As I have previously noted, each speech category offers something unique—each has a defining aspect.
Sometimes, it is fairly easy to determine what the defining aspect of a category is (e.g., Informative and Persuasive). Other times, it can be somewhat difficult to determine the defining aspect (e.g., Open Interpretation). But you can always at least guess the point of a category based on the title and the criteria on the ballot.
Why does that matter? Why is it important that there is a unifying point to each category?
It is critical because you are not the only person who has noticed this—the judge also has. And, as the judge ranks the competitors in the room, they are in part (and perhaps primarily) trying to rank them based on the category of the speeches.
Last month, I had the opportunity to judge Apologetics and Informative speeches. As I was determining the rankings for the competitors in the room, the most significant criterion in the back of my mind was how well the speech adhered to the norms of the topic. The winners in Apologetics presented the best response to the question they were given with the best (and most well-selected) scriptural support, while the winners in Informative relayed the best/most interesting facts I did not previously know.
Were these the only criteria? Of course not! I also considered speaking style, vocal inflection, writing quality, and many more. But, believe it or not, these were my primary criteria.
Many judges are like this: They pay special attention to what they perceive as the point of the category and rank speeches accordingly. For these judges, speeches that are most entertaining (or even that have the best overall quality) lose out to speeches that more closely adhere to the topic of the category.
This Comes With Several Implications:
First, as you are writing your speech, it is crucial to keep in mind the defining aspect of your category (whatever that may be). This is the primary focus that should be given utmost importance in your script.
Previously, I have said that it is important to “check off” all the boxes on the ballot. For this particular instance, it is important to go above and beyond that standard. Rather than just trying to “check off” the box, try to be the best at whatever the defining aspect of the category is.
Thus, if you are writing an Informative speech, give a special focus on providing the most enlightening facts. If you are writing a Persuasive speech, focus on presenting the most compelling argument. If you are writing an After Dinner speech, focus on providing the best humor.
Does this mean that if you are writing an Informative speech, you shouldn’t try to be funny? Or that if you are writing a Persuasive, you shouldn’t try to inform? Of course not! All of these aspects are important. But you should try to maximize your effort on the defining aspect of the category.
This Advice Comes with Notable Exceptions, Two of Which I Will List Here:
First, not every judge will think in the same way. What works for one judge may not work for another. While some judges will focus near-exclusively on the defining aspect of a category, others (particularly newer judges) will give less deference to that criterion. Thus, it is still important to write a versatile, “all-around” speech (i.e., one that checks all of the boxes). Though, I would still recommend giving special emphasis to the defining aspect.
Second, do not be afraid to be innovative. My goal is not to persuade you to adopt a copy-and-paste formula for speech writing. Anything but! Creativity is awesome, and necessary for success. However, it is important that you are creative within boundaries. Your main focus is still the raison d’être (defining aspect) of the speech topic.
Patrick McDonald competed in the NCFCA for five years. He is currently attending Hillsdale College in Michigan, The United States of America, where he is pursuing a double major in Politics and History. If you would like to book coaching with Patrick, click here.