With the State of the Union Address a day away, it’s time for a bit of reflection. No… not a reflection on the health of our democracy or the strength of our economy. It’s time to reflect on our goals for the rest of this year. Within the next few months, local circuits will wrap up their seasons, NSDA districts across the country will host their national-qualifying tournaments, and the best competitors in each state will gather for their state competitions.
At Extemp Hub, I will be dedicating my time to creating new content and recruiting for our first Extemp Hub Summer Camp. For current students, now is the perfect time to decide how much you want to achieve before the end of the year and how hard you’re willing to work to make your aspirations a reality. What follows are my four suggestions for Extempers who want to make the most of their remaining opportunities this year.
1. Keep reading!
Reading is absolutely essential to strengthen your Extemp skills. If your team has adopted Extemp Genie or Prepd, don’t fall into the trap of relying too heavily on auto-filing features. In fact, I would advise you discourage your team from using them altogether. What you lose in quantity of articles, you will hopefully gain in quality. The act of manually filing curates your collection so that queries during prep time will only return relevant, quality articles.
Furthermore, reading the articles before filing builds a foundation of knowledge that will free up more time during your 30-minute prep window at competitions. You don’t have to read every article you file or about every possible topic every day. Instead, keep track of new issues that pop up on the front pages of newspapers/journals and read at least one article to give yourself a ‘primer.’ You can usually determine if there’s a notable update about a topic by reading the headlines over subsequent days. In those cases, read the new article to update your knowledge.
The Economist is an excellent source of news both for the breadth of its coverage and the quality of its reporting. If you can read through each issue, prioritizing topic areas you haven’t read about recently, you’ll be in a much better place when sitting down to prep your speech during draw.
Also, too many Extempers have forgotten or ignored the value of books - yes, actual books - for Extemp analysis. While books require more time to get through, they also offer more depth and long-lasting analysis for your speeches. Further, books are rarely only useful for a single topic; their scope tends to offer applicable analysis and background information for a number of topic areas.
Some of my recommendations:
2. Practice, practice, practice.
This tip should go without saying. While practice is another investment of time for students who may find themselves with little time to spare, it is vital for achieving success in the latter half of the competitive season. If you find yourself struggling to make room in your schedule for 30 minutes of prep and a practice speech, try some different practice techniques that aren’t as time consuming.
Instead of giving full speeches, give ‘mini-speeches.’ Allot 10 minutes of prep and prepare a 3 minute speech with a single body point. Pick 3 topics and try to prepare just the introduction for each. Take an old speech and re-do your transitions with new on-tops. Any bit of practice is better than no practice.
3. Watch yourself.
If you’ve never recorded and watched yourself speaking, then you’ve managed to avoid one of the most simultaneously difficult and beneficial experiences associated with public speaking. My coach used to say, “We are our own toughest critics.” We can’t always know the mistakes we’re making until we’ve witnessed them with our own eyes.
When you have the time, have a friend record you giving a speech. Pull up a final round video from the NSDA resource package and then compare/contrast your speech with one of the finalists’ speeches. You don’t have to speak on the same topic. The main objective is to compare style, delivery, and the structure of analysis. You don’t have to become a carbon copy of the Extempers who have made NSDA finals; however, it’s useful to acknowledge that they have done something - or many things - correctly to reach their level of achievement.
Ask yourself: How do my gestures compare to theirs? My vocal delivery? The clarity of my analysis? The organization of my thoughts?
If one aspect of your speaking requires more improvement than others, deliver and record that portion of the speech one more time and compare your videos. What seems to work best for you?
I would also advise that you save your videos so that you can track your progress over time. If you’re like me, you’ll cringe the first time (or first 20 times) you watch yourself speak. Trust me - it will pay off.
4. Have some fun!
It’s easy and perfectly understandable to experience some burnout at this point of the year. Seniors have been completing college applications and everybody has been dealing with the stress of school, competitions, and the rest of the adolescent experience. While it’s important to set goals and work hard to achieve them, the rewards will feel hollow if you make yourself miserable in the process.
Remember, you shouldn’t need to feel alone. Find a like-minded member of your team to practice and prepare with. Take plenty of breaks and set aside time to have some fun without thinking about speech and debate. There’s a lot of great movies coming out, so plan a few outings with friends. Let your coach know if you’re feeling overwhelmed. In an activity that teaches communication, we often don’t do a good enough job communicating about our experiences with others. Coaches, remember that your students have lives outside of debate. Students, remember that your coaches have lives outside of debate also. As the year draws to an end, we’re all capable of showing the signs of stress.
Finally, no matter what goals you set, remember that this activity should be more about growth than achievement. The trophies we give at the end of each tournament don’t always make this clear. The purpose of the advice in this post is not to guarantee success; it’s just to make sure that you’ll be satisfied with your effort at the end of the year.
I hope that everybody enjoys the second half of the season. Extemp Hub wishes all of you the best of luck at your remaining tournaments. Have fun and enjoy the ride!