Handbook & Recent Rules Changes

  • Handbook
  • 2020-21
  • 2019-20
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Speech Handbook

Handbook updated Apr. 22, 2021.

  1. Special dispensations for the 2020 virtual season:
    1. Subdistrict and district will be statewide contests (not regional), with prerecorded video submissions to be asynchronously adjudicated during windows of dates; Extemporaneous, Impromptu, and Radio News will offer both asynchronous options and live/synchronous options.
    2. For virtual participation, coaches should avoid identifying their school in submitted videos/video channels.
    3. Group entries may be recordings of videoconference (such as Zoom) or recorded in-person with students socially distanced, not touching, and wearing masks. Limiting groups to 2-3 students is encouraged.
    4. Storytelling contestants will record and submit three performances for each festival, and each will be matched to a particular round for adjudication.
    5. Only one adjudicator qualifying score (instead of two) is required to move on to the next festival level.
    6. There will be no individual category, nor overall team entry limits; for school awards at the State Speech Festival, a school’s top four entries per category, up to 25 entries overall, will count.
    7. The State Speech Festival will have both live/synchronous and prerecorded/synchronous participation options.
    8. A State Debate Festival will be offered as a separate, but concurrent contest with the State Speech Festival, with allowance for students to participate in both (with flexible scheduling allowing for such).
    9. At a later date (December), WHSFA will announce additional, specific guidelines for video submission, as well as penalties for violations of rules as provided for this virtual season.
  2. Rule added to Demonstration to allow contestants to arrange volunteers from the audience before a round starts, but to be prepared to present without a volunteer (this will not take effect until return to in-person contests) [p. 25].
  3. In Informative, Moments in History, Oratory, and Public Address, clarification has been added to prohibit adjudicators from deducting points for incorrect format of citations.
  4. Rules for Poetry and Prose adapted to allow transitionless programs in the same manner as Farrago.
Please see other tabs for other recent rules changes, as the past couple of years have had a number of rules changes.
  1. The qualifying score from district to State is now 21 (previously 20).
  2. Schools are allowed up to 30 entries per school. Specific category limits are unchanged. The 25 highest performing entries at the State Festival will count toward the Excellence in Speech Awards, and a new Distinction in Speech Award is added for schools in the top 6-10% of performing schools.
  3. Clarified rule for works cited in Informative Speech, Moments in History Speech, Oratory Speech, and Public Address Speech: The contestant must hand a printed list of works cited in MLA or APA format to the adjudicator prior to speaking; adjudicators will return the list to the contestants by the end of the round. When no list is provided by the contestant, the adjudicator will deduct two points; the list should support what the student orally cites in the speech, but adjudicators should only evaluate actual spoken citations.
  4. Clarified in Group Interpretive Reading, Poetry Reading, and Prose Reading that intellectual experience means “what is happening,” and emotional experience means “how it feels.”

Please see the 2018-19 and 2017-18 tabs for other recent rules changes, as the past couple of years have had a number of functional changes to the rules.

2018-19 Changes

  1. Change Four-Minute to Informative Speech with a 6-minute time limit and allow for visual aids.
  2. Require a printed works cited list to be handed to each adjudicator by contestants in Informative, Moments in History, Oratory, and Public Address. For students who do not provide such a list, adjudicators must deduct two points. Students must still cite sources contextually during their speech.
  3. matching outfitsSpecify rule with costuming for Group Interpretive Reading and Play Acting: “merely dressing alike or coordinated outfits is not considered costuming.” (see image to right)
  4. Revise rules for Impromptu to better reflect procedure of the round, and that students should remain in the contest room each round for the entire round.
  5. Clarify role of Referee Committee at the State Festival.
  6. Refine rules for substitution (Handbook, #3.c./d. - p. 5) and changing material during the season (#12.a.iv. p. 7).
  7. Add rule 7.c. regarding remediation for ineffective adjudicators (Handbook, p. 6).
  8. Explain for festival hosts/managers Extemporaneous draw procedures, as well as Impromptu protocols: “Before the Festival,” Handbook, #5.a./b./c., p.18-19.
  9. Essays in the back of the handbook were replaced with new versions for Demonstration Speech, Extemporaneous Speech, Group Interpretive Reading, Radio News Announcing, and Storytelling.

