus specific extemp topics like substructure and the art of delivery.
- A definitive source list for extemp speaking, with over 100 sources you can look through. Pick a few sources from each section, and read those sources for the rest of the day. Then, repeat that process with a few different sources the next day. After a few days, you’ll get a general idea of which sources you like the best, and you should start filing those sources consistently. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economist, FiveThirtyEight, Vox, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs!
- An article on how to increase your speaking presence at online tournaments. With six clearly delineated tips & tricks, you’ll emerge a better speaker!
- A few videos:
- A speech by Clay Owens, the final round winner of the 2017 NSDA IX national tournament.
- A speech by Tanner Jones, the runner-up of the 2018 NSDA USX national tournament.
- A speech by Christopher Maximos, the third place finisher of the 2019 NSDA USX national tournament.
- A beginner breakdown of her national final round speech and an advanced breakdown of her national final round speech by Jackie Wei, the two time USX national champion.
Part 6: Concluding Commentary
Extemp speaking is a truly rewarding event that will make you a more analytical, persuasive, and confident speaker. Hopefully this guide helps you on the path toward extemp stardom and feel free to reach out with any questions! You can contact us on Instagram (@theextempersbible) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).