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Speech team looks to expand, build on success

Michael Rodio | Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When junior Catherine Flatley first stepped on campus, she immediately knew how Notre Dame could gain a competitive edge over other top-20 universities – so she started a competitive speech team.

“If you look at the other top-20 schools, Northwestern is the only other school that has a speech team besides Notre Dame,” Flatley said. “I recognized that there was a huge hole in that market … I wanted to fill that need.”

Flatley said a speech team gives students an opportunity to improve public speaking and to travel around the country.

“I started the team because I wanted to help build rhetoric and communications at Notre Dame,” she says. “I think this is a really interesting way for individuals to build those skills and then to convey those skills to the rest of the community throughout Notre Dame.”

Sophomore and current team president Michael Appel said the speech team competes in collegiate tournaments around the Midwest and the nation. Competitions have four basic categories of rhetoric and style: oratory, impromptu, extemporaneous and dramatic speech. Each category requires different degrees of preparation, research and improvised humor, he said.

“Each of the events comes back to argumentation writing, research writing and advocacy skills,” Flatley said. “College forensics focuses more with real-world issues, policies that need to be addressed or more tangible social issues. As a whole, it’s a bit more progressive, [in terms of] politics and its response to social issues and social concerns.”

Team members compete against small groups of speakers from different teams. Each speaker in a group presents a “performance,” with judges awarding rankings based on each speaker’s success. After two or three rounds, the best speakers in each group move on to semifinal and final rounds, against progressively tougher competition. Each individual speaker’s points are totaled, and the team with the best collection of individual scores wins the team title, he said.

Flatley said she started the speech team during her sophomore year, after competing individually in high school. She said the speech team also has an additional challenge: unlike most collegiate teams, they have no regular coach.

“We’re the largest primarily student-run team in the country,” she said. “It’s challenging because in addition to competing, the team has to organize trips, fundraise, find chaperones, and all the other components of bringing ourselves to tournaments.”

Appel said fundraising has been a challenge, although the University’s academic departments have contributed to the team. While the team has grown and this is an encouraging sign, he said a larger team means higher tournament costs.

“The amount of people we got this year was the biggest thing for us,” Appel says. “It might not seem like much to other clubs, but from four to a solid dozen is pretty significant.”

Freshman Billy McMahon, next year’s team president, said he hopes to build on the club’s growth and competitive experience.

“For those of us who enjoy speech, we have great fun with it, and the wide variety of events, from the interpretive to public address to limited preparation, keeps it interesting, ” he said.

Contact Michael Rodio at mrodio@nd.edu