After blankly gawking at three questions comprised of remote issues I knew virtually nothing about, I hesitantly scribbled one down on a piece of loose leaf and began “prepping” my first extemp speech. At the end of the thirty minutes, I was left with a two and a half point speech and an undermined self esteem; I stood unwilling to deliver the speech. I reluctantly shuffled my feet in a distinct box step pattern for barely four of the seven required speaking minutes, and I sat down at the nearest desk, feeling utterly discouraged. My teammate helped alleviate my embarrassment by explaining her personal speech related mishaps, as well as breaking down the structure of a speech and giving me tips on how to be poised while delivering one. As we left the meeting, she encouraged me to come back the following Thursday.
The sense of community offered by the speech team motivated me to keep attending meetings. My speeches soon began to exceed four minutes and I learned how to be a more eloquent speaker. Recognizing one’s ability to command a room while delivering a speech caused me to reevaluate my hand gesture movements and vocal variation. Every speech was an opportunity to assess my growth as a speaker and consider what skills to focus on. Meetings filled with ample practice speeches, drills, and content lectures helped me understand the benefits of such an arbitrary activity.
I learned that extemp was a platform where I could take rhetoric surrounding world issues and deliver meaningful solutions, articulating my own opinions and educating anyone who was willing to listen. The endless preparation conditioned me to become a critical thinker. Afternoons spent cycling between a variety of news sources further developed my passion to explore current events, ultimately prompting me to seek a role in mitigating these pertinent problems. After all, my favorite part of an extemp speech has always been the statement of significance. It is the one line I can unfailingly use to make a compelling argument about why an issue that appeared trivial has profound implications for different aspects of our society.
One of the most fulfilling experiences over the past four years has been working with our team’s underclassmen. My friends and I hoped to inspire them to develop a strong fascination for extemp, as well as leave a lasting legacy of unconditional support. We explained how to have organized substructure in every speech and reiterated theories regarding economics and world dynamics. Watching them grow as speakers was extremely rewarding, as we were able to cheer them on at every tournament they attended. This collaboration helped foster a caring atmosphere on our team.
The majority of my weekends over the past few years have included late night research “parties,” sing-along sessions on buses, and runs to CVS to purchase every caffeinated good available. This unconventional sequence of events became a pre-tournament ritual for my teammates and me. The solidarities created due to a shared interest with current events created a supportive community, unparalleled by any activity I have ever participated in. Our team always exchanges smiles in the prep room as we all nervously wait for the round to start. There is always someone to offer advice after a subpar speech or provide encouraging eye contact during a tournament outround. These friendships also transcend town and state borders. A short conversation about how a round went acts as a catalyst toward a long-lasting friendship. Everyone is so open minded to meeting others that these types of conversations appear instinctive. Some of the most vivid memories I have from competing are intense games of tag, amusing rounds of Cards Against Humanity, and loud jam sessions in the prep room.
While the community aspect of extemp has been rewarding, myself and other girls have found it difficult to fully immerse ourselves into the activity because of the “bro culture” that is ubiquitous. We need to be exceedingly aware about parts of our delivery, and regardless of that, there is still a tendency to view females as less confident relative to our male counterparts. After a female teammate and I finished our final speeches at a tournament last month, the only feedback we received from our male teammate was that neither of us were able to “command the room,” whereas he began to praise males in the round for appearing overly confident. Our ability to articulate arguments eloquently has consistently been undermined by sexism.
With a finite number of tournaments left, I cannot help reflecting on the past four years of speech and debate. Quiet freshman year me would have never imagined I would become so engaged in an extracurricular activity, especially one that centered around public speaking. I will always be appreciative of my decision, though. Through my four years of high school, extemp has helped me become an informed and confident public speaker, while introducing me to some of my closest friends.