How to Compete in Forensics

Three Parts:Signing up for the CompetitionSelecting Your Competition CategoriesPreparing for the Competition

Forensics is another term for a public debate or a formal argument, and should not be confused with forensic science. Forensic competitions can be held at the middle school level, the high school level and the college level. The purpose of forensics is to allow students to practice different forms of public speaking and improve their research skills, their writing skills, and their approach to teamwork.[1][2] Though there are many forensics leagues, the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) is one of the more popular forensic competitions and can be used as a standard for other forensic competitions.[3]

Part 1
Signing up for the Competition

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    Join a forensics team at your school. Check with your teachers about whether there is an existing forensics team at your school and look into joining the team. Most schools will publicize their forensics team and solicit students to join.[4]
    • Your teacher may also be able to put you in contact with the local forensics league in your area. You can then get in touch with the local forensics league and look into the joining the league.[5]
    • Keep in mind there are many non-NSDA leagues that put on their own forensics competitions. There are also forensics leagues for home schooled students as well as religiously affiliated forensics leagues.
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    Consider signing up on your own or creating your own team. If you do not want to join a forensics team, you can apply to compete in the forensics competition on your own as a solo applicant. Your parents can sign you up or you can do this yourself.
    • You can also create your own forensics team with peers and friends in your grade or at the same educational level as you. You can apply online to create your own forensics team or to create your own forensics league.[6]
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    Enroll in the competition. The enrollment process will depend on the level you are applying to compete in (middle school, high school, or college) and whether you are enrolling as a team or as a solo participant. The NSDA allows all state recognized home schools and virtual schools to participate in the competition.[7] Your school as well as your team will likely need to pay a small fee to enroll in the competition.[8]
    • Find out more about the enrollment process by talking to the head coach of your forensics team or by asking your teachers at school. You can also search online for the website of your local forensics league and look for any specified fees for enrolling in the competition.
    • If your school would like to enroll in the NSDA to compete, they will need to pay a $150 yearly fee and complete a membership form.
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    Determine your competition dates. Once you have enrolled in the competition, you should determine your competition dates. These dates will function as a good deadline around which you can prepare and practice for the competition.
    • Leading up to the competition date, you may want to try to schedule at least one to two hours a week where you focus on your forensics presentation. Scheduling this in will allow you to also get your school work done and maintain any other extracurricular commitments you may have.

