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Declamation Speaking: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
Competitors in Declamation Speaking can find everything they would ever want, or need, to know about the competitive speaking event Oratorical Declamation right on this page. How and where to find pieces, tips for delivering and cutting a piece, things NOT to do, EVERYTHING a speech competitor needs to know in order to be successful in Declamation!
This is a public speaking event of the National Catholic Forensics League (although, some divisions of the National Forensics League and State Leagues, Illinois for example, do offer Declamation as an individual event). Declamation is also referred to as Oratorical Declamation, Oratorical Interpretation, or simply Dec.
Declamation is essentially the interpretation of a speech that has been previously delivered in public. For instance, I might choose to work with a speech given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I would take that speech, cut it to an appropriate length to fit my time restraints, analyze and interpret the language of the piece, memorize the work, and then perform it in the most powerful and truthful way possible. Note, this is NOT an interpretation of the original speaker (impersonation); rather it is an interpretation of the text itself. Thus, all speeches chosen must possess merit of language and not be considered good speeches based on the performance of the originator.
An introduction for the piece is given during competition. Also, body language, facials, and movement (walking) are vital. All movements during the speech need to be motivated by the words of the text (high emotion “forcing” you to move, for instance) and sparse—movements as transitions is an easy way of looking at it. Facials and gestures should be used to help convey meaning and impact, and they should never distract from the piece. Think of these things as accents to the work; enhancers that benefit the speech and punctuate important bits.
Due to Declamation’s non-original nature, the event is typically only offered to Freshman and Sophomore competitors as a “starter” event to get them used to public speaking. Declamation is often considered preparation for Original Oratory and other dramatic performance events. However, as noted earlier, rules for Dec. vary pending on the state you are located in—Declamation might be offered all four years of high school for all willing competitors.
Declamation: Structure and Rules
Structurally, Declamation is quite simple. The competitor finds a speech that has previously been delivered in public, analyzes and interprets it, memorizes it, and then goes to competition with it. At competition, the competitor will perform the piece, with an introduction for the piece, during three rounds and possibly at finals if they break. Speakers are judged on their ability to interpret the text, not the previous speaker (no impersonations!). The use of facials, gestures, movements (as transitions/emphasis), intonation, diction, passion, etc. are all used as methods to rank a competitor. The better you know and understand the piece, the better you will rank.
Specific rules include:
--The speech must have been previously delivered in public (by a government official for example)
--An introduction is required (names author, title, gives any necessary information, and sets the tone) and given after
a minute or so of the piece has been delivered, at a natural break-point
--Must be memorized
--Speeches are to be ten minutes in length (some areas' time limits vary)
--Speech delivery should be honest and as if the words were the speaker's own
--Eye contact is important
--All body language and vocalizations need to work with the piece to help better convey the message
--All gestures need to be visible and purposeful
--Speaker should have a strong stance
--No distracting movements (feet shifting, uncontrolled hand gestures, etc.)
--Command the language!
--Although not an official rule, it is discouraged to use an Original Oratory piece in Declamation-the OO piece was constructed for Forensic competition, NOT for delivering a message to the populace
Excelling at Declamation: An Advanced Guide
It is a universal truth that if one wants to be looked at professionally there is a certain skill-set one must equip. A person who speaks with confidence, and with authority, is taken seriously. It does not matter how brilliant an idea may be, people tend to base their opinion of an idea on their judgment of the speaker. To thoroughly succeed, proper speaking capabilities are necessary.
Declamation is a fantastic speaking event for anyone who wants to improve their public speaking prowess. Because the competitor does not have to write their own speech, all focus is given to the delivery of the piece. There can be little to no judgment on the piece selection, unless it is utterly inappropriate for competition or for you. Therefore, though Declamation has been called a precursor for Original Oratory, Declamation can boast it is the ONLY speaking event where the judging is (typically) centered on the speaking abilities and nothing else.
This short tutorial will give a glimpse into what is required to be a successful Declamation speaker.
As with any event, the piece and cutting you choose to perform can either breed success or impair you. When you are choosing a piece for Declamation there are particular items to look for. Because you are doing a piece that has been performed in public before, it is a great idea to avoid speeches that everyone knows. True, in the Declamation world some unknown speeches to the common audience could very well be popular to a Dec. judge. Ask your coach about definite pieces to avoid, for each district is going to have their own overdone speeches. In addition, while selecting a piece look for one that is well written. You are borrowing words and trying to make them live through your voice. If you pick a speech that has poor structure, no strong message, limited word variation/weak word choices, etc no amount of good speaking skills will push you to victory. Further, if cutting occurs, be careful to keep the intent of the piece the same. You want your cut piece to feel as if nothing was left out and for the work to maintain a clear flow/direction. You should also remember to do a piece that speaks to you. If you dislike the message, the language, the tempo, anything about this speech, select another one you love.
Speech would not be complete without analysis! Regardless of these words originating from another individual, you need to own them. Know what you are saying! If there are words you do not know, grab a dictionary. Look for the message of the piece; why does this exist? Is there any subtext in the speech? How do the smaller components (the paragraphs) help make the whole? What are some tactics you can use to get your point across (example: does the speech require flattery at times to rope the audience in?)? Basically, fully understand your piece and know every nook and cranny of the words. The best way to do an analysis would be to print out a few copies of your piece so you have a clean copy for reference/memorization and a few copies to mark-up (underlining/ circling important bits and writing brief notes in the margins). Write down all thoughts and ideas you have. You are not a computer and will never remember your thoughts unless you write them down. Besides, marking-up helps the thought process of interpretation, and with memorization, because you are actively engaging with the text and using your brain.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that this is an interpretation of the text and not the original speaker. Impersonations will cripple you. You are to act as if this is your own, personal speech and not a piece someone else has uttered.
An introduction to the piece is mandatory. To give a professional air, it is usually best to have a teaser (a short selection of the piece performed prior to the introduction). The teaser should get the audience hooked and stop with a button—a profound statement, a question, something that leaves the audience thinking. An introduction is the place to be yourself, so write an intro that you are comfortable with. Also, an intro needs to list the piece’s title, the author’s name, necessary information, and the introduction should set the mood for the speech.
This is a fairly simple concept but eye contact is fundamental. Yes, you are supposed to make the words live, but eye contact adds the edge to the performance. It draws the audience in and makes the performance more personal; like you are really speaking to them and not just reciting from memory. Eye contact adds the dramatic. Pending on how long you look at a person, or not, tells a different story. Play around with eye contact. When you really want to stress a point holding eye contact with another individual adds intensity. Warning: do not make people uncomfortable with your gaze! You want to speak to your audience, not scare them. Furthermore, do not just look at the judge. It is awkward and creates unwanted tension. Scan the room and include all audience members.
A speech without facials is like food without flavor—bland and boring. Dec. is not an acting event so treating a Dec. piece like a scene from "A Streetcar Named Desire" is not quite the right method, but “reacting” and feeling what your words mean is a great way to separate you from your competition. Too often Dec. speakers are blank faced and this comes off, at least to me, as a gulf between them and the words. It is okay to smile if your piece has a joke. If your speech is teasing at points or coy, it is okay to give a sly smirk. And if something disturbing is being said, then go ahead and show it. Rarely will you give BIG facials like you would in a play because then you will appear as a performer and not a speaker (different speeches require different things). There is a fine line, and only practice and reviews from yourself, coaches, judges, and peers can help you find that balance. Just refrain from being a cadaver. For all involved, keep a lively face and make all facials purposeful and seen!
Number one rule to always have on your brain: do not use gestures as a means to fill space. If you do the same hand extension every fifteen seconds you are being overly repetitive and erasing all purpose and impact you might have had. It is best to pre-plan gestures while at practice and train your body when to do what. Attempt to have a variety of gestures and use them as an emphasis to what you are saying. It will feel weird to have your hands at your side for what seems an eternity, but I promise you will look confident and sure of yourself. Excessive gesture twitching will lose you points, so train yourself and get some muscle memory working in your favor.
Think of movement as punctuation. In Dec. you are allowed to walk in your performance area, so take advantage of this to accentuate what you are saying. Your movement on a new point acts as a transition and breaks-up/punctuates your speech. This transition keeps your speech fresh and draws in your audience because movement is exciting and full of energy. Plan these movements out so you do not end up pacing the floor or bouncing. Three-four strong movements are really all you need. Most Declamation pieces I have seen have the speaker start center, go left/right, move left/right, back center, and then down towards the audience for the conclusion. This does not have to be your path, but this is the standard circuit and does make sense logistically.
