Choosing a Declamation Piece for High School

There is an abundance of possible declamation pieces to be found through online speech banks and anthologies of famous speeches, ranging from those given by ancient historians to those given by modern U.S. presidents. It is common to find audio and video recordings of the original speeches on many online resources in order for you to better understand their power and the meaning behind them.

What Is a Declamation Speech?

A declamation piece is a speech that has been originally delivered by a well-known orator in the past. As ancient Greeks practiced public speaking skills using declaration speeches to practice their skills, they have now evolved into a common practice for high school students as a way of learning how to give oral presentations and improving their speaking skills as a result of giving declaration speeches. 

As part of its yearly public speaking competition, the National Catholic Forensic League has a public speaking competition in which students compete and present their speeches. Students in grades nine or ten are eligible to participate in this competition and the pieces are not allowed to last longer than ten minutes. 

It is common for students to recite excerpts from famous speeches and literary works for their declamation pieces, with the idea being to recite the motivational speech with the same power and authority as the original speaker once they have memorized it. 

The speech should be memorized and conveyed in a manner that will be memorable though it should not be acted out in front of an audience. In addition, the speech should also be spoken in a manner that is subtle and detached, rather than dramatic or overbearing.

Speeches to Choose From

In terms of declamation speeches, there are many different interesting speeches that high school students can choose from to use for their speech. Take a look at several speeches that cover a wide range of topics.

Declamation Speeches About Life

Speeches come in all shapes and sizes, but some are more dramatic than others. There are many speeches about life that show people how to roll with the punches, not fear failure, and not be afraid of rejection.

  • There are fringe benefits to failure, according to JK Rowling’s The Fringe Benefits of Failure. As JK Rowling discusses in her 20-minute commencement speech at Harvard University, you should never let failure stand in the way of your dreams.
  • Steve Jobs’ How to Live Before You Die is a book that explains how to live before you die. During this 15-minute commencement address, the speaker discusses how to persevere in the face of hardship and still achieve your dream.
  • A speech delivered by Stephen Colbert at the commencement ceremony. During the course of 20 minutes, Colbert shows students how to roll with the punches that life throws at them.

Declamation Pieces About Love

Whether it is a message about loving yourself, your enemies or other people around you, examine speeches that discuss love in some way.

  • A quotation from Martin Luther King Jr. entitled Loving Your Enemies. King delivered an inspirational sermon, Loving Your Enemies, in which he emphasized the importance of loving our enemies, despite the difficulties that may arise in doing so.
  • The book How to Love and Be Loved by Billy Ward can be found here. I use a personal story in this 17-minute inspirational speech to demonstrate how important it is to be loved in order to be successful in life.
  • The book Love Yourself by Tom Bilyeu is one of my favorites. During this 15-minute speech, Tom Bilyeu and Tyrese Gibson deliver a motivational speech about the laws of attraction and how to love yourself more in this 15-minute speech.

Funny Declamation Speeches

It is always a good thing to have a little humor in your life. The following declamation pieces are sure to make your class laugh if you are looking for something to do.

  • Jim Carey delivered the commencement address at the commencement ceremony. The comedian Jim Carey delivers a funny and inspirational message about the power of love and how to think big about the future in only 25 minutes.
  • Maysoon Zayid is the author of I Got 99 Problems… Palsy is just One of Them. With humor and wit, Maysoon discusses being disabled in this 14-minute inspirational piece that uses humor and wit to convey the message.
  • Maya Rudolph has written a book called Create Your Own Destiny. Using humor and personal stories, Maya delivers a 15 minute inspiring and motivational speech that illustrates how you can take charge of your own future by using your own experiences and stories.

Speeches by Famous Personalities

Sometimes it is the words of famous personalities such as musicians and actors that have the greatest impact on the audience. Check out these short inspirational speeches by famous people who have inspired millions of people around the world.

