Ceremonial Speech

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The Ceremonial or Student’s Choice Speech

Image of a "classical" orator

Assignment requirements:

Time: 5 minutes

Paperwork: None

Purpose: To give you a chance to end the semester with a fun

performance of your choosing.


  • Don’t forget the speech basics you’ve learned thus far.
  • Be creative.
  • Don’t forget to have fun!!!


You may choose from among three types of oral performance for this final speech of the semester: You may memorize a portion of a great speech, you may do an oral interpretation, or you may write an original oration. They’re all quite different, and your selection should be motivated primarily by where your interests and inclination lie. Grading criteria vary according to the type of performance you give.


Memorized speech. Were you really motivated by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”? How about JFK’s “New Frontier” speech? Pick one, then cut it so you can perform your favorite five minutes. The object here is not, simply, to be able to recite the speech from memory. You have to perform it. Present it in such a manner that you believe you capture the intended meaning, appropriate emotion and inflection of the original event. Do not over-dramatize the piece. Interpretation of literature is not about turning “I Have a Dream” into some sappy televangelist-style drivel. It’s about getting your audience so caught up in the author’s intended meaning and emotion that they can actually be, if they will supply the imagination, transported to a place where they experience, in a living way, the beauty, tragedy, or insight the author intended that they experience.

Oral Interp. Do you enjoy a good short story? Do you love dramatic literature? Poetry? Then this is your natural choice! Pick your favorite piece, cut it, and perform it. How do I perform it? Well, first let me encourage you to NOT over-perform it. What do I mean by that? Have you ever seen someone over-inflect, over-gesture and over-emote all at the same time? It’s comical.

Mar-r-r-r-r-ry, Marrrrrrrry quite contrarrrrrrrrry. (dramatic pause; head tilted; forefinger and thumb touching chin; furrowed brow)

How does your garden grow?
Give me a break! When you perform an oral interp piece in my class, try to deliver it so that you capture the intended meaning, appropriate emotion and inflection intended by the author. The ideal for oral interpretation of literature is to use nothing but your person (no make-up, costuming, sets or props) to engage the audience so much that they actually feel as though they’re “there.” Of course they have to supply the imagination, but, if you differentiate the characters adequately, maintain angles of address consistently, and the proper attitudes and emotions emerge for each character, you can pull it off! In order to do all that you’ll have to “live with the literature.” In other words, pick and cut your piece a couple weeks before the end of the semester, then, twice a day, every day, read it aloud. When you are really comfortable with your inflection, and so on, you’re ready to perform the piece. If you’re still struggling with pronunciation and differentiating characters, you’ll only embarrass yourself. You may use a manuscript for oral interp, but you need to be so familiar with the piece that you don’t rely on the manuscript much at all. Nobody will get caught up in your performance if you’re tied to your manuscript.

Come to class to learn a bit more about oral interp. And, as always, I’m always available for coaching.


This will be the last time you’ll address your classmates this semester. Do you have some parting thoughts? A word of wisdom? Something to say you consider important for us, or even for our nation? The art of inspiring people to greatness is sorely neglected, it seems. Here’s your chance to address, in your own way, that neglect. This original composition should aim to inspire your audience (along the lines of “I Have a Dream.”) What inspires you? I really like the movie “Rudy”! I could give three or four different speeches on that movie, but I think the thought that captures the essence of the movie for me is: “Little body, big heart.” There are so many things one can say about striving to achieve beyond one’s ability or other’s expectations. Truly motivational, don’t you think? Okay, so how does one take an idea like that and turn it into an oratorical speech?

The original idea is like a lump of clay. You have to shape it, over time, like a sculptor works at his or her art. The tools are figures of speech. Oratorical speaking is not extemporaneous, it is “grand style,” or eloquent, and that eloquence is achieved by refining the language. So, you watch “Rudy,” then word process your original thoughts. After a couple days, drink a double mocha latté and pick it up again. Work with the words, concentrating on the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of the language. But don’t get sappy! We’ll talk about this more in class, and I’ll be glad to coach you and help you refine your ideas.