Categories & Topics

High School Speech

2018-19 Topics

Following are 2018-19 high school topics for Moments in History, Public Address, Special Occasion and Storytelling.

Moments in History

  • 1950-1959 and/or 1400-1499 (choose one or both time periods)

Public Address

(Choose one topic question)

  1. To what extent, if any, should the U.S. federal government substantially reduce restrictions on legal immigration to the United States?
  2. To what extent, if any, should the U.S. government implement a national high-speed rail system?
  3. How should schools deal with student protests?
  4. To what extent, if any, is technology making us more alone?

Special Occasion

(Choose one occasion)

  1. A principal’s welcome to incoming students
  2. A recruitment speech
  3. A ribbon cutting speech
  4. A school office candidacy speech


(Prepare a story for each of the topic areas)

  1. A story from the British Isles and/or Ireland
  2. A story about illness/plague
  3. A story about agriculture and/or gardening
  4. A fish-out-of-water story

Archive of Past Topics

2018-19 Changes

Rules changes for the 2018-19 season (2018-19 changes will be posted by October 1).

2017-18 Changes

Rules changes for the 2017-18 season (2018-19 changes will be posted by October 1):

  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.

Speech Contest Categories

Full rules can be found in the Speech Handbook 2017-18
Wisconsin Speech Category Differences Across Organizations

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

Descriptions of categories (with time limits) follow:

Public Speaking

All public speaking categories must be original speeches, written by students. WHSFA allows for one 4″ x 6″ note card to encourage students to outline or include speaking points, but not word-for-word manuscripts. This is to help students engage more directly with audiences.

  • Demonstration Speech (up to 10 minutes): explains how to do something or how something works. One or two speaker(s) must demonstrate a process using objects or physical activity. Visual aids (charts, graphs, diagrams, maps, pictures, etc.) are optional, and may be used to enhance the demonstration, but are not to take the place of objects or activity. The speech must be instructive and present valuable and significant information.
  • Extemporaneous Speech (30-minute preparation; up to 7 minutes): The speaker’s challenge is to phrase a direct and clear answer to the question drawn and support it with evidence and reasoning. The participant may use resource material from any publication, but questions – supplied by the State Office for every level – will be based on current news events, and questions will be drawn from credible news sources published during the previous three months.
  • Four-Minute Speech (up to 4 minutes): presents a brief speech with a narrow enough topic to be developed adequately in the time provided, which has the primary intent of informing, although persuasive elements may be present. The speech should be organized, coherent, unified, and clear, with a range of properly cited support materials including quotations, statistics, examples, comparisons, and analogies.
  • Impromptu Speech (up to 5 minutes to prepare and speak): should provide a direct response to the prompt drawn with an original, well-organized and imaginative interpretation, supported by personal examples. The challenge to the speaker is to phrase pertinent information sufficient to support the central thought of the topic and organized according to some logical plan to produce a complete speech within the time allowed.
  • Moments in History (up to 6 minutes): the speaker selects an historical topic within the limits presented each year. The general focus for a speech in this category is an exploration of history. Students may consider (but are not limited to) using the following areas of research: archival records, diaries, personal interviews, letters, newspapers, etc. The speaker is to use this researched information to compose and present a well-organized, informative speech. Speakers may use visual materials, but such materials must support, not dominate, the presentation. This category calls for a speech, not a visual media show or an acting performance.
  • Oratory (up to 10 minutes): The oration is expected to be a thoroughly prepared, well composed, and well expressed speech of persuasion on a significant topic. As such, the oration must be unequivocally persuasive in its purpose. It may fulfill its persuasive challenge in one of three ways: 1) by alerting the audience to existence of a problem; 2) by affirming existence of a problem and offering a solution; or 3) by urging adoption of a policy. While the topic of the oration should be of significance to general society, it should be adapted to an audience composed of the speaker’s peers. An effective oration is characterized by clear, vivid, and forceful language and appropriate stylistic devices such as metaphor, comparison/contrast, irony, allusion, analogy, etc. Quality supporting materials are a necessary part of the oration.
  • Public Address Speech (up to 8 minutes): The challenge to the speaker is to contribute to the public dialog on a contemporary issue by presenting a well-informed speech directly responding to a question about that issue, selected from a list provided annually. The speaker is to be knowledgeable and is to use quality supporting material to substantiate his/her position. The Public Address speech is to be well-organized, clear, and effectively presented.
  • Special Occasion (up to 6 minutes): The challenge to the speaker is to write a speech appropriate to a specific occasion and its probable audience. It is possible that a speech may pursue more than one of the standard general purposes of informing, persuading, or entertaining. Speakers may use visual materials but such materials must support – not dominate – the presentation. This category calls for a speech, not a visual media show. The situations from which the student selects are determined each year.

