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Johnston qualifies for national speech competition

For Nick Johnston, communication is key.

The 15-year-old sophomore at Clarke Community High School competed in the East Iowa National Forensic League at Marshalltown High School Feb. 14-15 and received second place in international extemporaneous speaking for speech competition.

This means Johnston qualified to national competition with the National Forensic League in Overland Park, Kan., June 15-20. The name of the competition will soon be known as National Speech and Debate Organization.

At Marshalltown, Johnston also received third place in domestic extemporaneous speaking, which means he is a first alternate for national competition in that category.

What does Johnston do with extemporaneous speaking? During competition, he gets a current event question and has 30 minutes to answer it. In those 30 minutes, he prepares a five to seven minute speech that will be presented before a judge or judges.

"You have resources you have to bring in beforehand, but once you get your question, you can't use the Internet or anything like that," Johnston said. "You have to have all your sources beforehand — all your information."

Johnston has other recent speech accolades. On March 6-7, he competed in the Iowa High School Forensic League — All Iowa Finals, which was held on the University of Iowa's campus. For domestic extemporaneous speaking, Johnston received sixth place in the state and was a spontaneous speaking semifinalist.

How it all started

How did Johnston get involved in this type of speech? A former Clarke student came back to the school district to judge a speech team, which was during the same time Johnston was trying to figure out what events of speech he wanted to get involved in.

"He suggested 'extemp' as a possible speech, so I thought I'd try that, and found that it was very suited to my capabilities and my abilities," Johnston said. "I thought it worked out really well."

What does it take to become a good extemporaneous speaker?

Johnston said a participant needs to know what he or she is talking about, have background information and prepare good presentation skills.

"It doesn't really matter how much you know about the subject if you can't present it to the judges and make them understand what you're trying to say," he said.


With domestic or international speech, discussion topics can include past or future presidential elections, crises in Ukraine or Syria, European Union, international relationships and other current events.

To prepare for speech competition, Johnston said he gets a lot of articles because he is allowed to bring in resources beforehand, but, once there, he can't collect information. He also practices with Don May, Clarke Community High School speech and English teacher.

One thing that also helps Johnston is watching other people do extemporaneous speaking — to an extent. He said the goal is to find your own presentation style.

"Just overall, trying to hone in that skill," Johnston said. "Trying to get in the key presentation. How you can most effectively communicate with your judges."

May said he's had other students go to national speech competition, and estimated it's once every three to four years.

Future skills

While a future career is still years away, Johnston said his speaking skills will help him in almost any field. However, he is thinking about going into law.

"I think that would definitely help if I want to be in a courtroom scenario, to be presenting to a jury or anything like that sort of nature," Johnston said. "Even if I don't go into that sort of field, I definitely don't think I'll regret having this skill, having speaking abilities."



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