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Competition Events

Students benefit from a wide variety of speech and debate events. To create standards for national competition, the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) has defined a number of events, described below. These events are prevalent in the United States, and many states adopt the NSDA’s rules and guidelines for each event. However, the events offered, and the rules for each event, do vary from state to state. Please consult with your state speech and debate organization or a local contact for more information on event rules in your area.

 

For a more in-depth look on the various events, view our Competition Events guide.

Speech

Speech involves a presentation by one or two students that is judged against a similar type of presentation by others in a round of competition. There are two general categories of speech events, public address events and interpretive events. Public address events feature a speech written by the student, either in advance or with limited prep, that can answer a question, share a belief, persuade an audience, or educate the listener on a variety of topics. Interpretation events center upon a student selecting and performing published material and appeal to many who enjoy acting and theatre. 

Debate

Debate involves an individual or a team of students working to effectively convince a judge that their side of a resolution or topic is, as a general principle, more valid. Students in debate come to thoroughly understand both sides of an issue, having researched each extensively, and learn to think critically about every argument that could be made on each side.

To learn more about each event, click on the event name.
To learn more about each event, click on the event name.

Commentary

Students are presented with prompts related to societal, political, historic or popular culture and, in 20 minutes, prepare a five-minute speech responding to the prompt. Students may consult articles and evidence they gather prior to the contest, but may not use the internet during preparation. The speech is delivered from memory and no notes are allowed.

Through extemporaneous commentary, I was provided an experience that taught artful presentation and intense competition, and introduced me to countless brilliant individuals – an experience that culminated in one of the grandest moments of my life, a national championship.
Will Thompson

NSDA Alum

About Declamation

Declamation is a public speaking event where students deliver a portion or portions of a speech previously delivered. The speech the student delivers can be any publicly delivered speech. Commencement addresses, historical speeches, political speeches, and celebrity speeches are common examples that students may use to select their declamation. Speeches are up to 10 minutes in length. As a result, students typically shorten the text of the speech to meet time requirements. The goal of a declamation is to convey a message with clarity, emotion, and persuasiveness. The event is not designed for students to mimic the original author of the speech. Instead, speakers are to develop an oration that delivers the message of the author in an original and engaging manner.

Declamation was the first speech event I did as a freshman. It removed some of the pressure because the words were already written (very well written at that, usually by famous people), but I still had to find the right way to deliver them. Playing with different ways to deliver the speech allowed me to explore speech patterns, breathing methods, and all of the other devices important in speech delivery. It helped create a foundation for my success in other speech events.
Sarah Gordon

NSDA Alum

About Dramatic Interpretation

Dramatic Interpretation, contrary to its name, is not all about drama. While dramatic elements are key aspects of the event, melodramatic, or overly-sad selections are not ideal choices for performance. DI lacks props, costuming, sets, and other luxuries seen in various forms of performance art. There is a set time limit of ten minutes, with a thirty second grace period. Students who choose to compete in Dramatic Interpretation should focus on suspending the disbelief of the audience by portraying a realistic, emotional journey of a character(s). The performance should connect to the audience. Students who do Dramatic Interpretation may perform selections on topics of serious social subject matter such as coping with terminal illness; significant historical situations, events, and figures; as well as racial and gender discrimination, suppression, and oppression. Students should select pieces that are appropriate for them. Considerations for selecting a DI topic should include the student’s age, maturity, and school standards.

DI helped me develop a better understanding of the world in which I live. To be able to create a narrative that portrays a person you have never known or a situation you’ve never been in so others can learn from it is worth everything.
Jamaque Newberry

NSDA Alum

About Duo Interpretation

Duo. The event everyone wants to do with a best friend. In truth, while the appeal of duo might be performing with a friend, this approach may not be best. Duo is about balance. Partners need to compliment one another stylistically, have a similar skill set and work ethic. Chemistry is an important element of duo, but chemistry outside of a practice/performance setting does not always translate to chemistry when practicing or performing at a tournament. Be sure to share your goals with your coach as they help you through the process of getting started in duo. Duo is an event that can be dramatic, comedic, or a combination of the two. With a ten minute time cap, and a requirement of an off-stage focus, Duo is one of the most unique forms of performance. The main objective is to maintain a sense of balance between performers that focuses on the relationship(s) between the characters they create.