Performance of Literature

Descriptions below are annotated in green to include what genres of literature are allowed for each category. Original material prohibition is listed in orange; allowance is listed in purple.

  • Farrago (up to 10 minutes): The challenge of Farrago is to select material from a variety of literary genres (poetry, short stories, speeches, essays, drama, songs, novels), which address a central specific theme or emotion and to interpret the material through oral presentation. Quality material is required – that which provides insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems, and understandings, and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings, or stereotyped characterizations. Original material is not allowed.
  • Group Interpretive Reading (up to 12 minutes): Contrary to dramatic performance, the challenge of this category is to compile and present a literary script — that may include selection(s) from any genre except drama — in such manner that the audience imagines action being described rather than witnessing it being performed. Symbolic characterization and vocal and physical action, rather than a literal dramatization or pantomime, is required. Ideas are imagined through oral reading and not through acting; therefore, the ensemble of oral readers act as a medium of expression for the audience.  Group Interpretive Reading is an ensemble presentation by 2-5 readers. Original material is allowed, but open to critique.
  • Play Acting (up to 12 minutes): Participants perform a scene or cutting from a single play (dramatic literature) with emphasis on character development and appropriate physical movement. Participants may play more than one character; however, extreme fragmentation of actors into multiple roles may have a severely adverse impact on the ability to develop a believable character portrayal during the limited time available.  Play Acting is an ensemble presentation by 2-5 actors. Original material is allowed, but must conform to character and plot development, and is open to critique.
  • Poetry (up to 8 minutes): The participant should select one or more poems centering on a specific theme or emotion. The presentation is read from a manuscript. Original material is allowed, but open to critique.
  • Prose (up to 8 minutes): The participant should select one or more works of prose literature, including short stories, cutting from novels, drama, essays, or other non-fiction work, centering on a specific theme or emotion. The presentation is read from a manuscript. Original material is allowed, but open to critique.
  • Radio News Reporting (30-minute preparation; 5 minutes): The challenge to the speaker is to present a well-organized, clearly communicated newscast. Source news stories provided by the state office of approximately 15-20 minutes in length is to be cut and edited with special efforts made to end right at 5 minutes. The host school is to provide the adjudicator with a copy of the packet of material given to each speaker. At least one commercial is to be included within the time limits of the presentation. Students must use the news script provided by the contest, and may not add material, except transition sentences, introduction (such as call letters) and conclusion.
  • Solo Acting (Humorous/Serious) (up to 10 minutes [New in 2017]): The material shall be a cutting from serious or humorous drama or other literature adapted to the dramatic format with brief narrative transitions allowed that includes any number of characters. By using the self as a medium between the selection and the audience, the student shall create the character(s) and shall utilize action appropriate to the characterization(s) within the control of the setting. Students will enter either Humorous or Serious divisions at sub-district, district, and state festivals, with up to four entries per school in both divisions, collectively. Quality material is required.  Quality material –that which provides insight into human values, motivations, relationships, problems, and understandings, and is not characterized by sentimentality, violence for its own sake, unmotivated endings, or stereotyped characterizations. Original material is not allowed.
  • Storytelling (up to 8 minutes): To tell a story is to chronicle events. The storyteller’s purpose is to chronicle those events in a coherent, unified, clear, and interesting manner. While seated, the storyteller utilizes vocal variation and physical movement to suggest different characters and character relationships in order to make the story clearer and more interesting. The emphasis of the storyteller’s art is on the teller as an intermediary or narrator.  The student is expected to demonstrate a sense of audience, that is, tell the chosen story in a manner suitable for the intended audience, be it young children, teenagers, or adults. Students select and rehearse a story — from any genre of literature or original, most often narrative prose — for each of the topic areas set each year. Original material is allowed, but open to critique.