5 Reasons to Join Speech and Debate

The speech and debate season is coming up in less than two months, which means it’s time for recruitment! Hopefully, this ‘sales pitch’ for joining the speech and debate team helps! This article was written by Ananth Veluvali.


Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked that, “according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death … This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Indeed, most students have a deathly fear of public speaking and anything related to the activity. Countless individuals (many of your friends likely included) refuse to join the speech & debate team. Like the name Voldemort, forensics has fallen into the territory of that which shall not be named — an activity that many are afraid of even considering.

However, the speech season is coming up in less than two months, which means it’s time for recruitment! Hopefully, if you share this article with your friends or at informational sessions, a few people re-consider joining the activity.

Reason #1: Becoming a Smarter Person

From sustained research efforts to meaningful discussions that force you to approach a topic from multiple perspectives, speech positively impacts the way students think & interact.

Topics that once seemed abstract—from American nuclear policy to instability in the Tigray region of Ethiopia—soon enter into the realm of familiarity, and it becomes easier to geek out about domestic & international topics. Eventually, you may feel comfortable speaking on a wide-range of affairs you once knew nothing about.

Recognizing this, Arne Duncan, a former US Secretary of Education, once described speech & debate as “uniquely suited” for developing the 4 Cs of 21st century skills: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. In fact, Duncan later asserted that forensics also taught a 5th ‘C’ — civic awareness.

But there’s more concrete proof than Duncan’s mere assertions; a meta-analysis of critical thinking concluded that “forensic participation demonstrated the largest positive impact on critical thinking improvement.”

Reason #2: Helping with College Admissions

Truthfully, there are few (if any) activities that boost students’ chances of admission as much as speech & debate.

A report conducted by the Wall Street Journal noted that joining the team alone is associated with a 4% increase in your chance of admission, while winning a state or national award boosts acceptance rates by 22% to 30%. Securing a captainship is even more notable, improving the chance of admission by up to 60% compared to the rest of an applicant pool. For context, being the captain of a sports team or class president increased the chance of admission by roughly 5%. Clearly, joining speech looks impressive on your college admissions application!

In fact, out of every extracurricular activity, an admissions officer at the University of Michigan described speech and debate as the second best activity to put on your resume; only being an Eagle Scout looked more ‘impressive.’

Speech’s importance in the admissions process will only increase in the future. As noted by the admissions consulting group, Crimson Education, “in the US, extracurriculars account for about 30% of your application. With the elimination of SAT Subject Tests and the trend of universities going test-optional, extracurricular activities are the one component that continues to carry a lot of weight.”

With all of that in mind, it makes sense that almost 200 colleges offer scholarships for students that participate in speech & debate! One high school even published a list of their forensics alumni and where they attended college. Check that college list here! Curious what those alumni are up to now? Check out their current accomplishments here!

Reason #3: Making New Friends

Speech & debate are, first and foremost, team activities. That means researching with your team, speaking in front of your team, and traveling with your team. That’s hours upon hours spent with other members of your speech & debate squad. Hopefully, in that time, you’ll make new friends within your school.

Speaking personally, I remember having the opportunity to travel to Dallas with several teammates for nationals and having a truly enjoyable experience. Whether it was team lunches or exploring the city together, I became closer with those teammates, and I’ve maintained those friendships ever since.

You’re not just making friends with students from your school, either. When you join the speech & debate team, you have to frequently travel to different high schools across your state (or sometimes even different states!) to participate in tournaments. Indeed, with more Americans becoming vaccinated, many local tournaments are planning to return to in-person tournaments for this upcoming season and larger, national-circuit tournaments might make a similar jump toward the beginning of 2022.

As a result, during this upcoming season, you’ll likely meet all kinds of people in this activity, almost all of whom are kind, incredible individuals. Again, speaking personally, I’ve made several close friends I keep up with, even after the season is finished.

There isn’t any data on whether joining the forensics team helps you make new friends. Like most people, I can only speak through anecdotes, but if you ask your friends who are members of the team, they’ll likely all say the same thing: the speech & debate community feels like home.

Reason #4: Skills for the Workforce

Experts have listed communication as the 2nd most important “peoples skill” for employers. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that other business experts have urged employers to hire students who participated in high school speech & debate. With hundreds of hours of practice under their belt, they have mastered skills like public speaking and communication that organizations are looking for!

Joining the forensics team will give you a leg-up over similarly-motivated students once you graduate from high school and/or college!

The proof is in the pudding. The alumni of speech & debate go on to do amazing things!

In the political sphere, an assessment by Stanford noted that at least 60% of the members in Congress and 1/3 of the Supreme Court participated in forensics. That includes justices like Samuel Alito & Sonia Sotomayor, former US Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

In the realm of arts & entertainment, the NSDA has nurtured titans: Brad Pitt, Zac Efron, and Oprah (to name a few). With other alumni like author Celeste Ng and singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, this success has extended beyond media and into the worlds of literature & music.

In the business arena, success is equally clear-cut. In the world of finance, one of J.P. Morgan’s biggest rising stars Nandini Ramakrishnan and finance author Reuben Advani are both forensics alum. With regards to entrepreneurship, Pinterest CEO and Founder Ben Silbermann and Asana Co-Founder Justin Rosenstein were both participants in speech and debate.

Ultimately, the list of speech and debate alumni is near endless. If you’re curious, you can check out the link here!

Reason #5: Making a Meaningful Change

Speech and debate both present an opportunity to advocate for meaningful change. In your speech, you have the chance to alter the way someone thinks about an important subject that could be anything from US involvement in Afghanistan to defunding the police to China’s role in the South China.

That’s something very special that forensics offers. Few other high school activities give students the chance to speak to adults and force them to listen for the duration of 7 minutes to potentially several hours. If you want, you can use that chance to push for your convictions!

A few years ago, the NSDA uploaded a powerful video on forensics’ ability to initiate change. If you have two minutes, check it out here!

Concluding Thoughts:

Speech and debate are truly special events that have changed countless people’s lives for the better. Hopefully, this articles convinced you or helped you convince others to join the team!

By Ananth Veluvali

Founder, the Extemper's Bible.

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