Duo Interpretation is an excellent crash course on creativity. The process of cutting, blocking, and refining a script really encourages young artists to think differently and create form and empty space. I think the best part of Duo was the opportunity to meet so many talented, creative people who turn words on a page into phenomenal showcases of artistry, and to have the ability to do it all with my best friend.
Zach Snow

NSDA Alum

About Expository

Expository speaking is an informative speech that is five minutes long without the use of a visual aid (note: some tournaments permit the use of visual aids but at Nationals none are used). Students who participate in Expository provide unique and interesting information to the audience. An effective Expository introduces them to either a completely new topic or something new about a topic people may know a lot about. The speaker should provide unique insights and explore interesting implications. At its core, Expository Speaking is an informative speech. Students doing Expository may cover topics ranging from an organization to a product , a process or concept.

I enjoyed Expository because it didn’t require the speaker to convince the audience of anything other than how exciting their topic was. Any speech that explores implications usually involves some level of individualized analysis, which keeps topics that are otherwise redundant fresh.
Josh Planos

NSDA Alum

About Humorous Interpretation

Humorous Interpretation, as its name indicates, is humorous. Competitors often use multi-character selections to tell relatable stories using humor as a device to connect with the audience. Think about your favorite comedian’s latest stand up routine, or something funny that recently happened. Ask yourself why it’s funny. Then ask yourself if that joke would be funny to, say, your mom, or great-great Uncle Joe. Humor is a complex human quirk. Each individual’s sense of humor is unique. However, other aspects of humor are more universal in nature. So, when choosing an HI, it is imperative to consider not only the humorous elements of the selection, but also to keep in mind how the story itself will appeal to the audience. Not everyone will laugh at the same joke, but if a character’s plight is relatable, the audience will identify with him or her. Humor in a Humorous Interpretation should be tasteful and motivated.

Robin Williams said, ‘You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.’ HI was my way of keeping and exercising my madness muscle, because we all need a little madness to keep the insanity away. HI, and speech in general, helped to cultivate a sense of fearlessness, not only in my performances, but also in my life.
Dan Johnson

NSDA Alum

About Impromptu

Impromptu is a public speaking event where students have seven minutes to select a topic, brainstorm their ideas, outline and deliver a speech. The speech is given without notes and uses an introduction, body, and conclusion. The speech can be light-hearted or serious. It can be based upon prompts that range from nursery rhymes, current events, celebrities, organizations, and more. At the 2021 online National Tournament, Prepared Prompt Speaking will take the place of Impromptu. Students will be given a list of topics prior to the tournament, select one prompt from the official list, prepare a speech, and submit it through the recording process.

Impromptu is a public speaking event that tests a student’s ability to analyze a prompt, process their thoughts, organize the points of the speech, and deliver them in a clear, coherent manner. Students’ logic is extremely important. They must be able to take an abstract idea, such as a fortune from a fortune cookie, and put together a speech that has a thesis and supporting information.

Impromptu speaking is like jumping into public speaking head first. It forced quick confidence and helped me grow as a speaker by giving me the skills to prioritize my decision making to prepare an organized and meaningful speech.
Alex Baranosky

NSDA Alum

About International Extemp

Extemporaneous Speaking, typically called extemp, is a speech on current events with limited preparation time. A student’s understanding of important political, economic, and cultural issues is assessed along with critical thinking and analytical skills. Students report to a draw room (often referred to as extemp prep) where all of the extempers gather at tables, set out their files, and await their turn to draw topics. Students may access research brought with them to the tournament during the 30-minute preparation period. When prep time is up, the student reports to the competition room to deliver a 7 minute speech. Students have a lot to do in 30 minutes—they must select a question, review research, outline arguments with supporting materials, and practice at least part of the speech before time expires. Many tournaments prohibit the consultation of notes during the speech in which case speech structure and evidence need to be memorized during prep time as well.

The fast-paced nature of Extemp quickly cultivated my speaking skills, while the never-ending subject matter of current events provided an outlet for my intense curiosity. On its most fundamental level, Extemp gave me a microphone to address the world, imbued eloquence into my voice and ideas, and taught me to make concise arguments.
Dylan Adelman

NSDA Alum

Mixed Extemp

Middle School Extemp combines international and domestic issues (as opposed to two separate events like high school). Students are presented with a choice of three questions related to national and international current events. The student has 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech answering the selected question. Students may consult articles and evidence they gather prior to the contest, but may not use the internet during preparation.