2017-18 Changes

  1. Farrago allows (optionally) for transitionless programs of interwoven material.
  2. Group Interpretive Reading rules clarify the prohibition of dramatic literature: play for theatre, screen, or radio.
  3. Impromptu Speech has been added as a permanent category, with hypothetical questions added as a type of prompt.
  4. Moments in History Speech allows for choosing one of two topics, or speaking on both.
  5. Play Acting rules require material from one work of drama (play for theatre, screen, or radio).
  6. Radio Speaking has been renamed to Radio News Reporting to more accurately reflect the category and reference News Reporting at the middle level; added a table to show point deductions for time.
  7. Storytelling rules clarify that contestants should use language and imagery appropriate to the story and intended audience – as named in the introduction.
  8. Students in the following speaking categories – Four Minute, Moments in History, Oratory, and Public Address – are encouraged to provide a list of works cited to furnish to adjudicators or a contest referee committee when requested. See p. 7, rule 11.a.iii.
  9. For interpretive and acting categories, rules were clarified to require coaches to have a copy of source material, and not (just) contestants [this allows a referee committee to more thoroughly investigate possible rules violations and potential disqualifications. This rule extends to Poetry Reading and Prose Reading. See p. 7, rule 11.a.ii.
  10. Standards for the Excellence in Speech Award have been included in this handbook. Also clarified prohibition against other awards at subdistrict/district festivals. See p. 7, rule 10.

Online Winter-Spring Season

WHSFA has consulted the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as well as DPI, WIAA, WSMA, NFHS, and similar organizations. All 2020-21 contests will be online, with run as mostly asynchronous, statewide options (no schools will host). See specific guidance, FAQs on the Speech Contests and/or Middle Level Contests pages.

2020-21 High School Speech Topics

Since a number of students had an opportunity to present on 2019-20 topics, we have opted to require adherence to the new topics, which also allow students to explore pertinent and timely topics.

Moments in History

Choose one or both time periods:

  • 1920s (1920-1929)
  • 1600s (1600-1699)

Examples of areas students might consider:  politics, military action, historic sites, monuments, natural disasters, ethnology, legends, folklore, science, inventions, medicine, arts,  entertainment, geography, transportation, sports, religion, heroes, villains, personalities, significant speeches, fashion, and fads.

Public Address

Choose one topic question:

  • To what degree, if any, should internet access be universal?
  • To what extent, if any, is civil disobedience justified?
  • To what extent, if any, is the World Health Organization worth funding?
  • To what extent, if any, should vaccines be mandatory?
  • To what extent, if any, should the U.S. federal government provide natural disaster relief?

Special Occasion

Choose one occasion:

  • New product launch announcement
  • Rally speech focused on cause/issue
  • Speech arguing against school program budget cuts
  • Eulogy for a political figure


Prepare a story for each topic area:

  • Fable
  • Finally being heard
  • Ghosts/vampires/zombies/other undead
  • Science and/or exploration *
* Held for 2021-22 season

Speech Contest Categories

These brief descriptions are not a substitution for full rules. Please download the WHSFA Speech Handbook above.

Public Speaking

Students write original speeches, and may use one 4″ x 6″ note card, where students are encouraged to outline or include speaking points, rather than word-for-word manuscripts (so they can engage better with audiences).

Category Max. Time Visuals Works Cited Description
Demonstration Speech
10 min.
1-2 speakers demonstrate how to do something or how something works.
Extemporaneous Speech
7 min.
30 minutes prior to speaking, the contestant will select a question from which to phrase a direct and clear answer and support it with evidence and reasoning.
Impromptu Speech
5 min.
Provide a direct response to the prompt drawn with an original, well-organized and imaginative interpretation, supported by personal examples.
Informative Speech
6 min.
Present a speech with a narrow enough topic to be developed adequately in the time provided to share knowledge, educate and/or raise awareness.
Moments in History
6 min.
Explore an historical topic within prescribed topics, using such sources as archival records, diaries, personal interviews, letters, newspapers, etc.
Oratory Speech
10 min.
Persuade with compelling language by offering a solution to a problem; to take action in response to a situation; or potentially reinforce and strengthen attitudes.
Public Address
8 min.
Selecting from prescribed topics, contribute to public dialog on a contemporary issue by presenting a well-informed speech directly responding to a question about that issue.
Special Occasion
6 min.
Responding to a prescribed topic area, deliver a speech appropriate to a specific occasion and its probable audience by entertaining, persuading, or informing.

Performance of Literature

Contestants interpret literature to convey the human existence, exploring psychology of characters, to mine the artistry of language, and/or cultivate arguments surrounding themes/issues. Key: = performed from manuscript; = memorized.

