Facing Your Fears: Limited Preparation Events

Valor Lekas | 10/7/22

No one likes talking in front of people. I know that's a hot take, considering that the current audience actively pursues it as an extracurricular, but even the best speakers feel that anxiety before stepping up in front of a crowd. And it doesn't diminish even when it's a small room with a judge and maybe another student— it almost magnifies, and the dread that pools in any speecher's stomach won't ever go away. That same trepidation compounds upon itself when you add the factor in that you have no idea what you're going to say. That's limited preparation events for you. It's basically a window of time allotted to you to be the only one sprouting random words out of your mouth and hoping they make sense.

This fear isn't limited to forensics, either— it's actually one of the primary reasons any non-debater stays far, far away: to avoid the daunting thought of having to think of something to say. In limited preparation events, that thinking time diminishes from weeks and even months in main debate events to a matter of minutes. Instead of having plenty of time to lounge about and carefully gather your research briefs, you pull some random knowledge out of the deep, dark recesses of your brain and pray that it's enough to help you hobble through. It's unique to any other skill, and a chronically underrated one at that.

That's what makes events like extemporaneous speaking so terrifying; not only do you have to amass and cite knowledge, but you must retain it after only seeing it less than thirty minutes prior. When I started my forensics 'career', per se, I had always found it so crazy that a person could create such a well thought out, informed speech without any time to think. It's what initially inspired me to pursue that vein of speech and debate, and I've never looked back. Starting out was rough, just like it is for any novice, but this particular event provided an extra hurdle to jump. Learning the event and the content is one thing; knowing how to articulate yourself without excessive background knowledge is yet another issue entirely. The experience is eerily similar to writing a DBQ, except you have to find your own documents, you don't have the space of writing a word to formulate your ideas, and there's not even close to enough time to construct anything more than a basic outline. Speaking isn't something that comes as naturally as writing, either; it's rare that it's taught in school, and if it is, it's an elective. But it's such a valuable trait to have. Thinking on your feet will surely have you never off guard. It's one of the qualities of a great leader, thinker, and creator.

Speaking without time for scripting also provides the extra challenge of shifting into a speaking mode that's completely different from normal. I don't talk with pretty words all the time— as a matter of fact, I curse constantly, and every other word is an abbreviation or slang I picked up from a friend or a TikTok. But limited prep speakers must minimize their colloqualized language, focus their words into SAT-level vocabulary (thank you, AP Lang), and sound professional without even having to think about it. Cutting out words such as 'like' or 'um' is a task harder than it seems. It's a habit that impromptu, extemporaneous speaking, and any other unscripted event forces you to unlearn. Most people can't go through a sentence without accidentally stumbling over their words, interrupting them with an uhhh, or breaking character to regroup their thoughts. That's what makes limited prep so special— it puts speakers a step above anyone else, and for anyone considering a job that requires fast thinking, it's a skill you'll use for a lifetime. And that's more careers than you think; teachers, lawyers, politicians, journalists, and even STEM fields will need to be able to adapt efficiently. An engineer or scientist will need to pitch their research at some point. A consultant will need to communicate with the businesses they work with to report data. You're more than prepared for any job interview, bolstering your most likely already impressive resume. Being able to walk into a situation blind is an attribute that many employers look for— and if you need to intervene or improv something, having that tool in your toolbox will prove very handy.

If you're thinking, That sounds great and all, but I don't know what to say, then that's completely okay. No one is expected to jump into the deep end. Simple memorization exercises can help with any type of speech and debate, and trying to talk for even two or three minutes about a specific topic can help debaters argue a specific side without straying into tangents. Many coaches recommend limited prep events to help debaters practice giving organized speeches. It doesn't hurt to try, even if it's just talking to yourself in the middle of the night. Even a small attempt can start your path towards better speaking skills, and finally face the fear of public speaking off the page.

Some of my recommendations:

  • Read an article, then try to give a short thirty-second summary without looking at it.

  • Find a quote (from any media, as long as you can interpret it) and create a thesis for how you would interpret its meaning.

  • Find the nearest household item you can pick up and talk about why it's important for two minutes.

  • Read an infographic, try to memorize some of the statistics, and recite them without looking at it.

  • Take a typical extemp prompt, record yourself answering it, and count how many filler words you used.

By no means do you have to do something every night to start making a change, but even prepping your brain for the possibility of sidetracking off-script can be beneficial. Practice makes progress, after all. Even if you don't plan on becoming a varsity extemper anytime soon, the benefits of limited prep speaking can still assist you in your own forensics event and beyond.