As important as your body is to help convey meaning, it is your voice that is the centerpiece. The words need to caressed and delivered in such a way that draws in your audience and tells the message of the speech. Variation is your greatest weapon. Changes in tempo, pitch, volume, tone, silence, any dynamics you can give, are going to help you rank higher. Note, pretending to be Al Pacino and yelling for the sake of yelling will not help (he’s a professional, knows what he is doing, and chooses proper times to “yell” in the dialogue). Everything you do with your voice needs to be a deliberate choice. Every vocal action needs to progress and reinforce what you are saying. Have all of this pre-gamed so blunders are rare in your performance. Also, this is a speaking event and not acting, so again, thinking you are Kevin Spacey giving a monologue might be too much. There is a fine line that you need to search out, but finding the proper mix will make you stand out. I have seen too many Declamations where the speaker never seemed connected to what they were saying because they did not feel the words.
These basic steps can serve as a beginner’s methodology to learning how to compete in Declamation. If you can master these rudimental elements of Declamation, you are on your way to victory and for relishing the phrase Dec. on deck!
Declamation: To Be Yourself, Or An Imitation, There Is No Question!
Whether a Declamation is paying homage to a classic speech or rediscovering a relatively “hidden” work, there is one common threat that can affect either brand of piece. That hazard is how you decide to interpret your material. With viewable speeches seconds away on the Internet, or perhaps a drive for those archived at a Library, finding a video performance of a popular or classic speech is not hard to fathom. Here is the issue: with every viewing of a speaker you are researching, your performance becomes compromised. The problem becomes this, when you present your Declamation are you being YOU or an imitation?
Without question there is merit to watching another speaker’s interpretation of the piece you have selected. Any sections of the speech that left you troubled on how exactly to present them become clear. Any pronunciation issues you may have had will be answered (be warned, some speakers you watch may also mispronounce—generally, not). Further, interesting and clever presentation skills, gestures/facials and pacing for instance, can be learned after a few viewings. Taking notes on the video you are watching is a great way to jot down anything that struck you as fascinating or perplexing you wish to remember. Following this advice is also a great way to lead you to the temptation, either knowingly or subliminally, of imitation.
You have seen this performer—the one where they literally think they are Martin Luther King Jr., or Stephen Colbert, and emulate every facial tick. Declamations of this sort are unoriginal, fake, and ultimately flat because a dramatic imitation is hardly ever as good as the original. Besides, once you begin to imitate a speech, all anyone will have flashing in their brains are clips of the remembered speaker you are trying to become. The event of Declamation is an interpretative one anyway, so this clone nonsense will only work against you.
So what is one to do if they wish to research the video and avoid simulation? Simple. If you are fortunate to locate a video of your speech being performed watch it and take notes; as stated previously. Take what you have learned from the video and adapt it to the interpretation work you have done with the source material. It is recommended to INTERPRET PRIOR TO VIDEO VIEWING to avoid adapting your interpretation to the video. Focus on YOU at the beginning of the Declamation process and add “The Other” speaker until you have made the piece your own. Be sure to keep vigilant for “The Other” creeping into your performance as you become more lax during the season.
So what are you going to be? An original or a cheap imitation?
Choosing A Declamation Speech
Declamation is one of the most underrated events in speech and debate. It requires discipline, research, and most importantly, a very, very good piece.
For those of you who aren't familiar with declamation, students must use a speech or portion of a speech previously given by another person -- the texts used are often political or historical speeches given by important figures in America's history. National Catholic Forensic League rules state that only junior division students can participate in Dec. Like most other speech events, declamation materials must be memorized, and they have a maximum length of ten minutes.
Unlike speech events, this is not a dramatic rendition or a deeply personal interpretation of a speech given by someone like Winston Churchill, JFK or Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, declamation requires focus and a certain degree of detachment. Facial expressions are not expected to be wild and exaggerated, and the gestures used in Dec are very particular -- fingers are generally kept very straight and arms are supposed to remain stiff throughout the speech.
But the most curious element of Declamation is the type of scripts students choose to perform: dry, often boring political speeches given by some random guru -- or very famous speeches ("I Have A Dream," et cetera) that everyone has already heard.
There's no reason to have an overdone Dec piece or to do a Dec piece that will make your audience fall asleep. In fact, there is no rule anywhere that governs whether scripts must be of historical significance or be related to politics at all.
Regulations from the NCFL state that Declamation scripts "may include, but are not limited to professional speeches, public orations, former competition speeches, eulogies, sermons, etc." Thus, any speech given anywhere, at any time, is fair game for a Declamation competition, including previous competitors' Original Oratories, Maria Shriver's graduation speech, or even a Harvard graduation speech by Conan O'Brien. One could argue that someone could use a comedian's stand-up routine as a Dec -- after all, it was delivered live in front of an audience, right? And it's interesting that the rules mention sermons. I've always wanted to see someone perform Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" speech in Declamation; it would be fascinating to see how the event's customs affect the interpretation of such a passionate piece.
When choosing a piece for Declamation, don't be afraid to break the mold. Keep in mind that, above all, your speech should be intriguing and memorable. Seek out outstanding O.O.s or great speeches that incorporate humor and wit. Your audience will thank you.
The Perfect Declamation for YOU
(Choosing a piece that works for YOU is key to selecting something that can win.)
Often the question of what makes a great Declamation piece arises. People tend to search for something that has either performed well in the past, deals with a popular issue currently in society, or one that will be generally well-received by a typical audience. Notice how the previous criteria is all about the audience? Although you should factor audience reception into your piece selection, the very first question you should be asking is if it is something YOU love. After-all, you are the one who will be working on and performing this Declamation for months, not the audience. Also, there is more to choosing a piece than questioning if the group you will be presenting it to will like it. The following five questions are ones you should be asking when selecting a speech.
1. Do you love it? If you are reading/watching a speech and the thought "hmm, this is okay...not great, but decent...a crowd pleaser" ever enters your mind, nix the speech. You clearly have no passion for the speech; it does not speak to your being. How can you expect to breathe life into words that hold little meaning for you? It is fake, pointless, and unfulfilling for you as a performer. Much of what makes a fabulous Declamation is the showmanship, and there is little to show when you are lukewarm towards a speech.
2. Does the speech have a strong message and solid support? There is nothing worse than reading or watching anything that may have good writing or great performances when the rest of the work cannot support the components. Examples: a movie may have excellent acting, but sometimes strong acting cannot save a poorly written script; or you can read a novel with clever writing, but if the plot is flawed it ruins the whole book. The same principle applies to a Declamation. You may be able to present a speech well, but if it has nothing to say and sketchy support you are lost. Not everything has to be spectacular, but the components do need to balance one another out so the final product is fantastic.
3. Is there a natural build? You have found a piece you love, it has a bold message and good support, but does the speech present itself with a natural build? Better yet, is the speech all one tone? Look to the rhetoric, punctuation, and natural pacing to see if variations occur throughout the work. If none exist, it may present an issue with the presentation. Granted, your performance can solve problems related to build, but if a speech lacks a climax of sorts it will make your work more difficult in practice. Remember, a monotone speech is boring and nap inducing.
4. Is the speech within time or can it be cut? Sometimes it happens that you find a piece that meets all the above criteria but then you realize it is too short or far too long for your time restraints. There are a few solutions. If the piece is a hair short it may be possible to stretch out your performance through use of timing and pacing. You can also add a few sentences more into the introduction. If the piece is long you will have to ask yourself this: can it be cut? Most often any piece can be cut to fit your needs--rarely is every last line essential. Just ask yourself what is necessary and begin the hacking process. If it cannot be cut to still hold the zing of the full speech, however, the piece needs to be set aside.
5. Is it universal? Now is when you ask if the piece can be applied to the audience. Is the speech too out there for most to relate to? Is the issue dealt with so irrelevant your audience will not care? Does the piece speak-down to your audience or insult them? Usually the main question here will be is the speech relevant and thus relatable to your audience. If the speech is not, you may have an issue winning the crowd.
On your quest for a Declamation, asking yourself these five, basic questions are a simple way to determine if a piece is a great piece. There is no reason to ask how a piece fared at previous tournaments. No need to ask how it ranked. Why do a piece that was crafted for another performer when you have the opportunity to locate a speech perfect for you?
The Declamation Variations
(Types of speeches one could use as a Declamation.)