About Original Oratory

Original Oratory is a speech written by the student with the intent to inform or persuade the audience on a topic of significance. Oratory gives students the unique opportunity to showcase their voice and passion for their topic. An Oratory is not simply an essay about the topic—it is a well researched and organized presentation with evidence, logic, emotional appeals, and sometimes humor to convey a message. Topics may be of a value orientation and affect people at a personal level, such as avoiding peer pressure, or they can be more of a policy orientation and ask an audience to enact particular policies or solve societal problems.

The skills that I acquired from Oratory are skills most fundamental to the human condition. Oratory allowed me to advocate for what I believed in, in my words. It gave me the ability to tell my story from the stories and experiences of others. I learned the importance of organization, fact checking, word economy, along with innumerable other skills that form the foundation of great writing. Competing in Oratory gave me a unique opportunity to venture into elements of other events. Storytelling, humor, drama, spontaneity, argumentation, and research are all elements that are actively applied in Oratory. It’s an event for anyone and everyone.
Avi Jaggi

NSDA Alum

About Original Spoken Word Poetry

Students write and perform original poetry to express ideas, experience, or emotion through the creative arrangement of words according to their sound, their rhythm, their meaning.

The maximum time limit is 5 minutes with a 30-second grace period. The delivery must be memorized, and no book or script may be used. No more than 150 words of the original poetry may be direct quotation from any other speech or writing. A successful performer will craft a piece that elicits critical thought, reflection, or emotion. As opposed to traditional Poetry, Spoken Word Poetry is created to be performed aloud and may feature rhythmic flow, vivid imagery, word play, gestures, lyrical elements, and repetition. Use the Getting Started with Original Spoken Word Poetry guide as a helpful tool to explore ways to express thoughts and experiences through poetry.

An original poetry contest was offered at prior National Tournaments. Watch original performances by the finalists to get a feel for the event.

About Poetry

Poetry is characterized by writing that conveys ideas, experiences, and emotions through language and expression. Often Poetry is very creative in terms of vocabulary and composition. While Poetry may tell a story or develop a character, more often Poetry’s focus on language and form are designed to elicit critical thought, reflection, or emotion. Students may choose what the National Speech & Debate Association refers to as traditional Poetry, which often has a formal meter or rhyme scheme, or nontraditional Poetry, which often has a rhythmic flow but lacks formal rhyme or meter (examples include spoken word or slam Poetry).

When all words fail to express what you want to say, Poetry has the kind of language that can. It’s a beautiful challenge that you can take in any direction, composing an arrangement that speaks to you yet also creates discussion among your audience. When you nail that performance, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Allison Macknick

NSDA Alum

Pro Con Challenge

Students select the National Tournament topic for CX, LD, or PF or a piece of legislation in the Congressional Debate Docket and write a 3-5 minute affirmative speech and a 3-5 minute negative speech on that topic. This event allows students to explore debate topics in a new and exciting way while showing off their writing, research, and delivery skills.

 

About Progam Oral Interpretation

Program Oral Interpretation relies on the performer’s ability to portray a wide range of characters and literature all held together under a common theme. Each program must contain at least two of the three genres and students are encouraged to include all three. There is a set time limit of ten minutes, with a thirty second grace period. Students who choose to compete in POI should focus on making an interesting argument that is supported in different ways by each piece of literature they select.

About Prose

Prose is often classified as the “other” category of interpretation. It’s not poetry. It’s not drama. It’s not storytelling. So what is prose? Prose combines multiple elements of oral interpretation of literature. Prose corresponds to usual patterns of speech — that which you would find most every day in a particular space and time (in contrast to poetic form and language). Prose typically has a narrative with its related rises and falls, much like Storytelling. Prose may also feature character development and dialogue, much like Dramatic Interpretation. Prose may have humorous elements embedded, much like Humorous Interpretation. In short, while many categories have specific interpretation focal points, Prose Interpretation is very wide open, and choices of material may vary from region to region or even tournament to tournament.

