Extemporaneous is an intimidating speech category, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Competing in Extemp builds your critical thinking skills, makes you a more informed citizen, and is an incredible opportunity to share your opinion on important issues with the judges. Every speech is a blank slate, and you have complete freedom to say whatever you want.
Looking back on my speeches, I can see clear patterns of different approaches I would take to answer the questions. I can see these strategies now retrospectively, but I wish I would have realized them in advance and used them intentionally.
Understanding these seven different approaches and when to use them will help you know which question to choose and how to structure your three points. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, and which one you use depends entirely on the question and how it’s worded.
Tactic 1: Answer, Then Support
In this approach, you start off by answering the question, and then your three points all support of that answer. Your answer is not one of your three points; you answer the question before you start the real content of your speech.
Will Facebook’s “trustworthiness score” effectively combat misinformation? I said “No,” and then supported it with 3 points: “Not Individualized,” “Confirms Bias,” and “Censorship.”
Has Putin restored Russia’s global influence? Yes! “Syria,” “Israel,” and “Russia.”
Should Ivanka Trump refrain from wearing her own brand of clothing? Yes. “Conflict of interest,” “Potential Corruption,” and “Harmed Relatability.”
When to use this tactic: This approach works best when answering yes or no questions. Take a stand, and then back it up with further analysis.
Tactic 2: Inform, Then Answer
With this one, you give some background and set up your answer before directly addressing the question. Sometimes, you will be giving a speech on an issue that is not always in the top headlines. When this is the case, it is important to educate your judges on the background and context of the situation before diving into your analysis.
What should Ecuador do about its Julian Assange problem? My three points: “Problem,” “For Ecuador,” and “Their Solution.” It is not common knowledge that Julian Assange is in Ecuador, or what their problem is, so I used the first two points to establish that context.
What does the SCOTUS decision on North Carolina’s congressional map mean for Wisconsin? “Gerrymandering,” “The Decision,” and “Wisconsin.” If I hadn’t told the judges what the SCOTUS decision was or what gerrymandering was, many of them may have been completely lost during my third point about what the decision means for Wisconsin.
Should the Citizenship of the Wind Rush Generation be questioned? “Who Are They,” “What do they want,” and “Should Not be Questioned.”
When to use this tactic: When the topic of the question is not common knowledge. Sometimes topics can be explained during the answer, but some topics require more background than others.
Tactic 3: Answer, Then Go Deeper
Sometimes, the question has a very short answer. If this is the case, then you want to make the speech more interesting and go beyond what the question would limit you to.
Will Canada stick by its promise to bring in high numbers of refugees? Yes! “Action,” “Response,” and “Impact.” I took the stand that Canada will follow through on its promise. But then I talked about what the response will be and the impact. The question technically didn’t ask for those last two points, but I went beyond the question to provide extra analysis and a more interesting speech to my judges.
Will the President’s recognition of Jerusalem harm relations between Israel and Palestine? My response was something along the lines of “DUH OF COURSE.” “Worsened Relationships,” “Negotiations Unlikely,” and “Why the US Shouldn’t care.” Only my first point directly answers the question, but if that’s all I were to say, that would be a very lame speech. I go on to talk about how unlikely negotiations are because of the worsened relations, and lastly why the US shouldn’t care.
When to use this tactic: Often, the answer to Extemp questions are very short: yes or no. If you leave it at that, how are you going to fill up seven minutes? Going deeper means providing further analysis beyond what the question asks you to answer.
Tactic 4: Mediate, Then Decide
Show both sides of the issue, then present why you believe one is more convincing than the other. Making a case for both sides will improve your persuasive skills and help you understand that there are always two sides to an issue. Deciding at the end shows the judge that you still have an opinion.
Is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization? “The Iranian Case,” “Trump’s case,” and “Yes! + Why the US should designate them as one.” Before I answer the question, I inform the judges on the arguments from both sides. This provides good context and background for the actual answer.
Will the Democrats’ infrastructure plan be a better tax than the recently passed tax law? “Strategy,” “Case for taxing the rich,” and “Case against taxing the rich.”
When to use this tactic: Whenever you have a question that there is controversy about, it can be beneficial to show both sides. This often makes your speech more interesting, engaging, and credible.
Tactic 5: Mediate and Don’t Decide
This approach is similar to #4, but instead of taking a stand at the end, you give a weak cop-out answer either saying “maybe,” “it depends,” “I don’t know,” or passing the decision on to someone else.
Should CEOs insert their companies into polarizing political debates? “Case for,” “Case against,” and “Personal Choice.” This time, I decided I wasn’t confident enough on either side to answer the question directly.
When to use this tactic: Though this approach is an option, 90% of the time, I don’t recommend using it. The example above was the only time I could find/remember using it. Usually judges want you to directly answer the question, and any approach like this can make it seem like you’re not confident or like you’re avoiding the question. However, in select cases, I think it can be effective: if you can make a case that someone else should decide, that it depends on the situation, or that it’s impossible to know.
Tactic 6: Answer, Then Qualify
Give your answer, but then show how you’re not completely certain and how it could easily go the other way. You’re still giving a clear answer, but hedging your bets against the other side too by sneaking in a little doubt through devil’s advocacy.
What impact would a complete laptop ban have on airlines? “Why ban,” “Huge Backlash,” and “No Net Loss.” Those last two points may be contradictory, but they are showing two different options that could happen. I promoted one over the other, and kind of showed two separate impacts, but also said something else could very well happen too.
Can Marie Le Pen re-brand the National Front? Yes, but the change is insignificant. This question is focusing on the wrong thing. In this example I answered the question, but then “undermined” my own point by saying it was insignificant and didn’t really matter.
When to use this tactic: When you need to answer the question but also still have lingering doubts about your answer. It is okay to qualify the answer or critique the question.
Tactic 7: Three Standalone Points
With this one, you can present different approaches to the question dealing with different perspectives. Different answers for different situations.
How will Mike Pompeo impact foreign policy if he is confirmed as Secretary of State? “Iran,” “Torture,” and “War Philosophy.” In this speech, I talked about three different ways Mike Pompeo would impact foreign policy.
What does the future hold for Mauricio Macri in Argentina? “Midterm Success,” “Unpopular Reforms,” and “Economic Success.”
When to use this tactic: When the answer depends on the situation. You can have three separate answers in three different areas. This approach is not for yes or no questions, but open ended ones.
These different approaches are completely customizable. I’m sure there are many more than seven strategies out there; these are simply the ones I found looking back at my speeches. Again, I wish I would have realized these approaches and been more organized when I was competing. I think knowing these approaches ahead of time and when to use them would have saved time during prep, and made my speeches clearer and more effective. I hope you find these useful!