Lakeville North High School senior Olivia Shoemaker never expected she would like extemporaneous speaking, one of the categories she was assigned after joining the Speech Club in her freshman year.
The competition category has a reputation of being difficult because there is limited preparation time, 30 minutes, to research to deliver a 7-minute speech regarding a range of sophisticated current event topics that are typically political, social or economic in nature.
Many other speech categories require students to memorize and deliver a speech prepared ahead of time.
Her opinion of the category changed dramatically during her first tournament, which she described as a “really fun, competitive environment.”
“It’s like the kind of challenge you don’t necessarily get in the traditional academic environment,” Shoemaker said. “I guess speaking off the cuff and investigating those current events is super fascinating for me.”
With the help of then-team captains Max Blosser and David Bock, she excelled and has won numerous awards, including earning third place in the Tournament of Champions in Extemporaneous Speaking, a national competition held at Northwestern University in Chicago in early May.
She will participate in her last national speech competition, specifically for seniors, this June.
Shoemaker has also won numerous awards in the “impromptu” category, where students talk “off-the-cuff” about various subjects that could include a person or an object.
She said she joined speech her freshman year without any knowledge or experience in the activity, and encourages others to also consider joining the activity, both for the opportunities it provides and the relationships that are formed.
“I had some really amazing mentors that helped me get into it,” Shoemaker said. “That’s one of the really cool things about the speech community, it’s just a highly supportive community of people.”
Shoemaker said her participating in speech set her on course to study global affairs at Yale University this fall.
She does not have a specific career in mind but said her participation in extemporaneous speaking significantly influenced her interest in international relations, diplomacy, peace and conflict studies.
Looking at her last tournament in her speech career, she is not as focused on winning for the title, but hopes to make it to the championship rounds to reach a bigger audience and share with them information on topics about which she is passionate.
“One of the reasons I love exetemp is every time you walk into the room, you really get to teach someone something new,” Shoemaker said. “And that’s really what keeps me going to tournaments and stuff like that.”