Todd's Manifesto on ADS

Since ADS is one of my favorite events and I have worked extensively with it I have extensive coaching suggestions.  I put those into a paper and was giving it to students as they show up with interest in doing an ADS.  One of the student's affectionatly described it as "Todd's Manifesto on ADS".  It seems to be effective so I am thinking I should develop manifestos for every event.  For now work with this one. There are links to sample ADSs at the bottom of the page.

“On the Early Education of the A.D.S. God” 
After Dinner Speaking or Speaking to Entertain is unique in that the goal of the speech is to entertain, to humorize, or to uplift.  It can also inform or persuade but those should be secondary, the goal is to entertain.  Don't lose sight of this goal.

The American Forensics Association web site describes After Dinner Speaking as An original, humorous speech by the student, designed to exhibit sound speech composition, thematic coherence, direct communicative public speaking skills, and good taste. The speech should not resemble a night club act, an impersonation, or comic dialogue. Audio-visual aids may or may not be used to supplement and reinforce the message. Minimal notes are permitted. Maximum time limit is 10 minutes.

The National Forensics Association web site describes After Dinner Speaking as:  “…an original speech whose purpose is to make a serious point through the use of humor.  The speech should reflect the development of a humorous comedic effort, not a stand up comedy routine. The speech must be memorized. Maximum 10 minutes.”

This is a very good description and incorporates a lot of different ideas.  This article discusses these ideas and a few additional concepts.  A good deal of research into the standards and practices of  A.D.S. has been conducted.  In 1989, as part of my graduate work I conducted a national survey of forensic coaches and judges.  In that survey I asked them to identify, define and editorialize on a number of questions concerning A.D.S.  Some of the responses may be exactly what you were expecting, some may surprise you.

One of the first things I was curious to learn was what judges were looking for in a good After Dinner Speech, so I asked them "What types of evaluative criteria do you apply when judging A.D.S.?  There was some consistency to their responses and reflected a number of issues basic to all public speaking events.  The results of that section of the survey are listed below.  You will probably note that the toals add up to well over 100%.  That is because most of the respondents listed more than one criterion upon which they evaluated the speeches.

70%  Structure and organization of the speech.
65% Delivery and style of the speaker
53%   General use of humor
41% Significance of topic (another 12% said topic choice)
35%  Amount of humor
29% Thematic unity
24% Use of evidence

As you can see from the responses, having a sound and solid speech is still very important, even though the goal is to entertain.  Thus, we construct an A.D.S. in much the same way we would construct an Informative or Persuasive speech.  Before you can begin writing the speech however, you must pick a topic.

Choosing a topic is the first step in the process of writing an A.D.S.  There are more topics available to the After Dinner Speaker than there are to Persuasive, Informative and Communication Analysis speakers combined.  If you want generalizations about the kind of topic I think many would agree that A.D.S. can address larger social issues that encourage an audience to change an attitude rather than asking them to take a specific action (the kind of “solution set” we would see in persuasuion).  A.D.S. can also look at new developments or ideas similar to what we would find in informative speeches.  A.D.S. can even examine communication acts the way a rhetorical criticism would.  But the most popular format we see today is of a persuasive nature.  In general, value based persuasive arguments make good ADS topics.  "We should change the way we look at _______________."

The things you should consider when choosing a topic for an A.D.S. are similar to the criteria used to pick topics for other events.

  • Is it something that will interest my audience?
  • Does it have some social significance?
  • Is it over done?
  • Is it workable? (Too broad, too specific?)
  • Can the audience relate to it?
  • Is it in good taste?

The question of "Is it funny or not?" doesn't appear on the list, and for good reason.  The topic, and consequently the speech, will be what you make of it.  One of the funniest, and best, A.D.S.'s I have ever heard was a tactfully presented speech about death and how we handle deaths.  Death is not a funny topic.  Sure, sometimes the circumstances surrounding someone's death could be ironic and irony is considered a form of humor, but death itself is not a laughing matter.  The speech was presented in such a way that it was not offensive to most people (an occasional judge would give the speaker a 5 based solely on the topic but that can happen with just about any topic or anything about which we joke).  One aspect of the speech dealt with the euphemisms we used to deal with death.  As I remember one of the lines was "We use euphemisms like 'We lost her this afternoon.'  Well check in the couch, I'm always finding things there."

In terms of picking a topic I am not suggesting that topics along the line of death should be the standard, I am just trying to illustrate that just about anything is open.  [Side bar on this one, I also remember a young man giving a speech on feminine hygiene products/advertising that nearly always got trashed because of topic choice.]

