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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Info On Info (Informative Speaking)

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #22, Coach Rick Dorn drops all the info about Informative Speaking.

New Coach 411 - Column #22

The Info About Info


Hello everyone! I hope your summer is going well, and I hope your Nationals experience was enjoyable! This month, I thought it would be good to talk about Informative Speaking. It is a newer event that has seen its numbers grow dramatically over the past few years. For a new coach, it can be tricky to figure out what works and what doesn’t.


First, the basics are very similar to Oratory. It is intended to be an original essay form of writing by the student. Coaches, do NOT write the speech for your students. This is dishonest and it really hurts student growth. You are welcome to edit the piece, but please honor the integrity of the event.


It is also meant to be memorized. Some students (especially speech students) have the gift of improvisation, but if they are making the speech up as they go, or even making dramatic changes every round, then they are in violation of the rules of the event. At your bigger tournaments, that will wind up with challenges, because their fellow competitors will realize what they are doing and protest. This year was tricky for my team because many of the students were procrastinating about memorizing pieces. Try to limit how much they use the written copy or they will delay memorizing all season long.


Let’s talk about topics. Teenagers have a tendency to pick the same topics (mental illness, suicide, peer pressure, etc.) over and over. This isn’t new, as I was writing about the same depressing topics in my Creative Writing class back in high school myself. If at all possible, please steer them clear of such topics. Much like in Oratory, if four speakers in a room all have the same or similar topics, they are limiting their potential for success.


So, what kind of topics do work best? Unique but interesting topics are the goal. A topic that shows scientific research more complex than a simple google search is the idea. In other words, will the judge be fascinated because it’s something they have never heard before? Sociological topics are okay, if they have hard science behind them.

Here are some examples I have seen or judged: Parental techniques (with real science), the intelligence of birds, a mysterious disappearance of a group of people, the nature of fear (with hard science), the causes and impacts of dementia, and so on. For the most part, the judges had not seen the majority of these topics before, and they all did well. Picking a topic should not be a fast process. If it is the first topic they consider, then many other competitors will likely pick the same topic.


Informative is the event that allows visual aids. The aids must abide by the rules so don’t make an interactive powerpoint or anything involving power sources. Other than that, the sky is the limit. My suggestion is to have something that is interactive with the speaker as it can aid in keeping the speaker on point. Posters are okay, but they can be overdone. The best visual aids are the unusual ones. One competitor I judged had created a pop-up book out of a fiction novel and it fit perfectly with her topic about fear. Be reasonable though in that that student has to carry it around from round to round. Also, keep the set up as simple as possible for everyone’s sanity.


The final thing I would suggest in Informative is to include humor. Just as the students in school enjoy a dash of humor, the judges don’t want to hear 50-60 minutes of dry lecture. Framing devices can be humorous, or subtle attempts included in the body of the speech are welcome. If you pick an interesting topic, and have it be entertaining as well as informative, you will do well in this event. I hope these ideas have helped. If you have any advice you’d be willing to share, please let me know!


If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at rickdorn1@yahoo.com.


Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Rick Dorn

Worland High School


Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice and has coached numerous students to national competition. He was recently honored as the 2022-2023 Communicator of the Year by the Wind River District.

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