Welcome to A Long Winter's Clap: 12 Days of Speech and Debate Event Overviews and Resources. Today we are talking about Informative Speaking - featuring tips from former Rock Springs Speech and Debate competitor and current University of Wyoming debating powerhouse, Mack Kramer.
Informative Speaking is very similar to Original Oratory - it is an individual event in which a competitor writes an original speech. Just like Oratory, Informational Speaking one of the few competitive high school events for which students actually write all of the delivered content. Unique to Informative is the opportunity for students to use a visual aid for their speech. Informative speeches are no longer than ten minutes in length and must be memorized by competitors.
Here is a description straight from the NSDA:
“Informative requires students to balance that content with delivery and style. Students in Informative must be articulate, engaging, and smooth with their delivery at both a vocal and physical level. The purpose of the event is to inform and educate the audience on a topic of significance. Students may or may not employ the use of visual aids in the performance.
While Informatives are all different, the structure should provide a framework for the audience to understand the topic. Each main point should explore a specific aspect of the topic the student is presenting. Research is a very important component in Informative. All claims should be backed up with evidence that verifies the information the speaker is conveying. If a student has presented two or three components of the topic in an educational and logically sound manner, it is likely they have displayed an adept command of structure.”
Informative Speaking is another event that encourages students to mine the depths of their creativity and personal interests and passions to find a topic perfectly suited to them. The focus of informative speaking is informing and educating the audience on a novel or interesting informative topic in a way that is highly engaging and meaningful. So, topic selection will require brainstorming, thought, and careful selection. Like Oratory, the options available for topic selection are legion - and this can be a difficult challenge for competitors.
The visual aid presents another opportunity for presenters to engage their audience using visual stimulus, and the aid can be a positive element that takes the speech to another creative lever or it can sometimes be a bit of a crutch that sometimes even slows the momentum of the speech or distracts from the message. There are a few specific guidelines for visual aids too, but there is definitely a ton of room for creativity in delivery using these aids. I think that competitors should strive for intentionality with their aids and think about how these aids will genuinely support and enhance the message of their Informative speech.
All of the same Oratory delivery and writing challenges hold for Informative Speakers too. And again, I would advise exploring classic oration instruction when thinking about engaging the audience. Aristotle’s three keys to rhetoric - ethos, pathos, and logos - are still relevant and powerful today when thinking about crafting a winsome, persuasive, and powerful speech.
Informative Speaking Tips from platform enthusiast and debate mastermind, Mack Kramer - formerly a competitor for Rock Springs and now a member of the University of Wyoming Debate Team:
1. Watch NSDA finals speeches -- I know! Boring. But it helps a lot; each finalist on that stage started in the exact place you are or were, each one of them carefully honed their presentation to be charming, charismatic, funny, and satisfying to watch. One NSDA finals speech can teach you as much about how to be successful at info as an entire tournament can, or maybe even more, if you go in-depth enough. You should do a few things when you watch finals rounds: take notes on their presentation, yes, but also on
the organization, structure, content, and depth of their speech. When everyone’s a killer speaker in a finals round, it comes down to the subtleties in what you say, rather than just how you say it. Take notes on funny jokes they make and why they were effective, or on a particularly emotional moment and how their tone and gestures changed. It really will teach a whole lot.
2. Choose a topic about something you’re passionate about -- There’s something that hits different to both yourself and the audience when the topic you’re presenting on is something you’re deeply interested in or passionate about. This could be anything -- video games, orca whales, traffic, or motivation -- as long as you approach it with an awareness of both the interest your audience will have in the topic as it is, and the depth and spin you put on the topic -- the more you do one, the less you have to do the other. A speech that’s on how Big Hero 6’s Microbot invention is actually real and used today might be interesting on-face to your audience, and would probably need a little less spin
than something like cardigan sweaters. Anything can be made interesting, and that’s tip...
3. Use your passion on that topic to extract more depth in areas you didn’t know existed previously. The best informative speeches are ones which teach the audience something they didn’t already know. What most people don’t realize is that this goes beyond just teaching your audience content, but extrapolating that content into a concept your audience holds on to. Judges are goldfish -- their memory of all the awesome moments of your speech will last about 3 seconds after you’re done unless you give them a reason to hold on to it. Judges are also very self-involved -- they like you talking about them and making them feel important. Put these two facts together, and the way to hold your judge’s attention is to make them feel special, smart, or savvy about something in their everyday lives. This can be done very effectively by talking about the cultural significance of your topic, or how it affects people’s psychology. If you’re giving an info about movies, you might have a section about how mass media has been used to manipulate people in the general population via propaganda, fake news stories, or clickbait, and how your judge is affected in their everyday lives by the little videos they see on Facebook. A good rule of thumb: if your judge is likely to brag about what they learned from your speech to seem smart at a dinner party, then you’ve got enough depth.
