Forensics refers to competition in various events involving public speech or debate.
Speech events involve performances in front of at least one judge, and in some cases, an audience. The speech categories have different formats, including:
- Extemporaneous Speaking - Speakers pick a topic and have a short time (usually 30 minutes) to prepare an informative or persuasive speech.
- Oratory - Speakers write their speeches in advance.
- Interpretation - Speakers perform dramatic or humorous readings of published works.
Competitive debate is a "sport of the mind" in which two teams take opposite sides of a proposition such as "Resolved: Censorship is justified for national security."
While debates were a form of education and entertainment in the U.S. as early as the Revolutionary period, competitive debate as we know it originated in the Upper Midwest in the 1880s. Competitive debate began to focus on logic and policies, rather than wit and values, around 1900. High school and college leagues were formed about the same time. The debate movement in the U.S. had a profound effect on the development of the field of "speech" -- most of the 17 scholars who walked out of the English Teachers convention to form what is now the National Communication Association were debate coaches.
Competitive debate has four major formats:
- Policy debate. This is the traditional U.S. format, now more popular in high school than in college. The focus is on demonstrating the solvency and feasibility of a plan to solve a problem.
- Value debate. This format became popular in the U.S. in the late 1970s. The focus is on arguing about what is right or justified.
- Parliamentary debate. This is closer to the traditional British format. Debates are done "off the cuff," usually on value issues, with a lesser emphasis on research and a greater emphasis on wit and reasoning.
- Lincoln-Douglas debate. This is a one-person form of debate that may follow any of three formats above.
Competitive debate can be found in England, Australia, Canada, and Japan, as well as the U.S.