Four Things You Need to Know About Cross-Ex in Extemp

At the 2018 National Championship, NCFCA announced that it would be adding cross-examination to extemporaneous speaking outrounds. After each extemp speech, the speaker will turn in their card to the head judge, watch the next speaker, and have 2 minutes to ask him questions about his topic. This process repeats for the whole outround.

Here’s what you need to know.

1: It Isn’t New

NSDA (the largest high school speech and debate league in the United States) has used cross-examination in extemp for decades. They usually reserve it for finals only at large national-level and regional tournaments. If you’re looking for examples, search YouTube for videos of NSDA extemp finalists and watch the cross-ex at the end.

Here’s an example.

2: It Has a Purpose…Kind Of

Within the new rules, NCFCA states,

“During cross-examination, an Extemp Examiner will ask a thought-provoking question(s) that invites dialogue and deepens understanding of the presented position. The Extemp Examiner may use notes, prepared during the speech.”

Questioners are supposed to invite dialogue and deepen understanding. Sounds warm and fuzzy. But it’s a vague purpose statement. The main takeaway is that you aren’t here to antagonize the speaker, you’re here to further explore the ins and outs of their position.

3: Be the Voice of the Judge

The judge just heard a speech about why the US should avoid any involvement in Syria. Unless they came into the room agreeing with everything the speaker said, they likely have questions of their own (“Wait, you’re saying we should do nothing about Assad and his use of chemical weapons?”) Your goal, unlike debate CX, is not to gain an admission or get their position on something. Instead, it’s to ask them how they would engage with counter-positions.

Q: Should the US do anything about the tragedies in Syria?

A: Yes, but not with our military.

Q: Then how should we help?

A: Hmm…

This doesn’t mean all of your questions have to be things the judge was already thinking. At times, it might make sense to introduce an intelligent and surprising question. But for a starting point, think about how the audience would disagree with your opponent. Voice their concerns with questions.

4: Be Mature

The biggest danger in any form of cross-examination is looking like a jerk. Cross-ex is the one time the judges get to see you directly interact with your opponent. That impression will stay with them as they’re making their decision. It’s going to be tempting to talk over your opponent or interrupt them in order to ask more questions. Don’t do it.

Q: When is military intervention a good idea?

A: Again, that’s not what I’m supposed to answer. I just have to talk about intervention in Syria. And that’s a really big question that people have debated for decades with no clear answer. I think in Syria we could have known that military intervention was a bad idea because of all the clear and obvious signs. There were terrorists, an evil government, disorganized rebels, and a crazy Russian government to worry about. Mix all that up with everything else that I referenced in my speech and you’ll get a recipe for disaster.

If your opponent is unreasonable, your judges will notice. Always focus on your connection to the audience, and everything else will fall into place.

Like any new addition to a speech event, CX in Extemp will eventually develop its own set of traditions. Until then, at your first tournaments, no one will know what to expect.

Except for you.

What do you think will happen in Extemp CX? Let us know in the comments!