The Three Minute Speech

Student Congress is considered one of the more unique events for several reasons. First of all, competitors typically face more direct competition in a round of Congress than in any other event. Secondly, it is the only event where a speaker’s fate lies just as much in the hands of the students’ as it does in the judges’. Lastly, it is the category with the shortest amount of time to make an impression concerning any given topic. And through all this a speaker must still impress. Due to a lack of time there is little room for error. However, with the right preparation and understanding of the event, a competitor can do well and win over the judges and fellow competitors.

Because there are only three minutes to work with when giving a speech in Student Congress, choosing the angle and direction can be tricky. First of all, there is no time to make the case for too many arguments. There is really only time to solidify one point and end the speech--maybe time for two. Speakers are supposed to use this time to reflect on what has been said and add another point. But the strategy becomes that much tougher when realized that competitors can answer questions at the end if left with enough time. From one perspective, a speaker would want to use all of their minutes to make their point. On the other, leaving time for questions helps prove to the judge and fellow competitors that a speaker is able to answer impromptu questions. Both of these strategies will be analyzed so the reader can decide which method reflects their style.

The first strategy is that of using the entire time for the speech. This is quite popular. First of all, realize that the three minutes provided is next to nothing to make a point and validate it. It leaves very little time to even back an argument, let alone leave time for questions. There are 180 seconds to state and support a pro or con stance on an issue; presenting facts from similar cases in Congress and society where a related point was proven. The best structure for this type of speech is as follows. Spend thirty seconds on the introduction, two minutes on the body, and another thirty seconds to conclude. When going through the time allocated for the body, and when not the first speaker of a round, make reference to ideas already mentioned by previous speakers within the body. The reason to do this is to let others know that attention was paid to their speeches (informing competitors that this will be a challenging round with non-passive competition). This allows for speakers to contradict previous speeches or even add additional points if a similar viewpoint was shared. In other words, competitors have the opportunity to build upon what has been said and send the discussion in another direction. Secondly, ask oneself if allowing time to answer questions is really vital for this speech? If a speech is ended in a short amount of time, this opens speakers to different types of questions--most of which do not progress the debate in any form. Many of the questions asked are random, tangential, and although they can be quickly answered, they sometimes add little information or development to the speech. Judges want to see substance in a speech. And without taking the full three minutes (and getting weak questions), a speaker could receive a five or a six by not crafting an in-depth speech. Sometimes it is best to make a substantial point and use the time given fully.

Although, sometimes employing the strategy of ending short of the time limit and fielding questions from other competitors can be good. There are some who are a fan of this method because they believe it proves to the judge, and the other competitors, that they know how to think on their feet and that they understand the topic. The only objection to this thought is if the judge views questions paired with a shorter speech time as an indicator a speech did not have enough substance, leaving others to ask for development. This strategy should be implemented carefully. Only use it if an effective and persuasive speech can be given in two and a half minutes. If a speaker can accomplish this they get both worlds: a good speech and proof of being able to field questions (and thus fully knowing the topic).

Regardless of what time strategy is implemented, speakers should approach the speech the same way they would other events. Speeches need to have an introduction, body, and conclusion. In the body, provide a statistic or source to validate the side being argued for. Oftentimes, the judge is going to look for some sort of support to the point. If a source is not given then a speaker will lose points. Also, make sure to approach a speech as if it is a commentary. Speakers want to provide an opinion, but they do not want to shove their views upon the opposition. Simply reason through and provide a logical conclusion.

Whatever strategy is chosen make sure to be clear and direct with points. There is very limited time. Thus, speakers need to make their point quickly in order to substantiate all of them. Whether or not an individual decides to leave time for questions is a personal decision. But whichever path taken, make sure to be prepared to defend an argument. The best Congress speakers are the ones who can adapt to the discussion at hand and substantiate their arguments. Time will create a stronger speaker capable of adapting to any given discussion.