One could say Declamation is not an event widely practiced. Some leagues offer it all season, some for special tournaments, and many leagues put restrictions on who can participate in the event (for instance, Declamation is often reserved for freshmen and sophomores). Due to this discrimination, the rules for this event are few. Namely, when it comes to what qualifies as a Declamation most rules come to the conclusion that any previously written (thus published) and then performed in public speech meets requirements. With such a broad definition, venues to locate a Declamation are varied and often endless. Here is a list of popular ways to find a piece:
--Classic, Historical Speeches. A staple to Declamation, looking at speeches that have become memorable moments in history often lead you to well-written works that have lasted through time for a reason. Most have a strong message, good support, wonderful rhetoric, and a powerful call to action. They lend themselves to being performed. Be warned though. Try to avoid such well-known pieces you are sure to falter with everyone's own vision for the speech; or worse, the video people hold in their memories of the original speaker! Also, be sure that the message is still relevant to today's society.
--Commencement Speeches. These speeches are often full of empowering encouragement, warnings for turbulent trials ahead, and the promise of success if one trudges on with determination. What makes these speeches interesting to sift through is the magnitude of who delivers them--there is practically a speaker for every mood. Comedians, politicians, actors, activists, etc. all are the various type of people asked to deliver these speeches. Ergo, a Declamation performer is given the chance to choose a speech with humor or one strictly serious. The only catch is because most commencement speeches follow a similar outline, originality may be difficult to find.
--Political Debates and Human Rights Speeches. These can be anything from a Presidential address to a public speech delivered at a rally as a call to action. Any political or historical icons you admire? Research them and see what public records hold of past public appearances or speeches they have done. Check out records of historical Congressional debates as well and see if any deliberations or filibusters strike interest.
--Courtroom Speeches. Often at trials a lawyer will deliver an eloquent speech to save an innocent or society. Why should you care? Anything happening in a courtroom is documented by the Court Reporter. Even better, these recordings are open for public access. A good Declamation might be found in the recordings of a popular court case.
--Eulogy. If you are looking for something a bit on the dramatic side, a eulogy could be a perfect match. Think of some figures in history who led incredible lives, and begin locating what people had to say at their funeral. You may even choose a figure that is controversial to add some spice to your piece.
--Sermons. The rules state that previously delivered/published sermons are acceptable as Declamation pieces. If you are religiously inclined this could be a great idea. Keep in mind ANY religious sermon can be used--there is NO RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION in Forensics. Therefore, sermon possibilities are bountiful.
Of course, there are many other places to look for a Declamation. A motivational speech, an awards speech, a public announcement, ANYTHING that has been performed publicly for a wide audience can qualify. It is recommended to check your local league for specific rules on what is considered a true Declamation piece prior to even researching. But these areas are a good place to begin your search once you know the particulars.
Declamation Confidence: 5 Keys to Appearing In Control
You have found the speech, you have practiced it diligently, and now comes the moment where you show everyone what it is you have been working on late into the night. The Declamation rounds are where your dedication to detail will be seen. That is, if you can calm your heartbeat and capture those butterflies wispily lofting about in your stomach. Too often panic bests us and tampers with all the precision we have planed for our version of a perfect performance. Fear not! In Declamation there are ways to appear confident and in control when our insides are indeed queasy.
1. Eye Contact. Liars and those of shifty dispositions are typically ensnared by their tell of avoiding eye contact. Humans are social beings, and it is with our eyes we make connections to others. Therefore, by making it a point to look into the faces of your audience, and not at the wall behind them, you are helping to draw your listeners into your words. You are displaying to those watching that you believe in what you say and that you truly wish to share the message--simply by holding their gaze. You also avoid becoming an untrustworthy, nervous looking speaker.
2. Posture/Stance. Ask any actor how a character's appearance adds dimension to a performance and the topic of posture and stance certainly will be cited. Despite all of man's intellect, we are still animals that look towards physicality to judge the strength of the competition, and actors know this. To create a weak character, an easy choice an actor can make is to slouch. Size is very important to our animal brains. Think big! Standing tall with your feet shoulder width apart instantly lets you take up more space, giving you the appearance of being larger. Normally, this puffing-up is associated with importance. Why make yourself more noticeable if you have nothing to say? Declamation is all about delivering a viewpoint, so looking like you should own the attention of the room is vital.
3. No Rocking. Once you have taken your stand as the Alpha performer you do not want to give your nerves away by absentmindedly rocking from foot to foot. Shifting of weight equates to being unsure of yourself. It appears as if you are uncomfortable and need to displace your energies from your words to your feet. It also is extremely annoying to watch. People will want to walk over to you, grab you around the shoulders, and forcibly stop your swaying.
4. Hands. Another exit point of nervous energies can be in the hands. Do not let yourself subconsciously perform the same hand gesture on loop, or twitch, as a means to calm yourself. Any movement of the hands is highly noticeable so be sure your motions are thoroughly planned; or at least smooth.
5. Voice. While performing your Declamation you need to be as aware of your voice as you are of your body. You may appear tranquil on the surface, but inside your fears may lead to your voice betraying you. Particularly at the start of the piece be sure to take a deep breath to help ensure your voice rings clear and with support. If you ever falter with a word and let that stumble grip you, again, breathe and try to not break your strong voice. Keep diction impeccable, avoid placeholders ("um"), and project. Sounding good is linked to feeling good.
Confidence is the backbone to a solid Declamation performance. The best aspect of it is that you do not need nearly as much as one would think to look confident. Many times boldness is an act. If you can learn to be observant of yourself and control your actions whilst in a round, you can give the illusion you are fearless.
Declamation Introductions Made Easy
Introductions for any event follow the same principle: set the tone while listing any necessary background information, give the piece's title and author, and have a clever quip to transition back into the piece (a question, powerful statement, etc.). While a relatively small aspect of your performance, the introduction is by no means something to write minutes prior to stepping off the bus. This tiny component has the potential to be the butterfly that alters grand events. The introduction is the only place where the audience can see you unmasked; where your work ethic is paraded. Distinguishing between a thought-out and slapped together introduction is not challenging most of the time. Thus, writing a good introduction is an investment that will support you throughout the season. Each event offers ideas on how to start an introduction. A Declamation's nature serves as a guide that can aid you when writer's block sets in.
Declamations often deal with a specific moment in history. Capture that moment in the beginning of your introduction. Do some research to see why this speech was pivotal and learn the basics regarding the historical event. After you have become knowledgeable writing a few sentences on the background of the speech and its relevance to history should come easily.
Or, maybe your Declamation was written about a person? Again, do some research on who this person was and why they were important enough to be remembered. If the Declamation focuses on a person and a particular idea regarding that person, you should focus on the givens that the speech contains. If you are speaking about a well-known figure it might be in your best interest to not include the facts everyone already knows but offer something new.
This same basic principle of research and summarization applies to most every topic. Doing a Declamation on a product, controversial issue of morality, an idea, or commencement speech matters little. Take what the essential is from the speech, research it, and inform your listeners of key points about the topic not mentioned in the speech. The process is relatively the same. What can be the variation is how creative you become on the delivery of the background intelligence.
You may choose to start with a question of how life would be if "X" never existed. Or a quote can be given that is in relation to the subject at hand. Maybe a personal account of how "X" warms your heart is more your style. If you wish to link a past event to one current, your introduction is where to bridge the two times. Whichever you choose, be sure it is appropriate for the tone of the speech. For instance you would not tell a joke in your introduction if the piece was serious.
Look to your Declamation and it will instruct you on which is the best procedure for writing an introduction. Placing pressure on yourself to write the best introduction in Forensics history will hinder you. Relax and think of your introduction as that little blurb on the back of a movie case. Ask yourself what you would like to know about the piece if you had to watch it, not perform, and the words will come.
The Markings of a Declamation: How to Approach Your Script
After you have selected a piece begins the process of memorization, interpretation, and endless practicing. The easiest, most effective way to do any of these is to connect to your material. But how is that accomplished? Quite simple really. Print yourself out several copies of your script and begin to interact. Mark-up your Declamation, always being sure to save a clean copy for reference, and watch those words become part of you.
What does it mean to "mark-up?" It is essentially writing your thoughts on the paper. Circle any words or phrases you wish to emphasis, do not understand, or find interesting. Questions that arise as you read the text should be written in the margins to remind you to investigate them further. Specific ideas you have regarding tempo, tone, gestures, movement, etc. can be scribbled next to the words of inspiration. Marking-up serves as a road-map for what the text meant to you at a certain instant. Therefore, save all mark-up scripts as evidence of the evolution of your work. One never knows when a previous thought can turn into a delightful, useful tangent to pursue.
A good Declamation script should get you wondering about:
--Period Related Jargon/Events/People. If there are any words or names mentioned in the script that you can not devise meaning from circle it as a reminder to research who or what that is. It is your responsibility to know everything about this script. Who is to say that a word or name was dropped to serve as a snide comment? If true, that would certainly alter the tone you use when speaking that word. Diction is crucial to the details of a Declamation; it can be what separates your performance from all others.