Category Max. Time Mode Original Quality Genres Description
10 min.
Variety (poetry, short stories, speeches, essays, drama, songs, novels)
Material from a variety of literary genres address a central theme.
Group Interpretive Reading
12 min.
Any except drama
2-5 readers compile and present a script with symbolic interpretation such that the audience imagines action being described rather than witnessing it being performed.
Play Acting
12 min.
Single play (dramatic literature)
2-5 performers act a scene or cutting from a single play with emphasis on character development, ensemble, and appropriate physical movement.
Poetry Reading
8 min.
Poetry, verse, song lyrics
One or more poems center on a theme or emotion; delivery mines the artistry of language.
Prose Reading
8 min.
Short stories, cuttings from novels, drama, essays, nonfiction
One or more works of prose -- including short stories, cutting from novels, drama, essays, or other non-fiction work -- center on a specific theme or emotion.
Radio News Reporting
5 min.
Provided script of news, sports, weather, and a commercial.
30 minutes prior to reading, the contestant organizes from a variety of types of news as well as a commercial, a precise newscast cut and edited to 5 minutes.
Solo Acting Humorous/Serious
10 min.
Any genre
The contestant convincingly acts characterization(s) to transport the audience to the world of the material peformed.
8 min.
Any genre; most often, narrative prose
Chronicle and perform events in a coherent, unified, clear, and interesting manner, while seated and conveying a sense of audience for one of the prescribed topic areas.

Wisconsin Forensic Speech Category Differences

Summary of rules differences between the WHSFA, Wisconsin Forensic Coaches’ Association, National Speech & Debate Association, and National Catholic Forensic League.





DemonstrationOne 4x 6 note card allowed; Second person may have shared role in speaking or may assist.Notes allowed. Second person may assist but may not speak.Not offered. A demonstration speech could be adapted to Informative.Not offered.
Duo InterpretationNot offered; may adapt from Group Interp. or Play Acting.May come from any published source including online.Restrictive guidelines for source material.Restrictive guidelines for source material.
ExtemporaneousOne 4x 6 note card/speaker stand allowed.Internet access allowed during prep. One 4x 6 note card allowed.Internet access allowed when piloted. Split into International and United States divisions. No notes allowed.No notes allowed.
Farrago (Wis.) Program of Oral Interp. (NSDA)Reading stand optional. Speaker may walk only for introduction/transitions. Contestants presenting a transitionless program must announce as such.Adaptations should be for continuity for gender changes or to avoid potentially offensive language; lines attributed to one character may not be attributed to another. Platform movement should be minimal and non-intrusive to performance. Manuscript may be memorized and/or used as a prop.Restrictive guidelines for source material.Not offered.
InformativeTime limit: 6 minutes; one 4x 6 note card and/or speaker stand allowed. Printed list of works cited required.Time limit: 6 minutes; one 4x 6 note card allowed.Time limit: 10 minutes. Must be memorized.Not offered.
Group Interpretive ReadingTime limit: 12 minutes; chairs/stools/ reading stands allowed.Time limit: 10 minutes; see manuscript in Farrago.Not offered. Two-person performance may adapt to Duo if memorized.Not offered.
ImpromptuTime limit: 5 minutes. One 4x 6 note card allowed.Time limit: 5 minutes. One 4x 6 note card allowed.Offered as 7-min. consolation at National Tournament. No notes.Not offered.
Moments in HistorySpeaker stand allowed. See Informative: works cited.Not offered.Not offered.
Oral Interp. of LiteratureNot offered.Manuscript may be used as a prop.Not offered.Specific rules govern movement.
Oratorical DeclamationNon-Original Oratory for middle level contests only.Not offered; some invitationals sometimes offer NCFL version.Not offered.For 9th and 10th grade students only.
OratoryOne 4x 6 note card/speaker stand allowed. See Informative: works cited.Must be memorized.Must be memorized.Must be memorized.
Play ActingTime limit: 12 minutes; must be from a single work of drama.Time limit: 10 minutes; see adaptations in Farrago.Not offered. Two-person play may adapt to Duo.Not offered. Two-person play may be adapted to Duo.
Poetry Interp/Reading Prose Interp/ReadingReading stand optional. Speaker may walk only for introduction/transitions.See adaptations/platform movement/manuscript in Farrago.Each offered as 5-min. supplemental event at National Tournament.Not offered; see Oral Interp. of Literature.
Public AddressSee Informative: works cited.Not offered. May adapt to Oratory.Not offered.Not offered.
RadioMultiple character voices may be used.One professional newsreader voice must be used except for commercial.Not offered.Not offered.
Solo Acting Hum./Ser. (Wis.) Dram./Hum. Interp (NSDA) Dramatic Perf. (NCFL)Single stationary chair allowed.Different evaluation criteria for humorous/serious. See adaptations in Farrago.Restrictive guidelines for source material.Single category - mixed humorous/serious contestants.
Special OccasionSpeaker stand allowed.Not offered.Not offered.
StorytellingAdjudicator each round selects story for each contestant.Limited to three (3) topics per year; each tournament determines assigned stories each round.Offered as 5-min. consolation at National Tournament.Not offered.

* In WHSFA all manuscripts in interpretive categories and note cards in speech categories must be paper (and not digital devices).

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