To give you an idea of what kind of topics have been used in the past I am providing you with a list of some of the topics from speeches I remember and some topics Mike Wartman, from Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, presented in a paper at the Speech Communication Association Convention in 1988. (Wartman, 1988).  This should not be considered an exhaustive list of topics but rather a a collection of topics designed to give students an idea of what kind of things are used as topics.  Not all of these topics won lots of awards.  That was not always a fault of the topic either.  The purpose is to give students a flavor for the topics used in the event.

A Lack of Moral Outrage
Corporate Sponsorship
Shoe Discrimination
Positive Psychology
Sudden Wealth Syndrome
Pigeon Racing 
The Hip Hop Invasion
Self-Esteem Movement
Data Smog
Slasher/Violent Movies
All Pro Wrestling
Being Catholic 
Flirting Techniques 
Agoraphobia {Fear of Dirt}
Shallow People 
War Games 
Being Big Boobed
Benefits of Smoking
Talking Inanimate Objects
Subliminal Messages 
Bathroom Graffiti
Rap, Rap & more Rap
Farm Life 
Product Liability 
The National Guards 
Heroes/Super Heroes 
Some speech topics are over used.  The all time classic topic for classroom Speeches to Entertain is "DATING."  In competitive settings, I can't tell you how many times I have heard a variation of a speech on being a minority (i.e. "I'm Black and it's OK"; "I'm a Woman:  You got a problem with that?"; "I'm Black and you want to be Black too, I can tell,"; "Life as a Norwegian ain’t easy,";  "I wasn't born Native American you know, the Government gave me that title")  There is nothing wrong with doing a speech on a topic that has been used before, the key there is to do it better than those who came before you and to be creative and original.

Once you have picked a topic you are off and running.  The next thing you need to do is a little research.  If you chose A.D.S. because you don't know where the library is, try impromptu.  A.D.S. doesn't require as much research as other public speaking events but some is needed.

The Nuts and Bolts of Topic Choice

Okay, so what do we normally see?

  • Typically we see persuasive based ADSs.  Most of the samples speeches are persuasive in nature but not all.  The Pigeon Racing and Remote Viewing ADSs are more informative than persuasive.
  • The persuasion tends to be value based rather than policy based although many of the speeches incorporate some kind of policy change just to apease the inbred judge who thinks ADS has to be persuasive and has to have "real" solutions and that means legislation to some.
  • Psychology has offered us a number of topics beyond just the Positive Psychology speech.  Sudden Wealth Syndrome, Excessive Rewards Systems, and Incidental Incivilities have all begun with articles from psychology reports.
  • The topics are often recycled with new names and a slightly different slant.  For example the Data Smog ADS is a variation of the Information Overload speeches we have heard in the past.
  • Sometimes the good topic is just the matter of an average topic with a great name.  This year Kris Keuker is working on an ADS about how we encourage kids who score high on standardized tests to go to college even if that isn't what they want to do.  If you get a 35 on the ACT and want to go to a VoTech school you will have to fight for it.  We thought about Blue Collar Discrimination for the topic name but eventually decided to go with Blue Cholera and we justify the name because the Cholera epidemic left the country with lots of upper class (because they were less likely to come into contact with it) and not enough workers, blue collar workers.
  • In general avoid obvious topics.  For example, a couple of years ago we saw the ferver surrounding shows like Survivor, Big Brother, and and other reality based television shows.  We knew there would be several ADSs on reality TV, and there were.  We didn't run them because we wanted to be original.
  • In general you should try to avoid overly specific topics too.  The Pigeon Racing ADS is an example of a speech that is fairly specific and was limited a little by that.  Overly specific topics limit your ability to research but they also limit the applicability to an average audience.


Everyday, we are bombarded with communication through advertisements on the radio and television, politicians, music, people talking to us, the list goes on and on.  We learn to tune things out and focus on only the things we consider important.  It is not enough that you are the speaker, your message must be something the judge/audience will consider worth listening to.  You, as the speaker, must give the judge/audience a reason to listen.  Show them how your topic effects them, how it is significant in our world or how they can benefit from what you are about to say.  Since the rest of the world applies this criterion to what they chose to listen and pay attention to, we as judges and coaches would be doing a disservice to the students if we didn't apply it as well.

How significant does it need to be?  On that one, I'll give you a great degree of latitude.  In a speech on heroes, a student established significance by saying "According to sociologist Dr. Donna Hess, we aspire to being like those we consider heroes because they are what we consider to be a culmination of all things good.".  That was sufficient for the judges.  A speech on the common cold might make note of the number of work hours lost each year to the common cold.  A speech on single living might include information on how many people in the U.S. alone are afflicted with the single lifestyle.   If you are considering a topic ask yourself why, see if that is the same reason other people would listen to it, give us a reason to pay attention in an 8:00 am round.