Part 2
Selecting Your Competition Categories

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    Compete in a Main Event. The NSDA tournament for middle school students and high school students are broken into two categories: Main Events and Supplemental Events. Each category is broken into topics for competition. The categories and topics the Main Events are:
    • Declamation: You will select a speech written by a writer or thinker and perform an excerpt of the speech for up to 10 minutes. You need to present an oration that delivers the message of the speech in an original and engaging way.
    • Dramatic Interpretation: You will use a play, short story, or another published work and perform a selection for up to 10 minutes. You will need to convey emotion using a dramatic text with no props or costumes.
    • Duo Interpretation: You and one other competitor will perform a published play or story within 10 minutes. Your duo will need to convey emotion and set the scene by interacting with each other, using no props or costumes.
    • Expository Speaking: You will introduce a topic and perform an informative speech about your selected topic within five minutes. You may use a topic like a specific organization, a specific product, a process, or a concept.
    • Extemporaneous Speaking: You are given three questions to choose from that relate to current events. You then have 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute speech that answers the selected question. You can use articles and other print evidence but you cannot use the internet and must perform the speech from memory.
    • Humorous Interpretation: You will use a play, short story, or other published work to perform a selection of the piece for up to 10 minutes. You will need to show off your comedic skills as well as your ability to do script analysis, comedic delivery and timing, and character development. You can portray one or multiple characters but cannot use props or costumes.
    • Impromptu: You will have seven minutes total to choose a topic, brainstorm an idea, outline your speech, and deliver the speech. You must give the speech from memory and you can take a serious or light hearted tone.
    • Original Oratory: You will give a 10 minute speech on the topic of your choice from memory. Your speech should be supported by evidence, logic, and emotional elements.
    • Lincoln-Douglas Debate: You will debate one-on-one on a topic provided by the NSDA. You can consult evidence or research you gathered prior to the debate but you cannot use the Internet during the debate. The debate will run about 45 minutes long.
    • Policy Debate: You will work with another participant in a two-on-two debate. You will discuss a policy question and show off your research, analytical, and delivery skills. You can cross examine the other team and your performance will be judged by a panel.
    • Public Forum Debate: You will compete in a team of two and debate a topic based on a current event. You will present your position, engage in rebuttal, and do “crossfire”, similar to cross-examination.
    • Congressional Debate: You will work in teams to generate a series or bills and resolutions for debate as part of a simulation of the U.S. legislative process in the Senate and the House. As a Debater, you will deliver speeches for and against a topic in a group setting.
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    Consider competing in a Supplemental Event. As a competitor in a NSDA competition, you can also participate in Supplemental Events. There are several other topics available for competitors in Supplemental Events but they will vary based on the league you are competing in. The topics in the NSDA competition are:
    • Poetry: You will interpret a selection or several selections of poetry to interpret it within seven minutes. You can use traditional or nontraditional poetry.
    • Prose: You can use a short story, parts of a novel, or other published works of prose and interpret it within seven minutes. You can use works of fiction or non-fiction, but you cannot use poetry or plays.
    • Storytelling: You will select a published story that fits a certain theme and perform it within five minutes. You can use a chair as a prop but you cannot bring a manuscript with you to read from.
    • Extemporaneous Debate: You will compete one-on-one on several different topic and present your arguments as well as engage in rebuttals. You have 30 minutes to prepare for each round of debate.[9][10]
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    Decide if you are going to compete alone or with a group. Once you have read over the categories, you should think about whether you would prefer to compete solo or with a group. Some forensic competitions allow participants to enter into solo and duo or group topics.[11]
    • Think about whether you would like to gain better teamwork and communication skills by working in a group, or if you’d prefer to focus on your own presentation on your own. It may be useful to try both a solo category and a group category to ensure you get a well-rounded experience of the competition.
    • You may also want to consider if you can sufficiently prepare for two different categories within a certain period of time, as you will likely be balancing school work and extracurricular activities in addition to preparing for the forensics competition.
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    Determine your strengths as a competitor. You should also think about playing to your strengths as a competitor, as this can help to increase your chances of doing well. This does not necessarily mean limiting yourself to only subjects or categories you feel you would be good at, as you may want to challenge yourself by trying something new. But identifying your strengths will give you a good sense of how you can use your talents and skills to do well in the competition.
    • For example, if you are skilled in acting, you may go for a subject like “Humorous Solo Acting”, where you have three to eight minutes to present a humorous monologue using only voice, gestures, movement and facial expression.[12]
    • If you are more comfortable doing an oral presentation, where you interpret and present content rather than act it out, you may go for a subject like “Farrago”. In the “Farrago” challenge, you will have four to eight minutes to interpret a theme or emotion in a literary genre and present it to the judges. You can choose from a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, essays, dramas, novels, and speeches.[13]
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    Try a category you may find challenging. If you are looking to make the forensics competition more challenging for you, personally, you may go for a category that you find difficult or intimidating. This can help you to expand your existing skills and get you out of your comfort zone. Selecting a more challenging category or subject can also allow you to gain more self confidence and self esteem, especially if you do well in the competition.
    • For example, maybe you find group presentations and group work intimidating or challenging. You may decide to try a partner category or a group category in forensics to work through your fears. Perhaps you try the “Infomercial” subject, where you and a partner have two to five minutes to emulate or parody a television infomercial. You can sell a real or imaginary product or service and use props and costumes, if needed.[14]
    • If you really want to challenge yourself with group work, you may select a subject in the group category, such as “Group Improvisation”. In this subject, you will work in groups of two to four students to create an “off the cuff” presentation about a topic or a situation. You will draw the topic (a word, phrase, statement, or non-specific question) at random right before the presentation. Your group cannot use props, costumes, or make up and will have four to five minutes to present.[15]
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    Talk to your parents or a mentor about categories you would be good at. If you are struggling to identify a category or subject you might be good at, reach out to parents or mentors for advice. Ask them what they think your strengths are as a performer or presenter and which categories they think might play to your strengths. You may also ask for advice on categories that they think may help you expand your existing skills and allow you to feel challenged during the competition.
    • Keep in mind if you join an existing forensics team at your school or university, the coach of the team may also be able to suggest a few categories and subjects you might be good at. You may also be given a few options based on the needs of the team and/or to fulfill a needed role in the team.