--Gestures. As you mark-up your Declamation look for defining phrases/words that are the highlights of the text. Find the key rhetoric and underline. Notating where the important bits are help you set-up when or how to gesture. A good hand movement can be the icing on tasty words. This planning helps to elude over gesturing and falsely drawing attention to insignificance.
--Movement. Reading a script is a good way to look for a natural break and thus determine when to move across your speaking space. Your break might literally occur at a break on the page (between paragraphs). This might not always be the case as the making of paragraphs can be subjective and left to the editor's judgment. In Declamation it is wise to look for segments when the speech switches to new support, offers a solution, or debunks the opposition. You can also be daring and make a move with climatic rhetoric.
--Vocals. Just with movement and gestures, look for those phrases or words that beg to have variation thrust on them. Should this phrase have a swift tempo? Should your voice lower for this sentence of support? If names or jargon are mentioned it could be worthwhile to alter your tone/pace/volume to reflect the speech's attitude towards them. If you have an audio file of the speech it might be good to listen to how another has already processed the words (after you have made your own assessment).
Marking-up a Declamation with these distinct concepts in mind can help better you as a speaker. With every stroke of the pencil on paper you are connecting to your piece in a way that allows you to fully comprehend it and fall in love with every syllable. This intimacy you create with the material will appear in the ownership you display during performance. Further, comprehending your Declamation early in your relationship will make practicing later in the season a cinch as a majority of the hard work will be done, for all will remain is for you to tweak and perfect your performance to earn a first place ranking.
Understanding Declamation Rhetoric
In Declamation it is your job as the speaker to deliver a speech that is faithful to the idea of the material. To accomplish this you must fully interpret the text and grasp the meaning behind the words. As you are working with a speech, a majority of it should be fairly straightforward. Most speeches are, after all, written to be accessible by the largest possible audience. This does not equate to lax interpretation, however. To present a Declamation with confidence and competence, understanding the script's rhetoric is how to excel.
The first step is to print out several copies of the script. Save one as a clean copy for any referencing you may need to do in the future. All other copies are to be marked-up with every scribble of thought. Save all copies as reminders of your thought process. Make use of underlining, circling, writing notes, etc as you mark words/phrases/parts that are important and what they mean according to you. Marking-up any piece is a successful way to connect to your material, to begin the memorization process, and to remind yourself of any powerful bits.
In relation to rhetoric, try to keep these points in mind:
--Diction. Look at the word choices made for this speech. In this Declamation are there any words that are repeated? Are there any striking adjectives used? What are some words that caught your eye/ear as holding weight? Authors often take time to consider what word to use at a specific moment. If a word stands out to you it most likely was not accidental. WHY choose that particular word? Strong diction will help you determine what parts of the speech are important and what could be stressed.
--References. Are there references made to events or people in the speech? WHY are these names, events, or places dropped into the piece? Are they there to inform, as a joke, as a warning? Figure out WHY they are there (again, author's carefully select what gets added to a text) and the tone for that part of the speech will become clear.
--Flowery/direct language. We have all read literature where the writing was rather poetic and descriptive, or flowery. This is a stark contrast to more direct, forward language. Both may reach the same point, but they reach their destinations with opposing vehicles. When looking at your Declamation you can get a sense of the flow/performance based on whether or not this speech is flowery or direct. Flowery language elicits use of more elaborate, grandiose vocals and gestures. Rhetoric that uses direct language might be better suited for an intense delivery.
--Message. Sometimes strong rhetoric is employed to hide that a speech lacks much support. Appealing to the emotions, rather than logic, can still be an effective way to win a crowd. Ask yourself, does this Declamation have a well-supported message? If no, that is not to say the speech should be discredited. It simply means that your showmanship must be spot-on to sell this speech--much like it was sold by the original speaker.
Rhetoric is all about manipulating language to work for you. You might not have written this speech, but you sure need to display ownership. Declamation can be won not necessarily because a speech was the best written but rather because the speaker understood the rhetoric and worked it exquisitely.
(Performing a Declamation about an ethnicity other than your own might be a touchy subject.)
In the quest for the unique Declamation, giving thought to the speech's proposed audience can make a gargantuan difference. A good writer will create a work designed specifically towards an audience, therefore new words or ideas can be present which may help place you in a distinct niche. One such brand of Declamation you may consider researching are those related to a precise ethnicity. Individual ethnicities have their own beliefs for any topic. For example, two speeches on educational struggles, as told from two differing ethnic groups, most likely will offer two original viewpoints.
Selecting an ethnic Declamation can offer a few unusual considerations:
--Are you comfortable speaking about ethnic/race related topics? The subject of ethnicity/race can be one many are uncomfortable with. It ranks up there with politics and religion. If for any reason you feel insecure delivering a speech, DO NOT DO IT! A massive component of Declamation success is showing ownership and confidence. Lose that and you lose rank.
--Is the subject relatable to your audience? Regardless of how much merit an ethnic Declamation may possess, if the speech's message does not relate to your target audience it is not worth doing. Of course not every subject specific to an ethnicity/race will be an issue all other races or ethnicities face. People are unique. But, a well-written Declamation can inform an individual with zero prior knowledge, and be interesting and thought-provoking, without alienating those you present to.
--Is it appropriate for you to present this topic? When you present no one knows who you are. Speakers may recognize one another and chit-chat between rounds, but aside from team members, people really do not know you. Thus, when doing an ethnic Declamation is it important to contemplate how others will view your performance. Your audience has no idea how open-minded you are, why you chose this speech, or your background with the topic. To be blunt, if you are of one ethnicity performing a speech that is directly related to another, people may question why and deem your selection inappropriate. Be careful with your piece selection! Different ethnicities/races can perform speeches written to address another group as long as the speech supports this sort of diversity. Use discretion!
--When performing, NEVER imitate the original speaker. This is a rule any Declamation performance should adhere to, but this advice is doubly true when presenting an ethnically driven speech. Why is this crucial? Imagine watching a speaker from one ethnicity presenting a speech written by a member of your ethnicity--and the presenter is subliminally imitating the original speaker! Again, to be frank, it can be racist. Declamation, and Forensics, should be about creating art and enlightenment, not about creating anger.
These are the big issues to consider when thinking about presenting an ethnic Declamation. The challenges faced by crossing the diversity divide can be great, but may offer an immense payoff. Perhaps in this day of PC it would be best to leave ethnic/race Declamations to the groups who crafted them. However, if you decide to be daring, please, carefully chose a speech and treat it lovingly.
Hands On: Gestures In Declamation
Every time I watch a Declamation round, I am reminded that hand gestures are fascinating. They can be extremely powerful, and many times they convey more than words can express – consider the scenes in the movie "Mr. Holland’s Opus" with American Sign Language. Even everyday usage of gestures combined with speech is meaningful; a wave hello is very different from a wave goodbye. And the meanings even vary by region – did you know that giving someone a thumbs-up in some countries is a major insult?
That said, Declamation is an event that focuses on qualities that are basic elements of giving a speech, including volume, clarity, posture, confidence, memorization, adherence to author’s intent, and of course, quality and interpretation of hand gestures.
This post isn’t exactly a guide, more of a list of observations. Here are some moves I’ve seen in Declamation (I’ve given them easy-to-remember names for your convenience. No need to thank me).
The Fist: Make a fist with one hand (or both hands) and hold your arm (or arms) in front of you while you speak. This is a good hand gesture to use when you’re making a passionate point or talking about something that deals with strength, power, or a serious subject you really want your audience to take home. Try not to overuse this gesture, though, or you will come across like a boxer.
The Bill Clinton: Make a fist with one hand, but keep one thumb raised, like you’re giving someone a thumbs-up. Keep your elbow close to your side, but extend your forearm out in front of you. Move your arm forward slightly when you are emphasizing a point, and allow your other arm to rest at your side.
The Hustle: Though rarely seen in competition, this is what happens when a declamation speaker moves both hands around each other in a circle, as if doing the hustle. Both hands are usually relaxed. This happens often when explaining something that’s taking a long time to get to the point. Better solution: take some time to cut the unnecessary explanation out of your piece.
The Barbie And Ken: Keep both of your elbows close to your sides, but extend both forearms out in front of you with your palms facing slightly upward, like you are welcoming someone or offering a hug. Both hands should be very stiff. Keep your thumb separated from your other fingers, but keep your fingers close, like they are attached. Think of a Barbie doll…or a lobster. So, this one could be called The Barbie And Ken And Lobster, I guess…
The Robot: Similar to The Barbie And Ken And Lobster, this involves keeping the hands stiff, but only uses one arm. For The Robot, allow both hands to hang at your sides. Then, raise one hand abruptly, keeping your elbow at your side. Repeat this mechanical motion throughout your piece, never deviating from your programming.
