Every spring I participate as a judge for local Speech competitions in Minnesota. Sometimes I forget how seriously Minnesota takes its Speech season, as we have an entirely different organization than the National Forensics League, doing our own thing on the side with some of our own categories, while also having kids participate in the NFL version when we compete at Regional, State, and National competitions.
Minnesota High School Speech is composed of thirteen categories across interpretive and public speaking styles, some of which have the students write the content themselves. The categories offered include things like Creative Expression, Discussion, Extemporaneous Speaking, Informative Speaking, and Original Oratory.
While I’d love to go into detail on all of these categories, I’m going to stick with one today, which despite not being one I participated in during my high school career, is my favorite.
In Original Oratory, or OO, the speaker presents an originally written speech with the purpose of persuading the audience. As a writer, I am most critical when judging categories like this that involve writing because I think there is a distinct lack of good writers in today’s youth. This belief stems from real life examples of people constantly telling me how ‘good writers’ are hard to find in the work force, and experiences I’ve had as an editor.
I had the pleasure of hearing a speech in the OO category this past weekend about critical thinking and how we need to work toward building up this ability in people now more than ever. Considering how important this skill is for writing a persuasive argument as much as an informative speech or essay, the topic resonated particularly strong with me. Too many times I see people picking sides on an argument without presenting facts, or being willing to listen to rebuttals.
Critical thinking is described as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Being objective may be one of the more difficult things for us humans, especially when an issue is important to us, or something we feel very strongly about. But all the more reason that we need to step back, weigh both sides, consider facts, and try to think objectively before forming opinions—or maybe even changing our opinions.
It was a relief to hear a maybe not even sixteen year old young man present a speech on this argument, and do so with critical thinking applied to how he wrote his speech and attempted to persuade me. The kids who ranked lower in that round failed to apply what this boy’s speech was about—the need for evidence and objective reasoning.
Human beings are emotional creatures. As a fiction writer I embrace and accept that emotion is often what drives whether or not someone enjoys my stories, but critical thinking has a place in fiction too. Whether we’re writing to inform or persuade someone, we still always present a thesis, back it up, and then form a conclusion.
In fiction, your readers will ask themselves, maybe subconsciously, maybe directly, whether or not they care about your thesis (what the story is about), whether or not you gave adequate reasons for them to agree (enjoyed the plot and building climax), and whether or not your conclusion (the story’s ending) was satisfying. It’s only if they can answer ‘yes’ that they will leave your work having truly enjoyed it.
Consider critical thinking when writing anything, when commenting on others’ work, when engaging in conversation, no matter the topic. We might be emotional beings, but we’re also intelligent, so the next time you present writing to the world, hand-written or typed, to any audience, ask yourself whether or not you did so objectively and applied critical thinking to what you said. Chances are you’ll be more persuasive, more informative, and more engaging if you did.