I love Prose because it’s all about connecting to the audience. I want them to care about a story and connect with it on a very emotional and personal level. A good Prose lets you suspend time for a few minutes and just enjoy the ride.
Emily Anderson

NSDA Alum

About Storytelling

Storytelling consists of sharing a story with an audience, performed as if the audience were a group of young children. The story must meet the theme of the tournament and not exceed five minutes. Students may use a full range of movement to express themselves and may incorporate a chair in a variety of different ways. Students may be seated but most commonly performers use a full range of stage space available to them. As there are so many different types of stories that can be performed, it is important to observe rounds to see what other students and teams are using. The Association has final rounds of Storytelling from both the high school and middle school level to review. Local and regional tournaments may vary in the selection of stories performed.

What I love about storytelling is it lets a competitor be goofy. Not just funny but outlandishly goofy. There’s seldom a moment where you have to worry if something ‘makes sense.’ Most of the stories used in competition have plot lines that suspend reality in the first place. So, if I have a script with a talking iguana and I want to make him Austrailian, it works. I love how crazy it can get.
Emma Wilczynski

NSDA Alum

About United States Extemp

Extemporaneous Speaking, typically called extemp, is a speech on current events with limited preparation time. A student’s understanding of important political, economic, and cultural issues is assessed along with critical thinking and analytical skills. Students report to a draw room (often referred to as extemp prep) where all of the extempers gather at tables, set out their files, and await their turn to draw topics. Students may access research brought with them to the tournament during the 30-minute preparation period. When prep time is up, the student reports to the competition room to deliver a 7 minute speech. Students have a lot to do in 30 minutes—they must select a question, review research, outline arguments with supporting materials, and practice at least part of the speech before time expires. Many tournaments prohibit the consultation of notes during the speech in which case speech structure and evidence need to be memorized during prep time as well.

Extemp made me the poised, organized, and strong woman I am today. It taught me how to be myself in front of a room full of strangers, to break down complex theories so they are easily accessible, to quickly problem solve, and, most importantly, that I never need to apologize for being a girl who wants to talk about labor market policies more than celebrity drama.
Talan Tyminski

NSDA Alum

Debate Events

Debate involves an individual or a team of students working to effectively convince a judge that their side of a resolution or topic is, as a general principle, more valid. Students in debate come to thoroughly understand both sides of an issue, having researched each extensively, and learn to think critically about every argument that could be made on each side.

About Big Questions Debate

Big Questions Debate is a debate format that allows students to debate with a partner or as an individual. Debates may be one-on-one, two-on-two, or two-on-one. Topics last all year and concern the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion. Students are assigned a side of the topic before each round and present cases, engage in rebuttal and refutation, and participate in a question period. Big Questions is supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

Time Limits

Speech Time Limit Purpose
Affirmative Constructive 5 minutes Present case
Negative Constructive 5 minutes Present case
Question Segment 3 minutes Alternate asking and answering questions
Affirmative Rebuttal 4 minutes Refute the opposing side’s arguments
Negative Rebuttal 4 minutes Refute the opposing side’s arguments
Question Segment 3 minutes Alternate asking and answering questions
Affirmative Consolidation 3 minutes Begin crystallizing the main issues in the round
Negative Consolidation 3 minutes Begin crystallizing the main issues in the round
Affirmative Rationale 3 minutes Explain reasons that you win the round
Negative Rationale 3 minutes Explain reasons that you win the round

*Each team is entitled to three minutes of prep time during the round.

 

I believe this topic will generate a unique discussion among students and adults alike. Our judges are a cross-section of our community and their connection with the students and this topic will create an 21st century educational experience for all.
Mary Ann Berty

Coach

About Congressional Debate

Congressional Debate is like a simulation of the real United States legislature. A group of 10-25 students, called a Chamber, will compete in a legislative session. A series of bills and resolutions will be proposed by students from various schools. Students in turn will be selected by a presiding officer — a student elected to conduct the business of the round — to give speeches both advocating for and encouraging the defeat of the measure in front of them. Following each speech, competitors will be able to pose questions of the speaker. Once debate is exhausted on a particular item, the chamber will vote either to pass or fail the legislation, and debate moves on to the next item. Legislation comes in two types — a bill and a resolution. A bill is a plan of action, detailing how a particular policy proposal will be implemented. A resolution, meanwhile, is a statement expressing the opinion of the chamber. Typically, one session of Congress lasts about 2-3 hours. During that time, students typically give speeches 3 minutes in length. The first two speeches on a piece of legislation are known as the first advocacy, or first pro, and the first rejection, or first con. These speeches are followed by 2 minutes of cross examination. After the first pro and con speech are established, each additional speaker is subject to one minute of cross examination by the chamber.