Sometimes we find information in unusual places and the sources themselves can be funny.  In the Data Smog ADS it was a Beverage World citation and Menopause News. Each of these is a legitimate source of information but there is jsut somethign humorous about them.

In addition to hard research I also include soft research.  Students have had fun with the "research/evidence requirement" in A.D.S.  Some have used humorous sources like Webster's Dictionary (or simply referred to it as 'That really, really big dictionary in the library), T.V. Guide, The National Enquirer, Dan Quail, or even obviously fictitious sources like "According to the book  How to Win Friends and Influence People by Atilla the Hun...".  (Usually the fictitious sources are followed up with legitimate source citation.)  This soft research serves two purposes:  It can be used just for humorous effect or it can be used to show that you know that some research is required and are providing them with that research even if in a very soft form.  Let me reinforce the idea that obviously fictitious research and "soft research" should not replace hard research.  Hard research, a reason for listening, is still needed.



I also include humor under research.  In other events, I might group analysis or development of an argument with research.  But since the goal is to entertain, developing humor would fit under this category.  (Don't lose sight of your goal.)

You should use humor the same way you use evidence and visual aids, they should support your speech they shouldn't overpower it.  Don't use a speech to string together a series of one-liners, rather use you humor to develop a sound, thematic, well-developed speech.  If you are looking for a recipe for writing an A.D.S. you might want to think of humor as the spice in that recipe.  Too little and the main course is bland, too much and it is ruined by being overpowering.  The right combination of spices in the right amount make it an unforgettable treat, and yes, that does require some trial and error.

In the research I conducted in 1989 there were a few interesting findings relating to the types of humor considered effective and/or ineffective in A.D.S.  I thought that might interest you.  Lets begin with he type of humor considered most effective.  The top six preferred types of humor (in order of preference) are listed below.

Topical Humor - Humor that is directly related to the subject matter with which you are dealing.  In a speech about Dating it would be the humor of the dating rituals themselves.  For example, you might talk about how the person being picked up should never be ready and waiting even if they have been waiting, fully dressed, for over an hour because you look over eager (desperate) for a date.  Even if that is the case, you shouldn't show it.

Intellectual Humor - Intellectual or creative humor is humor that shows a nimble mind.  Clever word tricks, repetitions, twists, "the spark."  One of the best examples I can remember was in a speech by Pete Bascig from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The transition from his preview to his first main point went something like this "...that's three main points, with three subpoints each for a total of nine points and nine in German means NO, which spelled backwards is ON, so let's move ON to the first main point."  You might consider using an alliteration - the repetition of the same sound throughout a sentence.  "Constantly clicking keyboards carefully create copious quantities of criminal conspiracies."

Satire - Satire is defined by that really thick dictionary I got for Christmas in 1988 ( I'm serious, that's where I got this definition) as "The use of  ridicule, sarcasm, irony, etc. to expose, attack, or deride vices, follies, etc."  Much of our political humor is satire.  Satire often takes a little longer to set up, but the result shows greater planning and foresight, as well as creativity.  Humorous techniques such as exaggeration, hyperbole and understatement also fall in this grouping.  Exaggeration is one of the most common and most effective techniques in A.D.S. Explaining that your student loans are about equal to the national debt, while it might be very close to true, is also humorous.  Likewise, a similar effect can be gained from understatement, especially if the audience is expecting exaggeration.

Analogies - An analogy, as you probably already know, is comparing one thing to another.  For example, The government gets more out of my paycheck than Tammy Faye Baker's cosmetic distributor gets from the collection plate (it's not the best analogy, but I didn't want to use up all the really good material before the season ever got started).  Parodies also fall under this grouping.  A parody is changing the people or circumstances of a well known event.  Demonstrating what John Wayne would have been like in a play by Shakespeare or recasting the Wizard of Oz with members of the Bush Administration during the last election (Jeb Bush would be the man behind the curtain to whom you should pay no attention).

Puns - Use caution when using puns.  Two or three puns are OK.  Four or Five puns are a bit much, more than five puns and I will consider you a very punny student, I might need to punish you, maybe we should send you to a punitentiary.  Interestingly, Puns appeared on both the list of most effective types of humor and least effective types of humor.  Most of the respondents noted that puns in excess lose their humor and become like fingernails on a chalkboard.  A few are cute, too many can turn the audience off.

Sarcasm - Also grouped in with sarcasm would be humorous techniques such as Irony, Reversals, and Self-deprecation (making fun of one's self).  Be warned, when using sarcasm you run the risk of potentially offending someone. Try to direct sarcasm away from the audience and toward the absurdities of the topic with which you are dealing.  Some judges feel that self-deprecating humor negatively influences speaker credibility.  I think they need to lighten up.  The point of the speech is to entertain.  We all do dumb things some times.  We need to learn from our mistakes and go on, but if you can use it to get a laugh in an A.D.S. round, so much the better.

Those were the six types of humor identified by judges and coaches as most effective in A.D.S., but the survey also asked judges and coaches to identify the types of humor they considered least effective.  The types of humor listed below are the types of humor you should avoid when developing your A.D.S.


BAD HUMOR:  Avoid it

Sexist Humor - While sexist humor could be directed against either sex (i.e. "The driver violated 15 traffic regulations in 3 blocks, I knew it was a woman" or "Men scratch their rear-ends when they think, what they are really doing is massaging their brains.") it is generally thought of as being directed against women.  If there is one thing that we learn in the study of communication it is that we are all individuals and while we may belong to a certain demographic group, we are still individuals.  We all like to think of ourselves as individuals and not as components of a group sharing the same traits, attitudes, beliefs, and values.  Avoid this kind of potentially offensive humor all together.

Crude Humor - This category included such things as references to bodily excrement, sex, gastrointestinal problems, and profanity.  My rule of thumb was, if I could do it in front of my mother (a full blooded, church going, card carrying catholic) it was OK for competition.  Use some common sense, the event is called After Dinner Speaking, there are some things we don't want to hear about after eating a big meal.

Slapstick - Physical humor like falling down, bumbling incompetence, Gerald Ford impersonations.  Three Stooges humor (Yes, they are classic comedy, however, they are not classic A.D.S.) and vaudeville acts are good examples of slapstick humor.  Use your mind, not your body and you will have a much better response and maintain your credibility better as well.

Unrelated Humor - Humor for the sake of humor.  Please note the coaches and judges preferred form of humor was "TOPICAL HUMOR."  Unrelated humor or contrived humor doesn't make a humorous speech it makes a speech humorous.  The difference may be subtle but it can be the difference between being in the final round and watching the final round.  This is also where I am going to include what I call "Shock Jock Humor."  Doing something outrageous just to get a laugh.  It might be yelling, swearing, disrobing, violent outbursts, etc.  Again, the humor should support your speech, not replace or over power it.

Put-Downs - Just be careful.  Political appointees seem to be acceptable targets, we consider putting up with the comments by talk shows hosts and comedians to be part of the job of our elected officials.  Somehow, this opens them up as fair game in A.D.S. as well.  The political parties, however, are not always so open.  Some of your judges may have very strong affiliations to one party or the other, my advice is don't put down all Republicans or all Democrats, pick one or two specifically and put them down if you feel the need.

Now, if you want to know if we see a lot of crude humor, sexual humor, put-downs and sexual (not so much sexist just sexual) humor the answer is yes.  We do.  Does it win?  Yes, sometimes it does.  If you think of the ads as a meal and the humor as the spices for the meal think of put-downs, unrealted humor, crude and sexual humor as the very spiciest of the spices.  While you might like hot food not everyone does.  Don't give the judges a reason to turn their collective noses up at your speech because you are too spicy for them.

The ideas listed above are suggestions and comments on the type of humor you might want to consider or not consider when writing your speech.  The types of humor you choose to use should be the types that best fit your comedic style.  Your comedic style is unique.  What works for me might not work for you or anybody else for that matter.  You need to find your own style and run with it.  There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when developing your own style.  In terms of comedic style, After Dinner Speaking should more closely resemble Gallagar than Eddie Murphey.  It should be more akin to Robin Williams than Andrew Dice Clay.  The style of humor used by Bill Cosby and Tim Allen would work better than Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield humor.  But above all, the style should be that of the student giving the speech.

If you want to talk about what makes something funny or what makes something not funny it gets difficult.  Arthur Berger said, "The dissection of humor is an operation where the humor dies." (Berger 1976)



Inevitably a student will ask "Is the speech funny enough?" or "Do I have enough Jokes?"  or something else along that line.  How many jokes, humorous points, puns, exaggerations, witty comments and sarcastic comments should a good A.D.S. have?  I can't give you a specific number and, to tell you the truth, most judges don't count {I do remember one round however, where the judge made a mark on a sheet of paper beside the speakers name every time the speaker said or did something humorous.  Please keep in mind this is my recollection of one judge out of literally hundreds of judges.}.