4. Memorize holistically -- too often I see people approaching memorization in an incredibly rote way: they will memorize every word of their speech, and then they will memorize all of their gestures and hand movements, and then they will memorize all of their facial expressions. This is an incredibly inefficient way to memorize, because you can cut the time in half by just doing it all at once. Your brain will have multiple cues to act on: you no longer need to pull your next source out of thin air, now you have the context of that source coming at a very specific part of the speech, maybe when you’ve just changed your visual, you’re crouched down, and glancing around yourself suspiciously. Instead of needing to rely on pure memory alone, you can use these cues to prime you into your next portion of your speech. As a bonus, this also gets you thinking about your gestures early in the game, so you don’t get to a tournament and suddenly realize you’re confused on what to do with your hands.
5. Visuals are overrated -- Now, undeniably the coolest part of informative *is* the visuals, but let me explain. You will not be ranked 1st in your round *because* of your incredible visual. You *will* be ranked 1st in your round because of the polish of your speech, your presentation, and your connection with the audience, which are all *reinforced* by your visual aid. In other words, your speech should not be dependent on your visual to function, but it should use one effectively to present your ideas. Think of a TED talk -- those speakers would be just as captivating and charming if you took away their slideshows and fancy PowerPoints. The speakers add those slides to convey supplemental information, in addition to being downright satisfying to listen to. Your visuals should be a supplement, not the whole show.
6. Present well -- This skill comes naturally with time, and so isn’t the same as some of these other tips that are more straightforward. There are a lot of things you can do to help with presentation -- watching NSDA rounds, TED talks, and rounds at tournaments will give you the best resource for honing your own presentation. Past this, you ought to practice these skills like facial expression, tone, or gestures with a coach or in the mirror -- nothing will solidify these ideas more than you practicing them and trying them out for yourself. One mini-tip: when you get to a certain point of polish and memorization, you will adopt what I like to call “oratory voice.” It’s where you basically have the same progression in the tone of your voice, for sentence after sentence. Do not have oratory voice! It sounds artificial, makes your humor not hit as well, and the tonal repetition can cause your audience to zone out. Variety, as in life, is the spice of informative. You should shake it up, and have places where you deliberately break this tone, either by talking a bit faster than normal in some areas or dropping in some deadpan humor
without any inflection.
Notice how only one tip was on the presentation that actually happens in-round. Most of your info prowess will come from the structure of your speech, its depth, and its ability to engage the audience. Part of this comes from presentation, yes, but there’s no substitute for sitting down and doing some careful edits to make your speech engaging to listen to, past the surface-level presentation.
If you’d like to hear more from Mack on One Clap - I will link to Mack's interview about their mad debate skillz, but if you’d like more One Clap interviews about Informative Speaking, you are in luck because I have a great interview with tons of helpful informative speaking content from Marcus Viney. Hannah Hu and Callie Firminhac’s interviews also have some good ideas for platform speakers. Check them out here:
How LD Debate State Champ Mack Kramer Took Debate to the Next Level
Informational Sensational with Coach Marcus Viney
Oratory and the Lasting Power of Speech and Debate with Callie Firminhac
Hannah Hu Drops Truth About Platform Events & Problematic Tournament Snacks
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More links to helpful resources for Informative Speaking:
NSDA Competition Guide:
Speech Resources Video from the 2020 Wyoming Coaches Conference, Presented by Marcus Viney and Ashley Schulz:
Informative Resources from Marcus Viney:
Informative Speaking Guide from NSDA:
Informative Speech Overview and Topics from Orai Blog:
What to expect in INFO from a Student's Perspective from NSDA:
Resources of INFO from Judge Training:
Research in Oratory (Source Evaluation) from NSDA:
INFO Resources from JayDebate.com:
Intro to Coaching Informative Speaking and Original Oratory Course from NSDA:
How to Judge Informational Speaking from NSDA:
Sample INFO Ballot with Comments from NSDA: