Speech Category Descriptions

  • The Minnesota State High School League sponsors competition in thirteen different categories. The categories are briefly described below. They fall into two main areas: Public Speaking Events and Oral Interpretation Events.

    Public Speaking Events

    DISCUSSION is a category in which a small group of students from various speech teams work together to solve a problem or task that has been assigned to it.  It usually takes 30-45 minutes.  A judge listens to the discussion and judges each member on how knowledgeable he or she is, on group contributions and on listening and group skills.  A combination of cooperative attitude, critical thinking skills, honest respect for the opinions of others, and a strong base of knowledge about the subject are essential if a student is going to be successful in this category. 

    The students participating in discussion should enjoy researching and reading; have an open mind and a willingness to discuss a variety of issues.

    EXTEMPORANEOUS SPEAKING is a great category for the students who like being informed on current events.  At the beginning of the season, the extemp. speaker chooses either national or international news and then watches TV news and reads newspapers and magazines to find information that supports the list of subject areas prepared by the MSHSL for that season.

    Thirty minutes before each round of competition at festivals, the student draws three slips of paper with questions on them.  He or she must choose one of these, and then spend the 30 minutes preparing a seven-minute speech that answers the question.

    The speech is prepared alone, using all the magazines and research notes that have been prepared and brought along.  The speaker can use a note card with up to 50 words.  The speaker is judged on how well the question is answered, how clearly organized and knowledgeable the speaker is, and how direct and convincingly the speaker speaks.

    GREAT SPEECHES is an event in which the student delivers a speech about a single speech or an anthology of speeches related by theme, author, or some other element.  After selecting a speech from ancient or modern times, the challenge is to research the original speaker (perhaps a President or leader of another country or some prominent character in history) and the occasion when the speech was given.  A minimum of 25% of the speech must be the student’s own material.

    It is the student’s task to convince the audience that this was and still is a great speech that deserves to be heard again.  The student quotes portions of the speech and talks about it - techniques that make it great, the ideas that are still important, and the historical significance of the speech.  This is a great category for the student who enjoys history and appreciates some of the great speakers of yesterday and today.  The maximum time length is eight minutes.

    INFORMATIVE SPEAKING is a category that informs the audience about a subject of general interest.  Judges will be looking for a direct, lively delivery style and a clearly organized speech.  Visual aids are optional to use with this speech.  Maximum time limit is eight minutes.  This is an excellent category for the student who enjoys exploring unique interests and sharing these with others. Up to 10% of this speech can be direct quotation.

    ORIGINAL ORATORY involves persuasive elements in speaking intelligently about a significant subject.  The oration is the original work of the speaker, and it is judged on standards of skillful writing techniques as well as speaking skills.  This is a great category for the student who enjoys research and who is a good writer, especially for one who is willing to work hard at rewriting and producing a skillfully written and delivered speech eight minutes long.

    Interpretation Events

    CREATIVE EXPRESSION is a category for the creative person who enjoys writing and performing his or her own material.  This category enjoys having relatively few rules, and the theme can be either serious or humorous and comprise a wide variety of subjects and styles.  The best ones often have a widely identifiable theme - from why parents do the things they do, to serious contemplation of being drafted to fight in a war.

    There is an eight-minute time limit.  No props or costumes can be used; however, a chair or stool may be used to sit on.  Originality is the key to creative expression.

    DUO INTERPRETATION: Two readers interpret together a scene or scenes from a play, serious or humorous, with literary merit and appropriate to the readers.  The readers must each portray only one character.  No costumes, props, stools or chairs may be used.  Use of scripts is optional. There must be an introduction, which may be delivered by either or both of the readers. There can be no bodily contact between readers.  Eye contact may be with audience members during the introduction or narration and on focal points during the dialogue.  Pivoting, turning or one or two small steps may be used to indicate transitions between scenes.  Maximum time limit is eight minutes.

    STORYTELLING is a category in which you DO NOT memorize your speech.  You read the stories chosen by the MSHSL each year, then you recreate the story in your own words.  A goal is to make the story interesting by creating the characters with your voice and body movements. The story is preceded by an introduction, and no book is used during the six-minute presentation. 

    This is a “draw” category.  At contests, three stories are drawn, and then one is chosen.  After choosing a story, the speaker has 30 minutes to prepare and practice.  Storytellers are often referred to as “locker talkers” because of their practice techniques.

    EXTEMPORANEOUS READING is another “draw” category.  A student who enjoys reading challenging literature is a good candidate for this event.  Readings will include prose and poetry.  There are different titles chosen each year to prepare.  Introductions must also be composed for the various selections.  Much of the coaching session is devoted to analyzing the literature.  This must happen before the student can read expressively and create interesting and authentic character voices.

    At a festival, the speaker draws three slips of papers with titles on them.  After choosing one, the speaker has thirty minutes to practice.  Extemp. Readers are usually easy to spot - reading dramatically to the walls or lockers in the hallway.

    HUMOROUS INTERPRETATION uses any published selection (story, poem or play) with literary merit that is appropriate to the reader.  The speech must be preceded by an original introduction.  It should amuse, give enjoyment, or create laughter.

    Students who are naturally funny, witty, have a sense of comic timing, are expressive, can do multiple voices and characters, and are willing to take risks are good candidates for this category.  The time limit is eight minutes.

    SERIOUS DRAMA, POETRY OR PROSE INTERPRETATION: There are many similarities among these three categories.  The basic difference, of course, is the source of the material - a play, a novel or true story, or a poem.  The selection usually involves one or more characters done by one student.  An introduction is important to set the scene, create interest, and draw the audience into the action.  The scenes are interpreted by the speaker through the character’s voice, expression, subtle movement, and timing.

    The student interested in one of these events will probably read several plays, poems, or cuttings or books before selecting one.  The selection will then (with the coach’s help) be cut and edited.  Then begins the practice for a letter perfect performance - hard, but rewarding, work.  These are all challenging events in which high goals must be set.  Time limit is eight minutes.