Often times when I get done watching a performance I will ask myself "Was there humor throughout the speech?"  "Did parts of the speech seem to drag?"  "Did I spend most of my time being amused or waiting to be amused?"  I will make comments on a ballot regarding my responses to these questions and the students ranking and rating in the round are influenced, in part, by my answers as well.

In regards to quantity, try to have at least two really good belly laughs.  When I say belly laughs I mean points where final round crowds (which are usually a little bit larger), laugh for five or more seconds.  Preferably these should be spaced throughout the speech too.  Don't hit us with all your good stuff up front and then leave us sitting through the rest of the speech waiting for more that doesn't ever show.  For each point you should really have something that is amusing, a pun, a misquoting, a humorous reference, just something to entertain us in the same way you would have research to support your argument in persuasion.

Perhaps the best technique I can offer you in terms of visualizing whether or not your speech is funny is to have print a copy of you speech then sit down with two different colored highlighters and highlight the humorous parts.  Use one color for "little laughs" and the other color for "big laughs."  When you are done step back and look at the pages.  If you have large open spots without any highlighting you have the just identified an area where humor should be added.  But this should be done after the first few drafts are written.  The humor should be derived from (as opposed to added to or imposed upon) the speech topic.

Remember, entertaining your audience is your goal.  Also remember, you are giving a speech not a stand-up comedy act.  So the number of jokes you should have is somewhere between the number you would find in ten minutes of a stand-up comedy act and the number you would find in a Communication Analysis round.



Earlier we discussed why it was important not to over use puns.  Another one of the things research has shown us is that judges and coaches like to see a variety of types of humor used.  Puns are funny but not for a full ten minutes.  Many of the people who don't like Don Rickles, dislike him, not because of what he says, but because all he does is put people down.  If you spend the entire speech using exaggerations to make your point your audience begins to expect it and see it coming.  They anticipate the jokes and thus the element of surprise is lost.

Try to vary your use of humor, use twists on the type of humor you have been using.  If you have been exaggerating things try understatement.   If you have been putting things down be so sappy sweet about someone or something that the contrast is humorous.

You know what is funny to you, you can probably tell what is funny to others, capitalize on that, change your speech if you want, its not engraved in stone.  In my 4 years of doing A.D.S., I competed with 7 different speeches.  During Christmas break each year I would write a new A.D.S. on a completely different topic.  It helped me as a performer because the spontaneity was back, the judges and my fellow competitors were hearing new material and the second speech always seemed to be better than the first for some reason.  This conveniently brings me to my next point writing the speech.



"The language of A.D.S. is like the language of poetry."  I've said it before, I'll say it again, and if you do A.D.S. well you will learn that it is as true as the sun coming up in the east.  The difference between between funny and hilarious is word choice.  An almost funny joke isn't funny and that is usually a result of language choices.  As you look at the sample speeches noticve how the language of a speech like the "positive psychology" speech it a constant stream of amusement.  You don't have to get a laugh with every line, that's not the point.  You want to show them that your mind works in witty ways.  Wit is the combination of intellegence and creativity.  thos are the characteristics of a good A.D.S. speaker.

Some forms of humor is more language dependent than other forms of humor.  For example, anyone can put together an analogy.  The witty can put together an analogy that is both humorous and poignant.  The analogy makes its point and paints a humorous picture in the process.  If you wanted to discribe some that was disorganized you could say it was about as organized as "a thumbless man with chopsticks."  The analogy is a little abstract and requires the audience to think for a minute but it is mildly amusing.  My persoanl favorite comes from the movie The Replacements.  "I have seen monkey shit fights at the zoo more organized than this."  Of course for competition I would prefer that you say "fecal fights", but the point is made.  Language is the key to ADS.  Do not underestimate its value.  Look at the samples.



When you begin writing an A.D.S. you do it the same way you write any other speech, you begin with some ideas and develop an outline.  Check out the Basics Of Writing a Good Speech link.  In terms of organizational patterns we tend to see topical development patterns in A.D.S. more than in other events.  That is not to say it is the most popular in A.D.S. just quite common.  We also see standard Cause-Effect-Solution; Problem-Solution, Chronological, Spacial and even an occasional Criterion Application format.  Which is best?  It depends on which suits your speech best.  You let the speech idctate the format not the other way around.