The Chef: This is a variation on The Robot in which you gesture only with one hand, keeping your fingers stiff – but for this one, make a chopping motion, like your hand is a knife and you are chopping a head of lettuce in half. This is for emphasizing a point.
The Stop And Think About This: Usually used for the crux/climax of the piece, this is when you take both hands and put them in front of you, with your fingers pointing toward the ceiling and with both palms facing away from you. This indicates you have reached a point in your piece where your audience is absolutely required to pay attention.
The Pointer: With both hands, gesture while pointing with both of your index fingers.
The Gun Show: Make a fist with your hand, then extend only your thumb and index finger, making a “gun” out of your hand. This is usually done with both hands while pointing at an audience member to express that you are speaking to them directly.
The Non-Gesture: This is what happens when a competitor does not gesture during a speech, keeping both hands at his or her sides throughout the recitation. I will offer up one piece of advice in this post: Don’t do this; it is very boring to watch and I’d be willing to bet the original speech-giver at least or something.
Never underestimate the power of your hands; they can be used to emphasize a point, to show that you’ve want someone to stop and think, to show that are raising the roof, or to express that you come in peace. Use them well.
Declamation and the Value of Eye Contact
Eye contact is vital with every event you do, but for each event the significance of eye contact alters. In performance events, such as Duo or Humorous Interpretation, your eyes help with characterization and telling the story. For example, making a choice to not look at anyone adds gravity to the moment you are in. In speaking events, the use of your eyes serves as a direct connection between you and your audience. There are no characters to hide behind or black binders to glance at. It is you and your words. Therefore, in Declamation maintaining eye contact is not an option.
Confidence separates a seasoned Declamation speaker from a novice. Public speaking can be a nerve-shattering experience if you let your fears grab your imagination. Remember though, feeling anxious about performing is natural and desired to a degree. In Declamation you must present the illusion that you are comfortable with speaking in front of an audience. A quick fix is to know how to use your eyes. Being able to scan the room, while holding the gaze of someone at critical moments in your speech, suggests that you are secure. Many people look slightly above the audience towards pre-planned focal points on the wall. This trick to avoid direct contact works, but it is not as effective as a good eye holding.
Once you plunge into direct eye contact there will be no backward glances. The power and control you will feel surging through you will give the boost in confidence you need to own the room. The first look may be intimidating, but after a few seconds the fear will be gone. It is this focusing of nervous energy into your performance that elevates an okay Declamation into a spectacular one. Not only will you feel an inner strength, but your audience will see the passion in your eyes. A direct gaze can pass that energy from you to your audience and help awaken your crowd. Imagine! All that simply from looking into the eyes of your listeners!
Another benefit of solid eye contact is gaining the ability to read your audience. If you are glancing away and more focused on the pit in your stomach than those listening, you may not notice that you are losing them. Declamation can be a hard event to capture interest because those watching have to sit through several informative, mainly serious speeches. However, by keeping an eye on the ones looking towards you changes in attention can be seen. Are people dozing because of you or the long day they are having? Maybe your energy level has dropped? Make an assessment and try to draw them in again. Further, scanning the room and paying attention to your audience helps prevent disinterest. Many people will give you the attention back which you gave them. People like to feel they matter, and looking into a person's eyes shows you appreciate them.
Yet another perk of eye contact is drawing people into the message of your speech. Once you gained a person's attention to transfer your passion and love for your speech to them, suddenly people will begin to listen to the message you are delivering. They may not agree with the viewpoint, but the possibility has been opened for them to ponder what your speech is saying. Once people begin thinking about your speech, the chances increase of your performance being remembered. And in Declamation, standing out and being remembered is a fantastic way to increase your rank.
One rule to eye contact one should be conscious of is that too much will frighten away your audience. Reflect back on any conversation you have had recently--did either you or the one you conversed with stare into the other's eyes for an excessive amount of time? Probably not. Direct eye contact is an intimate experience. As much as we like to show interest in what another has to say, as humans we look away periodically to avoid invading personal space. Usually when one is stared at, uneasiness creeps over us. This is what you want to avoid; being labeled creepy.
In Declamation, eye contact is essential to a well-performed piece. Watch videos of any famous orator and pay attention to their eyes. You will see their love and enthusiasm for their speech highlighted in them. You will also notice how they look to the crowd to inspire them to believe in what they say. Words are powerful, but there is a distinction between reading a manifesto and watching one. Take advantage that you are not only the voice of an idea but also a conduit for the emotion behind the text; emotions that are propelled to the audience through your eyes.
The Art of Declamation Vocals
Declamation offers the distinct challenge of merging your interpretation and speaking style with another's. Surrounded by speaking events where you are the writer, no other places competitors into such a predicament. With the risk of being compared to another orator, Declamation speakers must seize a speech they did not write and caress the words to become theirs. This feat must be accomplished while still using good speaking skills. What sounds intimidating can be done by following a few painless suggestions:
1. Look to punctuation. A skilled writer will infuse rhythm, pacing, and pauses into a speech they draft. Semicolons, colons, hyphens, ellipses, italics, bold face, quotations, fragments, ALL are the tools used to add voice to ink. If you see any markings or sentence structure that looks special it could be because the author was trying to highlight that segment of text. Knowing that, as you design your Declamation's delivery keep an eye for these highlights and let them guide you on possible speaking tactics. For example, if I saw a word in italics I might consider using my voice to emphasize that word (if my interpretation supported the idea that it is a word to stress).
2. Look at the speech's structure. Punctuation is what guides you with every sentence. Structure oversees the whole speech. When thinking about creating vocal dynamics considering the piece's overall build may give inspiration. Locate the climax. Do the words leading toward it allow for a crescendo? Also, paragraphs are indicators of a natural break. Take that clue to breath and perhaps move if appropriate.
3. Avoid Imitation. After you have interpreted your speech it might be a good idea to watch another speaker's performance of it to gather more ideas. Apply caution though to not steal that speaker's vocal identity. Always be yourself and never impersonate another; especially if you are using a speech from a well-known person. For instance, choosing a piece by Christopher Walken does not give you the right to pretend to be him--nor will imitating him place you anywhere near his unique speaking skills.
4. Projection and diction. With every good speaker or performer comes excellent projection and diction. Declamation is slightly unnerving because you do not have a character to hide behind. These words are not your own which slows down the process of ownership and delivering from your heart. But by being heard and understood you add authority to your voice that none will be deaf to.
5. Variation. Declamation might not be an acting event but variation is essential to vocals. Listening to a monotone speech is boring and makes mockery of the author's words; they were not written to be delivered flat. Variation coupled with keeping your energy high will help deliver an interesting, fun piece to watch. Strategize how to make use of dynamic (loud/soft) builds, tempo, rhythm, tone, and silence. Look to the script and question what its nature instructs of you.
Declamation speeches are unique in that how you plan your vocals are influenced by the words of another--they are not ones you manufactured. Because you have a script to look towards, take advantage of this perk and look towards the script for vocal guidance. A majority of the script may be straightforward, but look closely and subtle clues of vocalization will exist for you to pounce upon.
Speaking events allow for movement in the designated performance space. Blocking can be an effective way to show transition, climax, emphasis, or to move the speech along. Usually a speaker moves to various, pre-selected spots with the start of a new paragraph of support and on the conclusion. That's usually. Declamation differs from other speaking events in that the speech presented has been done before; you have not created the words. Therefore, when it comes to blocking a Declamation you might have to work with a speech that uses non-traditional transitions (no "first," "next," or "then"). This can make formulation of blocking not as straightforward as anticipated.
The first thing to consider are the paragraphs. A paragraph is a writers way to signal a switch to a new idea, new support, or progression. Most likely a new paragraph can be a flag that movement might work. Do not assume that a new paragraph deserves movement. Determine first how this paragraph relates to the rest of the speech. Does it introduce a new concept or is it a continuation of the previous paragraph? Is it important or filler? If the paragraph is new and special than signal transition with movement.
Sometimes waiting for a paragraph break is a poor choice when blocking. Read the Declamation and pinpoint any occasions that are intense or crucial. Is there a climax in the material? Is there a portion of particularly spectacular rhetoric? Is there a question that holds your attention? This could be a pivotal moment where movement can intensify your performance. It can also easily become an awkward motion if the surrounding sentences do not support such a drastic change. However, if the move can be pulled, and look natural, then this might be a non-traditional movement that can earn you a higher rank.
