In an improvement from last year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Speech & Debate team finished seventh at the national competition in Hutchinson, Kan., last weekend.
Teams traveled from 78 universities across the country to compete in the American Forensic Association’s National Individual Event Tournament competition held April 5 through 8. Among schools that placed within the top 20 were four Nebraska universities: UNL, the University of Nebraska Omaha, Hastings College and Doane College.
Aaron Duncan, director of speech and debate at UNL, said the improvement from last year can be attributed to a greater number of upperclassmen on the team than in years past.
“Sometimes there’s a little bit of luck,” Duncan said. “but I think we just had a little more of a veteran squad this year.”
The events include after-dinner speaking, communication analysis, dramatic interpretation, duo interpretation, extemporaneous speaking, impromptu speaking, informative speaking, persuasive speaking, poetry interpretation, program oral interpretation and prose interpretation.
Kelsie Colson, a senior Spanish major who advanced to quarterfinals in impromptu speaking, said preparing for the tournament is very stressful. To prepare to compete in the impromptu speaking event, where contestants only have two minutes to create a speech, Colson said she has tried to acquire a large amount of useless information.
“I do a lot of Wikipedia-ing about fun facts about movies, past presidents, individuals in history that did something amazing,” Colson said. To prepare for other events, such as extemporaneous speaking, she reads the news every day.
The AFA-N.I.E.T. tournament hosted hundreds of kids wearing business suits, carrying black books and visual aids and drinking a lot of coffee, Colson said. But this particular event was laid back, she said.
“You saw a lot of people just kind of hanging out with other members of other speech teams across the country,” Colson said.
She said that the most memorable moment of the tournament was the posting of who advances to quarter- and semi-finals. Students huddled together on one side of a football stadium as giant pieces of paper were unrolled revealing the names of those who advanced.
“The moment right before you know they’re going to drop is probably like the most anxious, the most gut-dropping feeling in the whole world,” Colson said.
Leading up to the final speech competition of the year, students practice their speeches “hundreds, if not thousands of times,” according to Duncan, and they’re striving to know it “inside and out.”
“It’s about trying to find new research to make it stand out and make it unique,” Duncan said. “Working through the different ways to make it stand out and also fit the student’s style.”
Speech and debate teams often do not receive a lot of recognition for their achievements, according to Duncan. This tournament, which UNL has been competing in for around 30 years, provides a spotlight for disciplines Duncan said are under-recognized.
“It’s really great for (the students) to get that forum to spread their message and to be celebrated for what they do,” Duncan said.
Each university’s team qualifies for the national tournament throughout the year. Only the top 10 percent of students in the nation qualify.
“So already by getting there it puts you in the 90th percentile,” Duncan said.
There are 11 different events in college speech that are placed into three main categories: public address, limited preparation and interpretation. Students can participate in any category and can qualify for up to six events.
As far as next year’s competition goes, Duncan plans to keep his team on the same track while adding more practice during the summer with their graduate students who help coach the team.
“We are exceptionally proud of the students and grateful for all their hard work and grateful for the all the support from the department of communication studies,” Duncan said.