Congressional Debate is an exercise in leadership. It’s a political game where your fellow students can have as much influence on the outcome of the round as your judges. You’re rewarded for taking risks; one cannot simply fade into the background and expect to succeed. It’s these exact skills that translate into success later in life—those who think a little bit differently are those who make permanent change in the world.
Christina Gilbert

NSDA Alum

About Extemporaneous Debate

Extemporaneous Debate is a supplemental event at the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Students compete in a one-on-one format with limited prep time to prepare for the topic they are to debate. Students present arguments and engage in rebuttals, however, unlike other common debate events, students debate a number of topics, as opposed to a single topic for the entire tournament. Each round students are presented a unique resolution. They are given a minimum of thirty minutes to prepare for the round. The use of evidence is permitted, but not a focal point due to the limited time available to prepare a case for the round.

Time Limits

Speech Time Limit Purpose
Proposition Constructive 2 minutes The debater in favor of the resolution presents his or her case/position in support of the topic.
Cross Examination of Proposition 1 minute The opposition debater asks the proposition questions.
Opposition Constructive 2 minutes The debater against the resolution or the proposition’s case presents his or her case/position.
Cross Examination of Opposition 1 minute The proposition debater asks the opposition questions.
Mandatory Prep Time 1 minute Both debaters have one minute to prepare their rebuttals.
Proposition Rebuttal 2 minutes The proposition debater refutes the main idea of the opposition and supports their main ideas.
Opposition Rebuttal 2 minutes The opposition debater refutes the main idea of the proposition and supports their main ideas.
Mandatory Prep Time 1 minute Both debaters have one minute to prepare their rebuttals.
Proposition Rebuttal 2 minutes In this final speech the proposition crystallizes the round for the judge and tries to establish sufficient reason for a vote in favor of the resolution.
Opposition Rebuttal 2 minutes In this final speech the opposition crystallizes the round for the judge and tries to establish sufficient reason for a vote against the proposition’s case and/or the resolution.
Extemp debate imparted onto me, the importance of having to be well read, and open minded about a wide variety of topics. The event also helped me work on my word economy and efficiency when discussing important points in every day conversation. Finally, the compressed format, and scope of the topics also gave me an opportunity to engage in really enjoyable debate on topics that I would never have been able to without it.
James Stage

NSDA Alum

About Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Lincoln-Douglas Debate typically appeals to individuals who like to debate, but prefer a one-on-one format as opposed to a team or group setting. Additionally, individuals who enjoy LD like exploring questions of how society ought to be. Many people refer to LD Debate as a “values” debate, as questions of morality and justice are commonly examined. Students prepare cases and then engage in an exchange of cross-examinations and rebuttals in an attempt to convince a judge that s/he is the better debater in the round.

Time Limits

Speech Time Limit Purpose
Affirmative Constructive 6 minutes Present the affirmative case
Negative Cross-Examination 3 minutes Negative asks questions of the affirmative
Negative Constructive 7 minutes Present the negative case and refute the affirmative case
Affirmative Cross-Examination 3 minutes Affirmative asks questions of the negative
First Affirmative Rebuttal 4 minutes Refute the negative case and rebuild the affirmative case
Negative Rebuttal 6 minutes Refute the affirmative case, rebuild the negative case, and offer reasons that negative should win the round, commonly referred to as voting issues.
2nd Affirmative Rebuttal 3 minutes Address negative voting issues and offer reasons for why the affirmative should win.

*Each debater is also entitled to four minutes of prep time during the round.