Part 3
Preparing for the Competition

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    Create an outline of your speech. Make sure you include a thesis statement, or a main point. You should also check that your speech follows the guidelines for your chosen category or subject. If you are doing a “Farrago”, for example, you should make sure you discuss a key theme or emotion in a literary work.
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    Do public speaking drills. If you are part of a forensics team, you may take turns practicing your presentations. As you take turns being the audience and then being the speaker, you can critique each other and offer feedback. These drills can help your team get more comfortable with public speaking and support each other as you all learn your strengths and weaknesses as speakers.
    • You can also do these drills on your own, practice in front of a mirror or to an audience of family or friends.
    • You should time yourself to ensure your speech is not too long or too short. All the forensics categories have strict time limits so make sure your presentation does not go under or over the time limit.
    • Another option is to record your speech as you practice it. You may have someone on your team record you or record yourself on your own. You can then play back the tape and listen to your voice, noting any moments where you are speaking too fast or mispronouncing any words.
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    Use open body language. Open body language can be a great way to keep your audience engaged and display a sense of confidence during your speech. You should maintain eye contact with your audience and keep your arms relaxed at your sides. You should also stand straight, with your shoulders rolled back and your chin facing straight ahead.[16]
    • Avoid shifting around on your feet nervously or fiddling with your clothing as these can be signs of a lack of confidence. If you do need to move around as you speak, do so in a controlled and contained way. Pace around slowly and in a relaxed manner. Fast pacing can be distracting and take away from your presentation.
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    Try to memorize your speech. Though you are not required to memorize every detail of your speech for the forensics competition, you will be docked points if you read too much from your cue cards or index cards. Practice memorizing your speech so you appear well prepared and confident to the judges.[17]
    • You may want to write key points of your speech down on cue cards and then try to memorize your speech, using the key points as a guide. You can also write down key words or phrases. The idea is to use the cue cards as a tool to remind yourself of the details of your speech.
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    Be creative with your presentation or your performance. Many of the categories in the forensics competition emphasize creativity and entertainment. You should keep this in mind when preparing for the competition, especially if you are doing a group category. The judges will expect your presentation to be informative, persuasive, and engaging.[18]
    • You may try to amp up the creativity in your presentation by trying a different approach to a familiar topic. If you are doing a “Humorous Solo Acting” presentation, you may try using facial gestures and body movements to full effect or use a funny voice to do the presentation.
    • If your group is preparing for a “Group Improvisation”, you may want to look at ways to get better at doing improv. You may also do team building exercises so you become more comfortable working together as a time.
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    Adhere to the dress code for the competition. To compete in the NSDA and in many forensics competitions, you will need to dress “business casual”. This means a pressed suit with a tie as well as dress shoes for men and a dress or a blouse and a skirt with conservative dress shoes for women. You should look professional, put together, and confident.[19]
    • You should also do proper grooming by doing your hair so it looks professional and clean. Avoid bright, dramatic makeup or bold jewelry as they can distract from your performance.

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