  • Ed Sheeran’s song Being Weird is a Wonderful Thing is a great example of this. In this short two minute persuasive speech, Sheeran shows how being different is a good thing by using personal stories and humor to explain why it is a good thing to be different.
  • Ashley Graham is the author of the book Body Positivity. In less than two minutes, Graham motivates and inspires the audience about loving yourself just as you are, just as you are.
  • There is a song by Pink called Loving Yourself for Yourself. With the help of a story about her daughter, Pink motivates the audience through her three minute speech at the Grammy Awards to embrace our differences and realize how they make us special.

Famous Speeches in History

Speech throughout history by public figures have shaped our country. Examine some of the most persuasive and motivational speeches throughout history.

  • We Shall Fight on the Beaches by Winston Churchill. Churchill motivates and inspires a nation to push through and fight during World War II in this 12 minute persuasive speech.
  • I Am Prepared to Die by Nelson Mandela. In this long speech, Nelson Mandela works to motivate a nation to change through non-violent means.
  • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King. In less than 20 minutes, King persuades a nation to see his dream for freedom for all people regardless of race.

Speeches by Women

The view of women can many times be different from that of men. Examine these different speeches written by women.

  • On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelo. This 6-minute inspirational poem made at Bill Clinton’s Inauguration calls for change and inclusion.
  • Looking at Technology Through Women’s Eyes by Robin Adams. This persuasive speech explores the role of women in technology and how it is changing.
  • I’ve Been Stood Up on My Wedding Day by M.C. Espina. This short, expressive piece shows the plight of a teen woman stood up on her wedding day and how this changes her.

Speeches in Under Five Minutes

Not so good at standing up in front of the class, short declamation pieces can be your best friend. Take a look at these short gems that still pack a bunch.

  • Vengeance Is Not Ours, It’s Gods, author unknown. This short inspirational speech uses a memory to show the power of forgiveness.
  • The Face Upon the Floor by Hugh Antoine d’Arcy. This short ballad combines humor and pain through the loss of a love.
  • Land of Bondage, Land of the Free by Raul Manglapus. This short inspirational piece explores oppression and how to find freedom against it.
  • Oh Captain, My Captain by Walt Whitman. This historical, persuasive poem represents Abraham Lincoln’s fall during the civil war.

Five Minute Speeches

Short is great but sometimes teachers call for a little length. Don’t go overboard with these speeches that come in at about five minutes.

Address on the Challenger Disaster by Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s Address to the Nation, Reagan uses motivational speaking to remind the audience of the loss of the crew and what it means to the nation.

I Have Sinned by Bill Clinton. In this inspirational speech, Clinton apologizes to a nation and asks for forgiveness.

Never Give in Speech by Winston Churchill. In just under 5 minutes, Churchill provides motivation and inspiration to a warring national about the importance of not giving in.

More Online Resources for Speeches

Here are some additional websites that will help with choosing a speech:

  • American Rhetoric has hundreds of speeches from American history and suggestions on how to improve speaking ability.
  • Gift of Speech has famous speeches by women.
  • Famous Speeches has a collection of famous speeches by influential people in history.
  • View past speech titles given by the National Forensic League members.

How to Choose Your Declamation Piece

There are hundreds of speeches that could work as a declamation for high school students who are involved in speech, debate, or forensics. Here are some tips on choosing a great speech and theme:

  • Focus on speeches that utilize masterful and eloquent language.
  • Choose a speech you understand.
  • Understand the theme and context of the speech. Choose speeches that mean something to you so you can capture the right emotion.
  • Examine the history behind your speech.
  • Use speeches that you are drawn to. Whether it be because of the history or the humor, these will be the speeches that you can deliver the best.
  • Look at the style of the language in the piece. Avoid those that are going to trip you up.
  • Decide whether length will be an issue.
  • Think about your audience and the audience of the speech.
  • Explore whether you can emulate the passion of the original author.

Giving Your Declamation Piece

Remember too that practice makes perfect. Listen to your speech several times before you have to deliver it. Try to deliver it in such a way as to invoke emotion in your audience. Think about how the speech communicates the key ideas to the audience. Once you’ve practiced several times, you are ready.

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