LD allowed me to question basic assumptions and reevaluate aspects of the world. Despite debating individually, the community is so welcoming; I made friends across the country.
Jordan Friedman

NSDA Alum

About Policy Debate

Policy debate is a two-on-two debate where an affirmative team proposes a plan and the negative team argues why that plan should not be adopted. The topic for policy debate changes annually, so debaters throughout the course of the year will debate the same topic. One member of each team will perform the ‘first’ speeches, the other the ‘second’ speeches. So the person who reads the 1AC wil also perform the 1AR, for example. Note that the debate begins with the affirmative speaking first, and then switches midway through the debate where the negative speaks first, thus giving the affirmative the ability to speak last.

Time Limits

Speech Abbreviation Time Limit
1st Affirmative Constructive 1AC 8 minutes
Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative 3 minutes
1st Negative Constructive 1NC 8 minutes
Affirmative Cross-Examination of Negative 3 minutes
2nd Affirmative Constructive 2AC 8 minutes
Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative 3 minutes
2nd Negative Constructive 2NC 8 minutes
Affirmative Cross-Examination of Negative 3 minutes
1st Negative Rebuttal 1NR 5 minutes
1st Affirmative Rebuttal 1AR 5 minutes
2nd Negative Rebuttal 2NR 5 minutes
2nd Affirmative Rebuttal 2AR 5 minutes
Prep Time (each team)   8 minutes
Policy Debate provided me immeasurable critical thinking skills and confidence in not only my ability to speak but also my ability to think. But what I loved most about Policy Debate is that the nature of the activity is one that rewards hard work—nobody is born a good debater. Instead Policy Debate is pure effort and perseverance and I love that.
Nathaniel Sawyer

NSDA Alum

About Public Forum Debate

As a team event, students who compete in Public Forum need to be able to work well with a partner. Balanced teams, both in terms of preparation before debates and contributions within a debate, helps provide a competitive advantage during tournaments. PF is the newest form of debate in the Association and looks at current event topics. Students who do Public Forum must be prepared to debate in front of judges without any formal debate training. Being able to persuade a range of judges is a central component to this event. Additionally, PF is focused upon debating varying resolutions that change frequently, which exposes students to a variety of topics during a singular competitive season.

Time Limits

Speech Time Limit Purpose
Team A Speaker 1 – Constructive 4 minutes Present the team’s case
Team B Speaker 1 – Constructive 4 minutes Present the team’s case
Crossfire 3 minutes Speaker 1 from Team A & B alternate asking and answering questions
Team A Speaker 2 – Rebuttal 4 minutes Refute the opposing side’s arguments
Team B Speaker 2 – Rebuttal 4 minutes Refute the opposing side’s arguments
Crossfire 3 minutes Speaker 2 from Team A & B alternate asking and answering questions
Team A Speaker 1 – Summary 3 minutes Begin crystallizing the main issues in the round
Team B Speaker 1 – Summary 3 minutes Begin crystallizing the main issues in the round
Grand Crossfire 3 minutes All four debaters involved in a crossfire at once
Team A Speaker 2 – Final Focus 2 minutes Explain reasons that you win the round
Team B Speaker 2 – Final Focus 2 minutes Explain reasons that you win the round

*Each team is entitled to three minutes of prep time during the round.

Public Forum played a large role in who I am today. It taught me to be persuasive. At its core, the event’s structure and audience forced me to shape and mold my thoughts into concise, simple, yet elegant arguments.
Danny Rego

NSDA Alum

About World Schools Debate

World Schools Debate is a three-on-three format. While a given team may consist of five members, only three students from a team participate in a given debate. Resolutions come in two types: prepared motions and impromptu motions. Teams will be assigned one of two sides in each round- either the government team proposing the motion or the opposition team advocating the rejection of the motion. Debaters present their position on a topic, refute their opponents, and respond to questions throughout the course of the debate.

Time Limits

Speech Time Limit
Proposition Team Speaker 1 8 minutes
Opposition Team Speaker 1 8 minutes
Proposition Team Speaker 2 8 minutes
Opposition Team Speaker 2 8 minutes
Proposition Team Speaker 3 8 minutes
Opposition Team Speaker 3 8 minutes
Opposition Rebuttal 4 minutes
Proposition Rebuttal 4 minutes
Speech and debate has taught me more life skills than any other class. The ability to communicate and influence people is by far the most effective tool anybody can ever use in their life.
Victor Monson

NSDA Alum