Choosing a Declamation Piece for High School

Stacy Zeiger
Contributor: Jennifer L. Betts
Public speaking is an important skill.

From speeches by ancient historians to those given by modern U.S. presidents, you can find a wealth of possible declamation pieces through online speech banks and anthologies of famous speeches. Many online resources feature audio and video of the original speeches to help you understand the power behind the original speech.

What Is a Declamation Speech?

A declamation piece is a speech that was originally given by a well-known orator. Declamation speeches originated in ancient Greece as a way for people to practice public speaking skills, and they have now evolved into a common practice for high school students as a way to learn how to give oral presentations and improve speaking skills. The National Catholic Forensic League has a yearly public speaking event where students compete and give their declamations. The competition is for students in grades nine or ten and the pieces cannot be more than ten minutes long. Many students choose excerpts from famous speeches and literary works for their declamation piece, with the idea being to recite the motivational speech with the same power and authority as the original speaker. The speech should be memorized and conveyed in a way that is memorable although not acted out. The speech should also be spoken in a way that is subtle and detached, not dramatic.

Speeches to Choose From

There are lots of different interesting speeches that high schoolers can use for a declamation speech. Explore several speeches that cover a variety of categories.

Declamation Speeches About Life

There are speeches and then there are speeches. These speeches about life show people how to not fear the failure and roll with the punches.

  • The Fringe Benefits of Failure by JK Rowling. In her 20-minute commencement speech at Harvard, JK Rowling discusses how to not let failure stop you from embracing your dream.
  • How to Live Before You Die by Steve Jobs. This 15-minute commencement speech discusses how to accomplish your dream in spite of setbacks.
  • Commencement Address by Stephen Colbert. In 20 minutes, Colbert shows students how to roll with the punches the life brings.

Declamation Pieces About Love

Whether it is a message about loving yourself, your enemies or those around you, examine speeches that discuss love.

  • Loving Your Enemies by Martin Luther King. An inspirational sermon giving by King, Loving Your Enemies shows us how important it is to love enemies even though it is difficult.
  • How to Love and Be Loved by Billy Ward. This 17-minute inspirational speech uses a personal story to show how important it is to be loved.
  • Love Yourself by Tom Bilyeu. In this 15-minute speech, Tom Bilyeu and Tyrese Gibson deliver a motivational speech about the laws of attraction and loving yourself.

Funny Declamation Speeches

A little humor is a good thing. If you are looking to make your class laugh, try out these declamation pieces.

  • Commencement Address by Jim Carey. In 25 minutes, Jim Carey delivers a funny and inspirational message about the power of love and thinking big about your future.
  • I Got 99 Problems… Palsy is Just One by Maysoon Zayid. Maysoon uses humor and wit to discuss being disabled in this 14-minute inspirational piece.
  • Create Your Own Destiny by Maya Rudolph. Maya delivers a 15 minute inspirational and motivational speech that uses personal stories and comedy to demonstrate building your own future.

Speeches by Famous Personalities

Sometimes the words of famous personalities like musicians and actors have the greatest impact. Look at these short inspirational speeches by famous personalities.

  • Being Weird is a Wonderful Thing by Ed Sheeran. Sheeran uses personal stories and humor in this 2-minute persuasive speech that shows how being different is a good thing.
  • Body Positivity by Ashley Graham. In less than 2 minutes, Graham motivates and inspires the audience about loving yourself just the way you are.
  • Loving Yourself for Yourself by Pink. Pink motivates the audience in her 3 minute Music Award speech to embrace our differences and how they make us special through a story about her daughter.

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

Girl student speaking in classroom

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

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.

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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Choosing a Declamation Piece for High School