Once you have decided on the format and what your main points will be you are ready to develop your substructure.  {First, as a side note on how many main points you should have I recommend no less than two and no more than five.  The reason I suggest this is because a one main point speech shows a lack of organizational skills in my opinion.  More than five points, and I am beginning to think that the speech is going to run too long or insufficiently cover the main points.  Also with more than five main points, as a judge I don't have time to write them all down while you are giving your preview and still pay attention to what you are saying.}

You really need to begin with an outline just like you would for any other speech.  The outline is what will keep the speech from rambling and provide organization and thematic development.  The outline is important, eventually you will learn to use the outline to make your speeches better and easier.  If you want to try to improve your outlining skills I would recommend trying impromptu and/or extemp., both develop and enhance outlining skills as well as your ability to think on your feet, something that every good A.D.S. speaker can use.

As the speech begins to take form and the main areas are mapped out, it comes time to turn your attention to transitions.  Transitions are the bridges from one main point to the next.  Something like "Turning to my second main point..." doesn't cut it for me in A.D.S.  I expect the speech to flow and transitions will allow them to do that if you just take them time to write good transitions.

Once the body of the speech is shored up and you feel fairly confident that the speech is organized the way you want it you are ready to work on the introductions and conclusions.  A common mistake among novice competitors is to sit down and try to write the speech from beginning to end.  Here is the flaw in that methodology.  Most public speaking textbooks will tell you that a good introduction contains four basic components:

 1.  An Attention Getter
 2.  A Statement of Significance
 3.  A Thesis Statement
 4.  A PreviewMy question is, how can you write the preview unless you know what is in the speech.  The elements of good public speaking are not suspended just because the speech is designed to entertain.  If  you have a good attention getter that is fine, jot it down or make a note about it but remember it is supposed to lead us into your speech and until the speech is written you don’t really know exactly where you are leading us.

What it comes time to end you speech there are some fundamental components that your conclusion should have as well.  These are standard rhetorical principles that date back as far as Aristotle.  Most public speaking textbooks will tell you that a conclusion should include:

 1.  A Review
 2.  A Summary of the Thrust of the Speech
 3.  Parting Comments Appropriate to the SituationThese concepts hold true for A.D.S. as well.  Some may contend that, in A.D.S., the Attention Getter and the Parting Comments are even more important than in other events.  I don't think they are more important but they may be more pronounced.  The conclusion is where many A.D.S.ers will lump there significance or serious point.  I even remember one speaker saying "Now let me take out the baseball bat I call a serious point and beat you over the head with it."  Did it draw attention to the serious point?  Yes.  Was it the most effective way?  I don't know.

It would be nice to see the serious point woven throughout the speech rather than lumped at the end.  The humor itself should be illustrating the point you are trying to make.  That is why humor was listed under research.  It should be supporting the speech throughout in the same way you would use statistics to make your points in a persuasive speech.



Once you have the speech written or substantially outlined, run it by someone else.  I'm sure your coach would love to hear it.  Give it a straight run through, no stopping.  Time it.  Have your listener(s) take notes.  This is the best time to make changes, before you get it memorized.  Make those changes, add humor, take out humor that doesn't work, revise, modify, enhance, and elaborate.  As a general rule of thumb when I coach I tell my students the fifth draft is probably the first one worthy of presenting in competition.  That generally gets groans but it also gets results at the tournament.  Do not marry yourself to the first draft.  It is just that, a draft.

In terms of length, I do not recommend that the speech go more than nine minutes in practice.  The reason is that the speech will almost certainly run longer in competition because you will need to stop for audience reactions (hopefully).  A practice time of 8:30 would be even better.  A final round usually has a larger audience than the preliminary rounds and the responses are usually better or at least more pronounced and this can cause a 9:30 speech to run overtime.  Having your speech run overtime in a close finial round can mean the difference between first place and "also ran."



Delivery and style in A.D.S. are difficult to teach because they are individualized items.  We each have our own style, our style works for us.  If you try to copy someone else's style you are restricting yourself.  You will never be able to be better than the person you are copying.  Develop your style in A.D.S. you can improve and develop your comedic style just like you improve and develop your speaking ability.

Once the speech is the way you would like it to be, memorize it.  Work on your timing.  Comedic timing is very important and very difficult to teach.  Some say you either have it or you don't.  I feel it can be learned but it will take time and a willingness to accept criticism.

There is one piece of advice I can give you on timing.  I consider it the Cardinal Rule of A.D.S., "DO NOT STEP ON LAUGHTER."  Laughter is your audience's involvement in your speech.  If you talk while they are laughing two things happen:

 1.  They will not hear what you are saying.
 2.  They will quit laughing.Laughter is your friend, don't talk while they laugh.  Laughter makes us feels good, it improves our outlook, it releases endorphins in the brain that block pain, it reduces stress, it can improve cardiovascular fitness and it can get you a 1 in the round.  It is your best friend, don't step on it.  Let your audience enjoy your speech, that's why you wrote the speech.

