Declamation is one of the most underrated events in speech and debate. It requires discipline, research, and most importantly, a very, very good piece.
For those of you who aren't familiar with declamation, students must use a speech or portion of a speech previously given by another person -- the texts used are often political or historical speeches given by important figures in America's history. National Catholic Forensic League rules state that only junior division students can participate in Dec. Like most other speech events, declamation materials must be memorized, and they have a maximum length of ten minutes.
Unlike speech events, this is not a dramatic rendition or a deeply personal interpretation of a speech given by someone like Winston Churchill, JFK or Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, declamation requires focus and a certain degree of detachment. Facial expressions are not expected to be wild and exaggeratd, and the gestures used in Dec are very particular -- fingers are generally kept very straight and arms are supposed to remain stiff throughout the speech.
But the most curious element of Declamation is the type of scripts students choose to perform: dry, often boring political speeches given by some random guru -- or very famous speeches ("I Have A Dream," et cetera) that everyone has already heard.
There's no reason to have an overdone Dec piece or to do a Dec piece that will make your audience fall asleep. In fact, there is no rule anywhere that governs whether scripts must be of historical significance or be related to politics at all.
Regulations from the NCFL state that Declamation scripts "may include, but are not limited to professional speeches, public orations, former competition speeches, eulogies, sermons, etc." Thus, any speech given anywhere, at any time, is fair game for a Declamation competition, including previous competitors' Original Oratories, Maria Shriver's graduation speech, or even a Harvard graduation speech by Conan O'Brien. One could argue that someone could use a comedian's standup routine as a Dec -- after all, it was delivered live in front of an audience, right? And it's interesting that the rules mention sermons. I've always wanted to see someone perform Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" speech in Declamation; it would be fascinating to see how the event's customs affect the interpretation of such a passionate piece.
When choosing a piece for Declamation, don't be afraid to break the mold. Check out other posts on ForensicsCommunity on how to find a great piece, and keep in mind that, above all, your speech should be intriguing and memorable. Seek out outstanding O.O.s or great speeches that incorporate humor and wit. Your audience will thank you.