Individual events (speech)

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Individual events in speech include public speaking, acting, reading, and interpretation. Competitive speech competitions and debates comprise the area of forensics. Forensics leagues have a number of speech events, generally determined by geographical region or league preference. Forensics leagues in the United States include the National Speech and Debate Association, the American Forensics Association, the National Forensics Association, and Stoa USA. Organized competitions are held at the high-school and collegiate level.

Public-speaking events[edit]

Original Oratory[edit]

Original Oratory, or Oratory, is one of the most common speech events and is the only public-speaking event at the National Forensic League National Tournament. In Original Oratory, a competitor prepares an original speech which may be informative or persuasive in nature. A competitor may use one speech for the entire season. The purpose of Oratory is to inspire belief or reinforce conviction.

At the high-school level, the speech is generally delivered without visual aids or notes. In many leagues (including the two U.S. tournaments), the number of directly-quoted words from other sources in the speech is limited; at the NFL nationals, the limit is 150 words. Speeches are generally eight to ten minutes in length, with a warning often given when the allowed time has expired; most tournaments have a 30-second grace period.


Persuasion is often considered the collegiate equivalent of Oratory. The focus of the event is to change, reinforce, or instill the attitudes, beliefs, and values of the audience. Although few rules that dictate what topics or formats are permissible in persuasion, most persuasion speeches are policy-based; speakers advocate a specific policy proposal to address a need, offering their recommendation in a problem-cause-solution or cause-effect-solution format. In 2006, the winning persuasion topics at the American Forensics Association (AFA) and National Forensics Association (NFA) were how to improve teacher retention and encourage citizens to correspond with their members of Congress.


Informative speaking, also known as Expository Address, is a speech meant to inform the audience. The speech may range from the newest, high tech inventions from around the world to cure cancer to lighthearted topics, such as Wikipedia. The topic should be timely, interesting, and something not readily understood by the general audience. The speaker's job is to make a complex topic easier to understand. In intercollegiate competition, the time limit is ten minutes and the speech is typically memorized. In high-school competition, time limits vary by U.S. state. Some informative speeches use visual aids; visual aids and puns (or wordplay) are emphasized in California, although neither are required.


Declamation, or memorized speech, is the high-school interpretation and presentation of a non-original speech. Speeches may be historical (such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech) or adapted from magazine articles, commencement addresses, or other adaptations of non-original material (including forensics speeches from previous years). Declamations are generally persuasive, and the competition is similar to Original Oratory. Like Oratory, speeches are about eight minutes long.

Rhetorical criticism[edit]

Rhetorical criticism, or communication analysis, is an individual collegiate event in which the speaker has ten minutes to present a speech. The speech usually consists of an introduction, the presentation of a rhetorical artifact, a communication theory or model, the application of the communication theory to the artifact, the implications of that analysis, and a conclusion.

The artifact may be anything of rhetorical significance, such as a book, a speech, an advertising campaign, or a protest movement. The speaker identifies the goals the artifact seeks to accomplish. They then select a model form of analysis (typically borrowed from communication scholars) to determine the effectiveness of the artifact in reaching its goal; for example, in analyzing an anti-smoking campaign the speaker might choose a model discussing the most effective methods of employing fear to persuade a mass audience. They would then apply the model to the artifact and draw conclusions about the artifact's strengths and weaknesses, the success or failure of the model as an analytical tool, and other insight gained from the analysis.

Special-occasion speaking[edit]

Special-occasion speaking, a high-school event, is similar to Oratory but focuses on lighter subjects and addresses a specific audience. Although comedy is frequently heard in special-occasion speaking, it should not detract from the message the speaker is trying to relate. The speech is not as strictly persuasive as in Oratory, but can be designed to inform. Speeches are typically six to eight minutes long.

After-dinner speaking[edit]

After-dinner speaking (ADS) is a public-address event which makes greater sense of an important topic with humor. Although it can take the form of any of the accepted public-speaking structures, it often takes the form of an informative or persuasive speech. The event covers a variety of topics, but the use of humor is central to its execution. The speech should not resort to base humor, but should be topical and relevant to the idea presented. This type of speech, found at the collegiate level, is typically six to eight minutes long. Generally, it is a humorous speech with a serious undertone or point.

Limited-preparation events[edit]

A limited-preparation event is an event in which the speakers have no prior knowledge of the speech they will give, with a set amount of preparation time to write a short speech. Preparation times vary by event and range from two minutes to an hour, after which the competitors deliver their speeches.


A radio speech is a prepared event which includes news stories and a commercial. Speakers receive a packet with several stories (generally two international, two national, and two local), and must edit and compile these stories into a five-minute newscast. Preparation time varies by state from 15 to 45 minutes. Transitions are expected to be smooth, and the newscast should be as close as possible to five minutes. Scoring is based on reading clarity, adherence to the time limit, and the appeal of the stories chosen.