Try to keep movement at a few carefully selected points. Again, you really only need to move on transitions and possibly the conclusion. Plan your route in advance so there is no confusion. Planning ahead also helps to devise a visually pleasing path as well. Be sure to always come back to center (where you began your speech) at the end to signal closure. The center is also a powerful place to deliver the final message--being directly in front of people is more authoritative than being off-center. Also, talk and look at your audience as you walk to appear comfortable and confident.
Looking at the language and structure of a Declamation speech is a surefire solution to blocking. The script will give suggestions on when you should move. All a speaker needs to do is be attuned to the hints.
Oh, Declamation! I Can Hardly Contain Myself!
(How to keep a Declamation piece full of energy.)
Much of a Declamation's success rides on the showmanship quality you add. Appearing confident is one factor of performance. The other factor is related to energy. You could have flawless diction and make excellent eye contact, but if you look half asleep your audience will begin to yawn. Declamation can be a hard event to keep the energy high because it is non-acting and often politically driven. Speeches are mostly written to be understood by the masses, rarely to entertain. However, Declamation can be a thrilling event if you pour in some energy!
--Rest-up the night before. How can you expect not to yawn and look tired if you did not sleep? Practice your piece and get to bed early the night before a tournament! A few extra hours of sleep can be the difference between turning into a zombie or remaining perky all day.
--Eat breakfast. Food is broken down and stored in our bodies for energy. Adrenaline can only carry you so far before you need sustenance.
--Warm-up. Prior to entering a round you should have warmed-up. Do a fast paced run of your piece. Stretch your face. Say some lines that work your tongue to ensure articulation. Not only will warm-ups help focus your mind, but they also tell your body competition is starting and gets your blood pumping.
--Vocal variation. A monotone Declamation is about as exciting as being forced to watch a horribly boring movie for three hours. Keep your audience interested by keeping your vocals interesting. Use dynamics, change tempo, pay detail to tone, ANYTHING to add life to your words. Look to punctuation and diction to determine the best course for variation.
--Gestures and movement. Do not just move but put purpose behind it. A halfhearted motion is dull. It says to the audience "I am moving across the room because decorum dictates I do." Adding some bounce and strength behind any movement instantly increase energy levels.
--Facials. It is amazing, but when you smile as you talk via telephone the person on the receiving end can pick-up on your enthusiasm. If smiling has that much power over the phone, imagine when you can witness it first hand?! Not that every Declamation lends itself to smiling. However, when you can add a smile do so. Happiness is infectious! Also, as you speak be sure to use your face. Offering no facial expressions is much like being monotone--it's boring! Actively using your face also keeps you involved in the performance, which in turn adds to the energy, which then is seen by your listeners, which finally pays off as a captivated audience.
--Believe what you say. You may have performed this Declamation ten times the night before but you must approach each performance as if it were your first. After all, for some in the round this is the first time they have seen your piece. You need to capture that zeal you found when you first began working your piece with every performance. You need to believe every syllable and not be a recording. Engage your speech! Why? Being excited to present your piece to an audience translates as energy! If you no longer care for the work, then perhaps it is time to take a break from the speech.
Energy not only draws your audience into your performance but also keeps you involved. Declamation can be a hard event to keep passionate about when you hear mostly serious, political speeches all day. Yet, it can be done and it must. Think back on what you love about Declamation and your piece and watch the energy flow from every word you speak.
Making the Cut: Declamations and Keeping Time
Being within time is an important aspect to any performance. Falter thirty seconds over time, or drastically under, and your rank will suffer. Thus, it may come to pass that a trimming of the piece be done. Whilst looking at your Declamation script there should be several thoughts bouncing about before you begin the slicing.
--Have you done a trial reading? Before you even think of cutting be sure to read your piece aloud to get an estimation of time. Looking at how long your piece is in print does give you some idea of how long the speech can be, but an eyeball guestimation is not enough. Read the speech out loud a few times, being sure to clock yourself, to get an average. If you do need to cut, this procedure will also supply you with an idea of how much dialogue needs to be axed.
--Do you need to cut words or pauses? If your Declamation is barely over time the issue might not be with the cutting but with you. Do you know the piece cold? Not being fully memorized slows down a performance because you are searching for words. Another issue might be that you are taking liberal pauses. Have an observer take notice if this is the culprit. If so, add some pep to your Dec.!
--Are movements hindering you? Never let movement slow down your piece. If you are sauntering across the room without talking there is a problem. Speak while you walk. It looks professional, saves time, and is super-easy; definitely simpler than trying to rub your tummy while patting your head.
--Is your introduction too long? A Declamation's background information about the person, event, or product you are speaking about is essential. If people do not understand who, what, or why you are using this speech, people will not listen to you. But do you have too much information jammed into your introduction? An introduction should be around thirty seconds in length. Keep it short, to the point, and press forward.
--Be careful what you cut! After considering the above options, if cutting your speech is necessary you need to think about what you will be omitting. Do not skimp on any background information the speech gives. Leave out too much of the educational portions and your listeners will have no idea what you are talking about. Do not cut anything or anyone that explains a reference you have kept in the piece (unless you do not need the cut information to comprehend). For example, if I leave a reference to JFK in my speech, but have cut a paragraph explaining why the speech even mentions JFK, then my audience will ask "why is JFK in this?" Do not slash any vital support; if support does need to be removed keep the most important segments. Do retain the structure of the speech. The writer worked hard to create a flow--do not cut something that jeopardizes the speech's structure. Above all, remember to maintain the beauty of the speech that drew you towards it.
Having to trim a Declamation is a common occurrence. Not all speeches were devised to fill an eight to ten minute time frame. If cutting need happen, think about how you drag that pencil through the ink. And save a copy of the original speech because as time progresses, and you master your Declamation, you may find you can add sections you snipped back into your cutting!
Declamation: The Renegade Event
Depending on your location in the United States, Declamation might not be an offered event for your league. Or if it is offered it might be an event only available for freshmen or sophomores to compete. Certainly every league has their rational for their opposition to carry (or marginally offer) this event. Perhaps it is because Declamation is often seen as a precursor for Original Oratory. Maybe it is because the National Forensics League does not even acknowledge its existence. Whatever the cause, Declamation is beyond a supplemental or consolation event--it is a renegade that manages to surface among the "official" Forensics events.
If your league has decided to carry Declamation at tournaments refrain from looking down at this speaking event. Do not think that only amateurs venture into Declamation rounds. There are numerous reasons to try this event, some of which are not so obvious:
--Better your public speaking skills. Some who join Forensics do so to overcome fears of public speaking. Declamation is a "safe" event to learn how to address an audience in that you have source material to work with. Having the pressure of creating your own speech and then perform it might be too stressful for someone who is trying to get comfortable in front of a crowd.
--Master speech delivery. Declamation is a fabulous event to learn about the basics of delivering a speech before moving into Original Oratory. As stated above, the anxiety of researching and preparing your own speech is non-existent so you can focus on the nuances of what makes a great speaker. You will become skilled at projection, gestures, use of vocals/silence, and movement from preparing your speech.
--Master speeches technically. Because you have a script and use it to solve all answers you will learn what makes good writing. After pouring over your piece relentlessly the nuances of what constitutes good writing will be embedded in your mind. You will know how to spot good diction, support, and structure. These skills you develop will be important when you sit down to write your Original Oratory or in school.
--Great for double entry. Declamation can be an excellent event to do for double entry because of its straightforward nature. Speeches can be found everywhere with a basic search: Internet, library, textbooks. The hard part is reading and finding one you like. This event is also "less" involved being as once you have your material you are basically set. Minor cuts might need to be made, but your main job is to memorize, interpret, and write an introduction. There is no placing in a binder, no multiple characters to develop, no stress over writing a piece. Declamation is an event to be respected and it does offer its own challenges, but it will not drive you mad with trying to memorize character pops.
--Endless possibilities. As this event is a renegade it has few guidelines. Your piece must have been a published work that has been delivered in public before. That can be most anything political, informational, a eulogy, a debate, a commencement speech, ANYTHING. It does not matter who delivered it so you can look into historical figures or even comedians for a speech. A Declamation can be humorous or dramatic. This openness allows for a freedom other events cannot extend.
--Helps with school. Giving a speech for class is a common occurrence in school. If you can become a pro at Declamation than any presentation your teachers will subject you to will be nothing.
Be mindful these are selective reasons. Declamation has more pros, and the list could continue, but these major perks should be all that is necessary to explain why this event is worth an attempt. Remember, do not judge it as an event for novice only. Do not label it as the lowly because the NFL does not list it with their events. Declamation is a renegade event that not all get to participate in, but those who do adore it.
Comedy in Declamation
If you were to do a word association with the prompt “Declamation,” here is a list you might accumulate:
-hope for the future
-discrimination of any kind
- WHY SO SERIOUS?