It is better to have five jokes that they have time to laugh at than 10 jokes they only have time to smile at.  (Yes, I do realize that is a dangling preposition and that is something up with which, I will not put.)



The use of visual aids is permitted in A.D.S. I neither encourage nor discourage there use.  In much the same way I recommend that the speech should dicate your organizational pattern, the speech content should dicate whether or not you have visual aids.  If you are a big fan of sight gags then you will probably add visual aids just because they suit your style.  But make sure they supplement the speech and that they don’t distract from it.  There are some questions you should ask when using visual aids.

 1.  Are the V.A.s enhancing or distracting from my message?
 2.  Are the V.A.s enhancing the message or replacing it?
 3.  Are the V.A.s needed or am I using them for the sake of using V.A.s?
 4.  Do the V.A.s look good/professional?
 5.  Can they be seen in from the back of a large lecture hall?As far as the form that visual aids take, I think I have seen just about everything used and with success.  I have seen poster board, enlarged photographs, stuffed animals, overhead projections, T-shirts, people, script books, computers, and even a pair of socks that had been turned into hand puppets.

It is up to you, if you are going to use visual aids, make sure they look good and can easily be seen.  Again, I discourage you from using V.A.s for "shock jock" effects.  Clever and creative is better than shocking in A.D.S.

For those of you looking for a more prescriptive method of developing an A.D.S. I have developed a step by step process to help you down Laughter Lane.  Since forensics in general, and A.D.S. specifically, could be considered addictive, I think it is only appropriate that the process outlined be a 12-Step Process.

Coaching A.D.S.:  A Twelve Step Process

Step 1:  Admit you have a problem 
The problem is coming up with a topic and some ideas.  The students should start with a brain storming session.  The brainstorming session can include several students.  Collect multiple ideas for main points, subpoints, jokes, stories, concepts, etc.  At this point nothing should be thrown away.  No matter how crude the joke, how bad the pun, how long the story, everything should be kept.
Step 2:  Lay down the outline 
You need to write a speech.  Remember the emphasis judges placed on organization in the 1989 survey.  This is a speech and it needs to follow the format of a good speech.  Draft that outline.  Divide the subject into manageable portions and delineate the substructure.
Step 3:  Find support 
Add your supporting materials.  This is a little bit different with A.D.S. than with other events.  The primary form of supporting material in A.D.S. is humor.  The humor in the speech should build the speech not distract from it.  There are a number of judges on the East Coast, who think that A.D.S. needs to have a minimum of five or six sources to be effective.  This is not consistent with national judging standards.  Actually, I can remember when I first heard a source citation in an A.D.S. round.  It seemed very odd and out of place.  A recent survey found humor and research to be equally important in evaluating A.D.S. (Billings, 1997).
Please keep in mind, the objective of the speech, and what makes A.D.S. unique, is the purpose of the speech is to entertain.  We expect sources in persuasive speaking because we need to know specific information like how many people are effected, whom has done what, and the reliability of the information and the sources of information.  We use these factors to determine the validity of the argument being presented.
In A.D.S. your humor is your support, ergo, every point should be supported with humor.  As with source citations in any other event you woldn't rely on just one journal or just one book or just one expert; in A.D.S. you shouldn't rely on just one kind of humor.  Try to incorporate a variety of types of humor in your speeches.  {It may be helpful to review the types of humor identified by judges as being effective and ineffective at this point.}  The quality of humor is more important the than the quantity of humor.  But it would be nice to see a great deal of really funny material.
Step 4:  Give me a nice cold draft 
Write the first rough draft.  Include as much as you want, time is of no consequence.  Follow the outline and develop some transitions.  Sometimes the outline will change while writing it because more ideas will come to the student and they should feel free to incorporate them.
Step 5:  Time it 
Read the whole thing out loud, preferably to someone who can tell you what does and what doesn't work.  From the rough draft you should have an idea, within a minute or so, of how long it is running.  Read it a couple of times to get an accurate approximate time.
Step 6:  Cut and/or paste 
 Usually at this point it will be a matter of cutting a 15 minute or longer speech.  Begin cutting with anything that takes too long, things that are offensive, things that distract from the focus of the speech.  There seems to be a tendency to prune away the humor when it comes time to cut, resist this.  Cut the dry stuff, remember the goal is to entertain.
Step 7:  Time it again 
The maximum time limit is ten minutes, that includes a final round with lots of laughter.  I recommend that an A.D.S. not run more than eight minutes in practice.  This allows for a little hamming it up in finals and prevents students from facing the choice of talking over laughter or going overtime.  Keep rewriting until you have it in a cometition ready format.  Again, I usually suggest that the fifth draft is about the first one ready for competition.
Step 8:  Memorize the speech. 
Some may disagree with me on this point.  There is a strong argument to be made for utilizing an extemporaneous delivery style in all public speaking events, but here is my rational for memorization.  The language of humor is much like the language of poetry, the words are chosen very carefully to achieve the desired resulting images in the mind of the receiver.  This has become a mantra for me, my students will repeat it like a cult member chant during group A.D.S. practices.  Because the language is so important I recommend the student commit the speech to memory or at least those sections of the speech in which carefully chosen language is important.
Step 9:  Test run 
Try it out on a group.  It may be a group practice or it might be a tournament (baptism by fire), either way, see how an audience will react.
Step 10:  A.D.S.: The Next Generation 
Make note of any portions of the speech that seem to drag, add humorous quips to these sections or cut some of the section.  Make sure there is humor throughout the speech.  Rewrite the speech from scratch if need be.
Step 11:  Do it 
Try it in front of a group again.  At this point you are probably ready for competition.  You will never know what judges are going to say until you perform for the judges.  Remember, forensics is an educational activity, you learn via the ballots you receive.
Step 12:  A pattern begins to form 
Repeat steps ten and eleven as many times as needed.  Sometimes this step is like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going....



