New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #20, Coach Rick Dorn discusses various ways to approach Original Oratory.
New Coach 411 - Column #20
This month, I thought I should delve into the platform or public speaking events. These typically include Original Oratory, Informative, Extemporaneous, Impromptu, and the like. These events have some interesting advantages and disadvantages for beginning speakers.
For one thing, beginning speakers are sometime afraid of pieces of the other two major areas, the interpretation and the debate events. If they are shy and afraid of expressing themselves broadly, the interpretation events can be difficult to manage. If they are not sure they can think quickly and speak off the cuff about a certain political topic, they can be afraid of debates. This can be a middle ground for beginners.
So, the one to start looking at is Original Oratory. Emotion is okay, but not required in the speech, and the student can pick a topic they care about. Informative has the same advantages, but I’ll talk about that event in an upcoming month. It is meant to be persuasive, and it should have a run time of seven to ten minutes. I compare writing one to a really passionate essay about something you have strong feelings about.
Coaches, I know some of you feel you should write your student’s speeches, but this should not be done. The whole point of the event is for it to be student-written. Editing is fine, but if a third of the speech is by you, what has the student really learned about themselves and the event? Resist temptation. I understand you are probably a better writer than your students, but remember this is a learning activity.
So let’s talk about topics. It is wide open, but some topics are more common. You will hear lots of touchy feely topics in Oratory. It should be something that can inspire and challenge the audience. Unfortunately, some of the same topics will pop up over and over. That’s not a bad thing, but it can lead to repetition in competition, and the unique piece will usually win over yet another piece about suicide or self-esteem issues.
Teenagers pick the same topics repeatedly, so helping guide their topic selection is a good idea. Again, this will pop up in Informative too. I just judged semifinals at the state contest, and some of the topics were ignorance of the public, meditation, and things like that. The piece that ended up winning state was the value of correct names and pronunciation. In other words, the importance of valuing others’ identities. It was a common topic, but it was done in a unique style and with humor. Those elements help an oratory stand out.
If you pick a hot button topic for Oratory, understand you will lose judges. It’s better to try to thread the needle if possible. Extemp will have the same issue. If you make your entire speech that conservatives/liberals are bad/good in an amazing well-delivered speech, prepare to have a 1, 6, 1, 6 record. Judges are not supposed to bring their own viewpoints into a round (I get that they do anyway), but if you lob a political hand grenade at them, be ready for the blast.
Movement is an interesting principle in speeches. Most agree that standing in one location for the entire speech is not ideal. Again, let your beginners get comfortable so if staying in one space is the best way for them to do so, then let it slide. Some coaches will argue that very definite steps should be taken at certain points in the speech. It’s helpful for signaling the judge on which part of the speech you are on, but if you get too stylized, it looks fake. I find a more natural method with hands and movement is better. As long as it’s not nervous movement or pacing, find what feels natural for the speaker.
Oratories should be memorized. I’m convinced this is what keeps most students from trying it. I’m okay with students using a script in the earliest part of the season, but after a couple weeks, that script needs to go away. It becomes a crutch, and they need to have the pressure of maneuvering their way through when they get lost. The same principle applies in any memorized piece. If they never perform without the script in practice, they will get lost and mess up in competition.
The students who do Oratory find that they love it. They get to write and speak about a topic they care about, and if they do it well, it will be entertaining. Oratories are very subjective, but a well-written and delivered piece is an amazing thing!
As always, if I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me!
If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!
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.
Check out the 2023 April Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter from One Clap (May Newsletter still in the works): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IqBwz3toqOJScx6ASQaZh0Ldbk5u7Nqa/view?usp=sharing