Declamation, like most events open to both the comedic and dramatic, is mostly a thoroughfare of grave topics. Given the nature of this event it is understandable. Speeches are often delivered during a formal affair where important business is on the docket. Clearly, one would not deliver a fully comedic speech on the issue of AIDS. It would be utterly inappropriate and offensive.
Yet, when choosing a Declamation piece it is important to look for one that offers at least a handful of chuckles. Why you ask? For the same reason any dramatic film has a few solid jokes—laughter breaks the smother-heavy atmosphere and relieves tension.
People often become numb to a situation if immersed in it for too long. Translation? Too much drama and the audience might tune you out enough to not recall the message of the piece. Further, being tuned out means you have lost the audience. Losing the audience might correlate with losing the judge. And we all know what happens when we lose a judge!
After the round is completed, you want your speech to be remembered. Giving a polished performance is the first step to accomplish this. The second step is using humor to kill monotony, save your audience from boredom, and keep them invested in your piece. If you can achieve interest from the audience, than that means people are actually listening. When people listen, they remember. Therefore, an easy formula might read as follows:
Polished Piece + Laughter = Attention/Interest --> BEING REMEMBERED
Of course being remembered is not the only secret to success. But there is a correlation to being remembered and ranking higher; just stating the obvious. Besides, variety is one component of what makes a great piece; mixing humor and drama is a splendid way of adding spice to your selection.
Handling Declamation Humor
All Declamations should have humor in them. Obviously, a serious piece with a heavy topic might only offer a chuckle or two; any more would border on inappropriate. However, even a dark subject needs to have a line of comedy or lightheartedness. Too much depression wears on an audience, but one laugh can reel them in again. Performing a piece with one or two funny bits is relatively easy, but how does one handle a speech that is satirical or one which uses comedy to question serious issues? Soon the Declamation becomes a juggle between pulling off the comedy WHILE not missing the message the speech holds. The mixing of two genres can be touchy. Switching between a laugh and a somber moment can cause a speaker difficulty, so here are a few things to remember:
--Be sincere. Part of what makes a satirical/humorous speech work is the honesty behind the clown. Okay, so your speech is full of laughter and addresses a tough subject through comedy. So what? You are still talking about an issue that is monumental to those afflicted or involved. What is amazing about comedy is how an audience learns through watching the misfortune or misunderstanding of the lead/narrator and laugh about what typically is a grave matter. We connect and see ourselves in the lead/narrator, and we can do that only when they are truthful and mirror us. Be funny but remember to be human.
--Timing. Because there are two genres mixed together, knowing how to time when/how to unleash the joke is imperative. Unfortunately, timing is one of those things that is hard to learn or explain. Timing is relative to you, the material, and the feeling of when something is right. Fortunately, this is Declamation and even comedic speeches are still mostly formal--meaning you do not have to be one of the Marx Brothers to deliver a humorous speech. You will have to work on pacing (with pauses, tempo) and dynamics to discover the best way to deliver a joke, but the speech's natural rhythm should assist you...as well as responses from practice audiences you perform in front of in rehearsal.
--Know when to be serious. This is still Declamation; even a comedic piece should be relevant and hold a message. Therefore, most comedic pieces will have sections were things get deep. Know how to recognize these and use them as a means to add variety. Become the honest, intelligent, serious speaker once again. Not only will it at gravity to your speech, it will show your speaking range and will certainly impress.
--Don't overdo it. Funny is about pushing limits but knowing when not to cross the line into stupidity or going too far. No one wants to see a Declamation reenactment of "Dumb and Dumber." Save that over-the-top humor for Humorous Interpretation or Duo. Even in moments when you can ham it up, know when you are getting excessive and just...don't.
Selecting a comedic Declamation can be a risky and tricky maneuver. You are choosing a genre that is generally considered lower than drama AND you are mixing humor with potentially serious topics. This can be disastrous if you select this course thinking being funny and honest will be simple. If that is your mindset going in then chances are you are doomed. However, if you approach your Declamation passionately, with good work habits, and a positive attitude you can survive and possibly create the funniest, deepest Declamation your circuit offers.
A Declamation Piece...Wait, Was This an Original Oratory?
If all a Declamation piece needs to be is published and previously performed in public to meet qualifications, then almost anything may suffice. Depending on what league you compete in, there is a possibility that you can perform a past State/National winning Original Oratory as a piece. Some leagues have outlawed this practice on the grounds that the speech was written for a competitive event and not for a true, widely seen public presentation. Yet, there are areas in the Nation were an OO can be used because top-performing OOs are often published on websites at the end of the season. Clearly, if you were to choose your Declamation piece from past winning Original Oratories you would have to consult your local rules. However, if you are able to use an OO there are other factors to consider beyond legality.
When substituting an Original Oratory for a Declamation, the real question should not be can I, but rather should I? Obviously this falls into the realm of morality which is always an individual and subjective opinion. What one considers appropriate, another may not. Ultimately, the final decision rests with you and your coach. However, this Declamation touchy subject poses three interesting hurtles one will have to have the momentum to leap over successfully:
1. The Well-Known Factor. If for your Declamation piece you choose a winning OO, you open yourself up to using what could be a widely known speech. At local tournaments you possibly may never encounter a judge who would know if your piece was an OO or a traditional piece if it were not for the introduction. That's local though. As you rise-up the ranks your odds get slimmer of judges not recognizing the work. Be aware that if your speech is known to a judge, they most likely have seen the Oratorical speaker who created and perfected the very Declamation you perform. They will compare you to the original speaker and your rank may be crippled by this introduction of prior knowledge.
2. The Cop Out Factor. For those who recognize your Declamation for the Original Oratory it used to be, they may label your piece a cop out. It will be questioned why you could not find a true public speech and instead opted to look at OO winners from the past few years and lift their piece. Of course, this is a biased opinion and may never be an issue. But the fact remains, there are purists in the speech world who will see your selected speech as "less" than one found from a traditional source--basically, you may be deemed lazy in your Declamation selection as you are looking through speeches that have already been labeled as award-winning.
3. The Riding Another's Thunder Factor. Using a past OO can either be seen as homage or a blatant attempt to capture the success of another speechie. Think. If you use an OO it has to be one that surpassed all others. The glory stems from the speaker's presentation, their research and persuasion skills, and their writing ability, no doubt. But, the previous speaker also captured the audience's attention and gained their admiration. Selecting a Declamation from a previous OO can be seen as a move to imitate previous excellence. And no one likes an attention, grabbing copycat.
Finding a Declamation piece can be a headache causing experience. You will read more "bad" pieces than good. Does that give you the right though to go automatically to the Original Oratory index and look at pieces where ALL have been given a label of outstanding? Again, it is a morality question; one where you need to ask if you are comfortable with the views others, and yourself, may have for you during competition. If you can mentally support the added baggage of utilizing an OO in Declamation, then go for it. Make the speech yours and forget its history in previous seasons. And above all, make sure this practice is legal in your league!
Declamation: Overseas Is Where to Be
Here is a truth you may not like. America is not the only country in the world that matters. The American government is not the only one that exists. There is a vast world where we are merely a part. A world where, historically, America is an infant in comparison to other countries. Shocking, indeed! An infant, really? Yes. History did not begin when foreign countries began to take notice of North America. The world has a rich history prior to any whisper of America. Today, the world is still as vibrant if you choose to look beyond the oceans and man-made boundaries that divide. Why is this important in Forensics? When searching for a Declamation piece it could be in your best interest to try to find a foreign speech. Why? Well...
1. Be unique. How many people do you know actually pay attention to current world affairs let alone events from the past? Using a Declamation piece from a foreign country could increase the chances of you using a speech that is rarely seen on the speech circuit. Of course, Titans of speeches (such as Winston Churchill) could be an exception to the foreign-is-unique rule.
2. Truly informative. People might all be fundamentally the same, but culturally we are all special. Every country has its own hardships and concerns which are different from another. You could deliver a Declamation that offers a fresh concept rarely thought of in American society.
3. Be edgy. Tied into being informative, as every country has its own views on politics, gender roles, independence, etc. there may be ideologies that oppose American values which another country believes are correct. Picking a Declamation that is a proponent of an unfamiliar or un-American idea might be an interesting way to separate yourself from the competition. Please, do not be derogatory to ANY country though. Hate will not help.
4. Find a good translation (if applicable). All translations are not the same. As Declamation is as much about dialogue as it is about presentation finding an accurate translation is critical. Do some research on speech translations and see which is generally considered the best.
5. Be relevant. Learning about a new culture can be intriguing, but if you are choosing a piece for competitive use you need to earn your audience's attention. Look for foreign ideas that can be related to an American mindset on some level. Compare and contrast. If your crowd can do those two things then you're golden.