There is one other thing I would like to draw attention to that I have noticed and do not appreciate.  That is when a contestant brings a handful of friends or teammates to the round and they only laugh at their friend’s A.D.S. or they laugh excessively at their friend and stone face the rest of the round.  This, in my opinion, is tacky and does not show a positive competitive spirit.  Will it effect your rating as a competitor?  Maybe.  Is it rude?  Yes.  Does it work?  Not in my rounds.  It has the opposite effect on me, especially if the audience gets up and leaves after their friend is done.  If you are there to be an audience then stay and be an audience.  If you think you can influence the judges by laughing harder at your friend than at the others you are probably right.  The question is, will that be a positive influence or a negative influence?

Try winning based on the merit of your speech and speaking ability.  If you are only in it to win and collect hardware, take your entry money and buy the trophies yourself, they look just as good and mean just as much.  That's it, end of sermon.



    Aristotle (1954).  The Rhetoric.  In The Rhetoric & The Poetics of Aristotle with Introduction and Notes by Friedrich Solmsen.  The Modern Library: New York.
    Berger, A. A.  (1976).  Anatomy of a joke.  Journal of Communication, 26, 113-115.
    Billings, A. C. (1997).  When criteria becomes formula: The search for standardizationwithin competitive after-dinner speeches.  National Forensics Journal, 39-50.
    Bohn, T. W.  (1964). The effectiveness of humor in informative speeches.  Central States Speech Journal, 16, 295-297.
    Emerson, J. P.  (1969).  Negotiating the serious import of humor, Sociometry, 32, 169-181.
    Gruner, C. R. (1965).  An experimental study of satire as persuasion.  Speech Monographs, 32(2).
    Gruner, C. R. (1970).  The effects of humor in dull and interesting informative speeches.  Central States Speech Journal, 21, p 160-166.
    Gruner, C. R.  (1985)  Advice to the beginning speaker on using humor - What research tells us.  Communication Education, 34, 142-147.
    Holm, T. T.  (1990).  What are you laughing at?:  The evaluative judging criteria of After Dinner Speaking.  A thesis published by North Dakota State University.
    Klopf, D. W.  (1982).  Coaching & Directing Forensics.  Skokie IL:  National Textbook Company.
    Mills, N. H.  (1984).  Judging the after dinner speaking competitor:  Style and content. National Forensics Journal, 2, 11-18.
    National Forensics Association Homepage (2000, November 9).  NFA individual events rules: Discription of events.  Retrieved November 28, 2000, from the World Wide Web:
    Volpe, M. (1977). The persuasive force of humor in Cicero's defense of Caelius.  Quarterly Journal of Speech, 63, 311-323.
    Wartman, M. (1988).  Humorous speaking:  Classroom and competition.  Paper presented at the Speech Communication Convention, New Orleans, LA.

Sample After Dinner Speeches 
All of these are a few years old so many of the popular culture references will seem quite dated to you.

Remote Viewing

Moral Outrage

Grade Inflation

Data Smog

Corporate Sponsorship


Positive Psychology

Incidental Incivilities

Excessive Reward Systems

Pigeon Racing

An ADS on Sarcasm


Accept No Substitutes