Q: I’ve never given a speech. Where do I start?
A: The best place to start is at the beginning: choosing a speech topic. It is up to you as a decathlete to select a speech topic and make sure you pick a topic that interests you and about which you enjoy speaking. When you choose your topic, research it well so that, if necessary, you can speak on the topic at will with no memorization necessary.
Q: What are some resources for me when developing my speech?
A: Try Toastmasters International where they have free online resources for you to use or you could join a local Toastmasters club where you can meet and talk to people who give speeches for a living or who want to improve their speechmaking skills. Another resource is your pastor/priest/rabbi/imam who has to give a speech every week. You can also talk to your school’s theater/drama teacher who will tell you that giving a speech is a bit like putting on a play. YouTube is a great place to call up famous speeches and watch them whenever you can.
Q: How do I practice my speech?
A: One of the best places to practice your speech is to give it to anyone and everyone who will listen. Have your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and relatives listen to your speech and score it for you. Have one of them record your speech so that you can watch it. Constant practice is your best friend.
Q: What about impromptu speeches? I’ve heard those are really hard!
A: Impromptu speeches are only difficult if you’ve never given them before. Successful impromptu speaking is easy if you: 1) Practice, practice, practice! and 2) If you know the subject matter well. Typically, competition impromptu topics range from current events and decathlon subjects to how you feel about personal topics.
Q: How can I practice impromptu speaking?
A: Whenever you practice your prepared speech, have those same people give you impromptu topics on which to speak. Also, watch any current political debates. Those are a perfect examples of impromptu speaking.
Q: To whom will I be giving my speeches during state competition?
A: You will be speaking in front of two or three volunteer adult judges. These judges come from all walks of life and ages. You may have a judge who is a college student, one who is a private sector professional, and one who is a retiree. Also in the room will be a timing judge, a student who has volunteered their time and whose sole job that night is to keep track of the timing of your speeches. Now, of course, if your prepared speech wins the top score at the state competition, you may be giving your speech at the awards banquet. Won’t that be amazing?
Q: I’m really nervous about speaking to strangers.
A: Don’t worry at all about giving your speech to the judges. Believe me when I say that they are just as nervous as you are and, if given the chance, they would hand everyone a medal who walks through their doors. Do your best, that’s all they ask, and you best will be incredible with lots of practice.
Q: I know the prepared speech topics are open to the choice of the decathletes, but what if there’s one topic a decathlete has chosen that I really dislike?
A: Give your decathlete a chance to develop the topic they’ve chosen, while choosing a second topic as a backup. Unless the topic is extremely offensive or derisive, your decathlete may surprise you with the topic they’ve chosen.
Q: How can I encourage my decathletes to practice their speeches?
A: Make sure they practice their speech, in front of you, at least once a week. Feel free to pull in other teachers from the school to give your decathletes a fresh opinion and perspective. You can even have those teachers score the decathletes speeches. If you have a set time each week, then you know they’re at least practicing that much. Encourage them to practice in front of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. Invite someone from your local Toastmasters club to speak to the decathletes and offer assistance.
Q: How can I encourage my decathletes to practice and develop their impromptu speaking skills?
A: The USAD organization has a book of impromptu speech topics from past competitions you can use for decathlete practice. I encourage you to purchase this book (or find another coach who can let you borrow theirs), make copies of the pages, and cut up the impromptu topics into strips and put them in a basket. Have the students pick a topic out of the basket and give a speech, just like they would at competition. Again, do this once a week in lieu of prepared speech practice and I think your decathletes will be well-prepared.
Q: I don’t think I’m qualified to judge speeches. I mean, I don’t give speeches so how can I properly judge them?
A: If you have a desire to get to know more about young people today and don’t mind volunteering several hours on a Friday evening to listen to said young people, then you are very qualified to judge the speech portion of the GAD competition. Don’t worry about being thrown in the fire. You’ll attend a workshop, before the speech competition begins, where you’ll learn how to judge the decathletes’ speeches.
Q: What if all the speeches are about Lady Gaga or Facebook or things I just don’t understand or enjoy? I’m rather out of touch with today’s youth.
A: Trust me, if there are any speeches about Lady Gaga or Facebook or anything else this current generation of young people holds dear, you will be enthralled and a fan before the night is over. These young decathletes are passionate about many things and will speak about many topics, not just current pop music. They may speak about their futures, their heroes, or how they deal with bullying. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.