Categories & Topics

High School Speech

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Following are 2016-17 high school topics for Moments in History, Public Address, Special Occasion and Storytelling.

Moments in History

  • 1990s or 1750-1800 (choose one time period)

Public Address

(Choose one topic question)
  1. What, if anything should be done to reduce costs for post-secondary education?
  2. To what extent, if any, should public schools recognize rights of transgendered individuals?
  3. What, if anything, should government do to address gun violence?
  4. What should be the new U.S. President’s top three priorities?
  5. To what extent, if any, is the Electoral College an outdated way of electing the U.S. President?

Special Occasion

(Choose one occasion)
  1. A speech to a veteran’s organization
  2. A speech in response to a scandal
  3. A sales pitch to investors for a new product or invention
  4. A dedication of an art exhibit or public art installation

Storytelling

(Prepare a story for each of the topic areas)
  1. A story from Scandinavia
  2. A story about food
  3. A story about overcoming obstacles
  4. A story about technology

Archive of Past Topics

Speech Contest Categories

Full rules can be found in the Speech Handbook 2016-17

Descriptions of categories (with time limits) follow:

Public Speaking

  • Demonstration Speech (up to 10 minutes): A demonstration speech explains how to do something or how something works. The 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 Extemporaneous Speech should provide a direct response to the question drawn. The challenge to the speaker is to phrase a clear answer to the question and support it with evidence and reasoning. The participant may use resource material from any publication, but questions – supplied by the WHSFA 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): The challenge to the speaker is to present well-developed material, which has the primary intent of informing, although persuasive elements may be present. The speaker should limit the topic to ideas that can be developed adequately in the time allotted. The speech is to be organized, coherent, unified, and clear. A range of support materials are to be used which can include quotations, statistics, examples, comparisons, and analogies. Correct citation of support materials should be used where appropriate.
  • Moments in History (up to 6 minutes): The challenge to the speaker is to select an historical topic within the limits presented each year by WHSFA. 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 by WHSFA. 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 by WHSFA.

Performance of Literature

Descriptions below are annotated in green to include what genres of literature are allowed for each category.

  • 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.  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.
  • 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.
  • Play Acting (up to 12 minutes): Participants perform a scene or cutting from a 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Radio Speaking (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.
  • 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.
  • 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 by the WHSFA each year.