Extemporaneous speaking[edit]

Extemporaneous speaking is a speech given with little preparation, and is a mainstay of most speech competitions. At the beginning of a round, speakers are usually given three questions relating to current events and asked to choose one on which to prepare a speech. During the preparation period (usually thirty minutes), periodicals may be used to prepare the speech. The speech, presented with or without notes, is four to seven minutes long. Although some high-school competitions divide extemporaneous speaking into domestic and international categories, few collegiate competitions do so.

Impromptu speaking[edit]

In impromptu speaking, competitors are given a topic (usually a word or phrase which may be a person, thing, a well-known saying, a less well-known quotation, a current event, or an object) and compose a speech based on the prompt. Impromptu speeches are usually four to six minutes long (with 15 seconds to seven minutes of preparation time), but other tournaments have no limits on preparation time or speech length. Judging typically focuses on speaking ability (such as enunciation, pace, and vocal variety), creativity, and overall balance of the speech (such as points of roughly-equal length and appropriate length of introduction and conclusion). In many states, impromptu speaking is a contest combining wit and humor with insight; speeches should be funny, but also make a point.

Extemporaneous Commentary[edit]

Competitors in Extemporaneous Commentary are given a topic of national, regional or local importance, and prepare a speech on that topic during a preparation period. Judging focuses on the quality of the vocal presentation, the organization of the speech and the use of sources to back up assertions. The speech is usually presented seated. According to the National Forensic League, the event imitates the work of media commentators who speak about trends or community problems.[1]

Extemporaneous programmed reading[edit]

Extemporaneous programmed reading is a high-school tournament event in North Dakota. It is more similar to interpretation than limited-preparation events, since each round is an interpretation; however, it differs in that each competitor receives the piece for each round in a one-hour draw and read and cut the piece for interpretation. Three kinds of interpretation are represented in different rounds, one of which is used for the finals: humorous, serious, and poetry. Each competitor has seven minutes to deliver the cut interpretation before the judge.


In storytelling, a high-school event, competitors are given a children's book, fairy tale, fable, myth, legend, or ghost story to read. They have a half-hour to read the given piece and recast it in their own words before presenting their version to the judge in under eight minutes. Stage make-up, costumes, and props are prohibited. Different voices and characters are used, and each character should be easily distinguished.


In this NCFCA and Stoa USA event, competitors are given four minutes to prepare a six-minute speech on a question relating to Christianity. The questions are published online in advance, and the rules are generally the same as for impromptu speaking.

Acting and interpretation events[edit]

Dramatic Interpretation[edit]

In Dramatic Interpretation, a competitor interprets a selection from a dramatic theatrical script. A competitor plays several parts, which are differentiated with a variety of positions and voices. Each character should be clearly distinguishable, and a competitor can also play a single character.

Humorous Interpretation[edit]

In Humorous Interpretation (shortened to HI or humorous), the humorous alternative to DI at the high-school level, a competitor performs an eight- to ten-minute selection from a humorous literary work. It is sometimes combined with DI and, like DI, characters are distinguished with voice work.

Original comedy[edit]

Original comedy (OC) is similar to Humorous Interpretation, with an eight– to ten-minute time frame. Competitors write a comic piece with an introduction, about three points and a conclusion which are not directly stated. There is usually a moral at the end of the story.

Serious interpretation[edit]

Serious interpretation, a high-school event, is open to any literary work.

Duo Interpretation[edit]

Similar to DI and HI, Duo Interpretation pieces have at least two parts performed by two people. The presenters are not allowed to make physical or eye contact or use props, can only touch the ground with their feet.

Duet acting[edit]

Duet acting, with physical and eye contact, is held in some states.

Prose, poetry and oral interpretation[edit]

Poetry and prose interpretation and oral interpretation are events which interpret an author's work. Competitors read the material from a black, 10-inch (250 mm) binder. Because competitors interpret the literature with facial expression and eye contact, memorization is helpful; however, points may be deducted if a speech is too memorized and the competitor does not appear to be reading. Time limits range from four to ten minutes.

Individual-events tournaments[edit]

Individual-events tournaments usually last for six to twelve hours to complete, with the longest tournaments lasting several days. Tournaments have 3-4 preliminary rounds, followed by a semi and final round.

A speech round consists of performances by five to eight competitors, who are then ranked by a judge. Competitors from the same school usually do not compete against each other in preliminary rounds, and are identified by an alphanumeric code to prevent bias by judges.

In a round, a competitor earns points for themselves and their team according to their ranking by a judge. The top competitors from each team in each event score points. At the awards ceremony, medals or trophies are given to individuals and team awards are given to the teams with the most points.


External links[edit]

High-school links[edit]

Results links[edit]

Speech resources[edit]