The Multiple Genres of Declamation Pieces

Although the National Forensic League does not list rules for Declamation, the National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) does. The rules are fairly simple, but what is intriguing is the openness of what constitutes a Declamation. According to the NCFL “selections may include, but are not limited to professional speeches, public orations, former competition speeches, eulogies, sermons, etc.” and “must have been actually delivered in real life as a speech by a speaker other than the present contestant.” Pieces selected for Declamation are given a broad range. This essay will detail a few possible Declamation categories an orator can choose from and why they might work for an individual.

The Classic

One way to find a piece for Declamation is to choose one from History. Any somewhat known piece, or a lesser-known speech from a notable orator, would fit this description. Regardless of time period or location, these speeches were delivered by men and women who are familiar to the masses. And therein holds the pro and con. These speeches are known for a reason. They hold a powerful message, usually are well written and structured, and hold significance in History. It is because of this that classic pieces should be a second choice (unless the piece is loved, can be performed originally, or if it is a lesser known piece from a famous orator). There is a chance that an audience will forever be comparing a speaker to the original orator, know the speech so well that any rendition is boring/old, or an audience member can have a version of how they would deliver the speech inscribed within their minds that one could never best. Either way, choosing this type of Declamation adds difficulty to the event.

The Eulogy

Delivering a speech celebrating the death of another could be an interesting, dramatic approach to Declamation. To find a Eulogy, a competitor might research into a figure they admire to see what was said at their death or what they have said at funerals. Even a Eulogy of a person of controversy would be an interesting selection. The wonderful thing about Eulogies is that they can either be grave or light-hearted depending on the characteristics of people involved. Even with a more celebratory speech there is still promised to be a moment of seriousness, resulting in more range.

The Sermon

As these types of Declamation pieces are rarely chosen, using a Sermon for a piece could add originality to a performance. Like the Eulogy, Sermons offer many layers to select a piece from. A speaker could use Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" or a friendlier one about kindness. There are numerous variations of sermons: historical, narrative, illuminative, redemptive-historical preaching, expository preaching, Evangelistic, biographical, topical, liturgical, not to mention sermons spanning throughout time, different religions, and the world.

Former Competitive Speeches (Past Original Oratories)

Making use of a past Original Oratory is illegal in certain leagues, so prior to even researching OOs first determine if the rules permit use. A speaker should also consider their area’s attitude towards OOs being used as Declamations; often, this is a practice that is not looked upon well. Utilizing an Original Oratory for a Declamation can be considered trying to capitalize on the success and popularity of another’s work. Also, people know that this particular speech, when performed well, is successful in Forensics. Though a particular Declamation’s rendition might vary, the fact remains that this speech has proven itself within the Forensics realm. This means that this OO has been written for an 8-10 time limit (thus, no cutting AND the pacing/organization of builds is crafted for time) and for a Forensics audience. Basically, a Declamation speaker makes their task almost too easy by not having to cut a piece for time/builds. Further, there is also the problem of performing a piece that could already be highly popular and known by audiences around the country. However, these flaws are what makes using an OO attractive. The speech is already cut and written for the audience being presented to. Also, because these pieces are well-known (or at least information for them is readily found) it makes them easier to locate--less research. If using a past Original Oratory is not labeled as lazy or immoral, then this might be a venue worth pursuing.

The Commencement Speech

Speeches delivered upon graduation could be a lighter approach to an event that can easily get weighted down in heavy topics. Commencement speeches can be humorous, reflective, invigorating and motivational, a warning for a rough future due to National/Global hardships, almost anything. They can be written and given by politicians, comedians, actors, musicians, pop-culture icons, athletes, astronauts, local heroes, and so on. Thus, commencement speeches come in many varieties and in multiple tones to fit the needs of most any Declamation speaker. A few cons to this type of speech is the often predictability of the speeches’ themes (graduates worked hard/partied and finished, going to “face and take on the World,” where does one go from this moment, etc.). Because of this generic trait, unless a speech is truly special, it could quickly become shallow and bland.

The Motivational Speech, Political Speech, and Others

There are endless venues where people must deliver speeches. Motivational speakers make a career of touring to give speeches to offer hope or life advice. Wedding toasts are said to congratulate newlyweds. Politicians, human and animal rights activists, and environmentalists all offer public speeches at rallies or other events. A court briefing, based on the rules of the NCFL, could be used--court transcripts are often available to the public. Acceptance speeches, public statements, almost ANYTHING could be used for Declamation as long as it fits the specific rules of a speaker’s league. And as most leagues offer little concrete guidelines for Declamation (many rules are like the broad ones used by the NCFL) speakers can truly get crafty and creative with where they find speeches.

Declamation is an invigorating event. Pieces can be found from almost any area of life, given by all sorts of individuals, from any time, and any place. The only limiting factors are fitting the broad rules given, locating a reliable translation of a foreign speech, and remembering to never imitate a speaker but re-imagine the piece. Otherwise, Declamation allows for much creativity and opportunity to find a source that best captures a speaker’s personality and views.