These five simple considerations are your guidelines for selecting a foreign piece (of course, then you must think about if it is a good speech in general). In the search for original Declamations, never limit yourself to speeches found only in your country. It's a large world with millions of historical texts ripe for the plucking.
Declamations, Declamations, Wherefore Art Thou?
Possibly the hardest hurtle of Declamation is the research behind finding source material. Often, it is a task that inspires dismay and grows stress exponentially. Do not lose composure! Step back from the situation, fill your diaphragm with air, and relax! The hardest part of the battle is learning how to research, and once that is learned finding a piece is vastly easier.
--Check your team's files. Most teams will have pieces archived away for someone to pick-up later. Ask your coach for access to the team's files, locate the Declamation section, and start reading. Be sure to return everything to where you originally found the item to avoid chaos. Also, these pieces may have been in use once, so ask around to see how recent (to avoid repetition).
--Talk to your History/English teacher. If you are interested in Declamation but have a limited knowledge on historic events or figures, you may find yourself at a disadvantage. Pull out your history textbook and read up on moments in history that interest you. Often, historical highlights will be accompanied by an excerpt from a speech that captures that occasion (read a blurb to determine if you want to find the full text). Also, talk to your History/English teacher(s) about famous speeches to get ideas. You might be surprised by how much knowledge a true professional will hold.
--Go to the library! It may be a little old school, but that is part of the charm. Any decent non-fiction section of either your school or public library will contain hundreds of speeches you can look through. For free! The only charge is to make copies. Perks of using a library include: having personal help from the librarians, being able to browse through a sea of paper, a quiet place to work, and possibly a comfy, over-sized chair to nestle in. If you are at all worried about not knowing how to find a book, settle down and know that a librarian is always around to help. They do not bite, promise!
--Know how to peruse the Internet. The Internet can be a wonderful tool for finding material if one knows how to use it. Search engines can be annoying when you type a word into the search bar and nothing of value appears. What you need to realize is that multiple searches with various key words must be tried to find a handful of potential sites. For Declamation, try phrases like "free speeches," "speech transcripts," declamation pieces," etc. to find sites. Use specific language! Keep in mind too that the best links might not be the first ones shown--they just are the ones that make the most hits. Be sure to scroll down and flip through a page or two to maximize the potential of locating a worthwhile site.
--Look to the past. Some leagues not only list the names of past, top competitors, but also list the name of the piece they performed. Go to your league's website and see if any Declamation pieces are listed. Try to look for older titles to escape using a piece that just had a successful season.
--Original Oratory. Some leagues allow for Declamations to be found from old Original Oratory pieces. Rules vary.
Prior to even beginning your Declamation Piece Adventure you should have an idea of what style of speech you wish to perform (informative, political, commencement, humorous, etc.). You may even make a list of a few figures you admire and check their public record to unearth speeches they have delivered. Researching with an idea is easier than starting with a blank mind. But once your Declamation research begins, these areas to sleuth around in will help you find your piece swiftly and, hopefully, with ease.
Declamation: The Internet Search Begins!
(Tips on how to better use search engines.)
Declamation piece searches, like most non-scholarly research, often begin on the Internet. The Internet can be a source of jubilation or anger. Infinite information is at your disposal and from there stems the double-edged-sword. Using a search engine can either lead you to a helpful website or a slew of ones which are useless for your needs. It is not the Internet's fault though; Google is not trying to sabotage your quest for finding pieces! The truth is, a computer and its functions are only as good as the user. Search engines function under a system. To find a Declamation piece more efficiently you need to know how to operate within the system.
--Keywords. Those words you type into the search engine's search bar are called keywords. They are the words you want the engine to find the most hits on for a website (words listed most frequently). Try to be specific when you type in a keyword. Typing in the word 'Forensics' will list the most visited sites that contain that word...but those sites might not be what you are looking for. Forensics as you know it is NOT how the majority view the word--they think it refers solely to CSI. Thus, try to keep your keywords specific. For locating Declamation pieces, one might begin with 'declamation pieces,' 'speeches,' 'famous speeches,' speech transcripts,' 'speech archives,' etc. Think of synonyms for what you want, use precise language, and open multiple tabs to do numerous searches with various keywords.
--Keyword Variations. One could just type in a keyword if one was doing a general search. However, if one knows what subject they wish to speak on for their Declamation piece, one could aid the search engine further. There are a multitude of ways to type in your keywords, and each method will garner different results:
1. A and B. If you were to search 'declamation and JFK' then the search engine will give you listings of pages that have BOTH the words 'declamation' and 'JFK' at high frequency. If you had just typed in 'JFK declamation' you might get links to pages where one word is more relevant than another ('declamation' might just be mentioned, thus irrelevant to you).
2. A and not B...Better Use Google Advanced. This can be useful if you have an idea for a speech but your keyword has several meanings. Buy using 'and not' you tell the search engine to not bring you results featuring the doppelganger. Example: 'forensics and not sciences' should bring you results with pages that use the word 'forensics' but not 'sciences,' thus eliminating unwanted sites. However, this tool is still tricky as synonyms exist. It is suggested to go to Google and click 'Google advanced' and fill in the blanks for what exactly you want (use a few keywords) and what you do not desire (again, use a few to be thorough). This ensures a Declamation search of true specificity.
3. Phrases. To look up words that appear together, i.e. a phrase, the use of quotation marks is needed. For example "declamation speeches" will bring up all links to pages that feature that phrase. This can be useful for finding names of people or titles within articles.
--Keep Scrolling. Search engines list the most visited pages that contain your keywords at the top. Does that mean these pages are the best? Not necessarily. Google or Bing does not substitute for human judgment. Read through the titles and descriptions of pages, checking out pages that sound like what you want, and keep scrolling until the links become unrelated.
--Venues. As Declamations tend to be historical or linked to specific places/events it might be worthwhile to expand your search to keywords that might be related. I.G. deductive reasoning tells me that if I wanted to do a speech a political figure has delivered I could check the archives of their government (go to the government's page and use their search engine). I might bypass useless filler by going directly to the source.
These are a few basic ways to improve your search engine results, and utilizing these methods should enhance the on-line researching experience. Finding a Declamation piece can be annoying when you have to be a detective with the search engine. However, opting to be a Clouseau, when you could be a Sherlock Holmes, is ridiculous and waste of precious practice time!
Declamation Text Adjustments
(Tips on how to adjust a piece post critique sheet.)
More often than not the material you have selected for your Declamation piece will need to undergo alterations. A majority of these will be made in the cutting process or in the early developments of your piece. However, the time may arrive post-critique sheet where you realize that something in your piece does not work or could be better. The idea of having to reformat your speech may annoy or intimidate you, but the results are well worth the effort. If you are remodeling your Declamation, there are three things to consider for improvements:
1. New cutting. There might be an issue with the structure of the speech. Sometimes a cutting you thought was perfect actually isn't--and it takes the ears of judges to catch the glitch. Most often judges will tell you where they got lost on the critique sheet, thus changes are somewhat easy to make. Declamation is all about the flow of the speech, so your fix to this confusion will come from re-reading the trouble spot and determining what needs to be added or omitted. Pull out your original, clean copy of the speech and think about what from that version is missing from your cutting. Most likely you will have to add a little to your cutting for your text to make sense. Also, do not rule out that a cut you had made elsewhere is causing the problem (two sections of the speech contradict perhaps). Either way, read your piece thoroughly while alert to discrepancies within the text and use the clean version to rectify the differences.
2. New Introduction. Introductions can always be improved. Most are written within five minutes and lack pizzazz. Try to capture the mood of the piece and be sure to have as good an attention getter/clincher as possible! Send some time re-crafting your words to sound intelligent and to be informative. Also, be positive of the location of your introduction. The hook for your Declamation needs to end on a nifty line/thought and offer enough of a taste to leave your audience wanting more. Further, work on being you. This is the only time the audience gets to see you exposed, so be comfortable, friendly, and charming. These simple changes can do wonders for the over-all presentation of your speech.
3. Re-evaluate the interpretation. Interpretation should be an on-going process for anything, but it is especially important if you have altered your piece in any way. Adding or deleting a few lines alters the tempo, gestures, dynamics, movement, basically everything you had previously established. DO NOT create a new interpretation as you perform; unless you want to increase your odds of stumbling in the midst of speaking. Good Declamations take practice.
Never shy from performing any speech improvements. Declamations should change during the season. If a piece has not transformed over a few tournaments time then you are performing with stale material. Your piece might be good, and drastic alterations might not be necessary, but how you view the material should grow as the season progresses. This growth should be reflected through your presentation.