Communication Analysis 
A.K.A Rhetorical Criticism or Crit


Communication Analysis or Crit is probably the most complex of the public speaking event.  It requires an understanding of effective public speaking skills, communication theories, and the ability to critical analyze.  The other difficult part about Crit is sitting through the rest of the speeches in the round (they tend to be less than enthralling).  We strongly recommend that you work closely with a coach on this event.


Topic Choice

While we have seen criticisms on historical speeches what we most often find is speeches about current communication acts.  The subject of the rhetorical criticism (here after referred to as crit) is often called the artifact.  It is the subject of the analysis.  The artifact can be just about any communicative act.  Things like songs, movies, books, advertisements, public service announcements, image restoration campaigns, protests, and speeches are some of the more common artifacts that may come to mind when you start to think of topics.  There are several other kinds of artifacts that can also be considered.  For example: Memorials, amusement parks, paintings, sculptures, cartoons, and just about any communication act that is making an impact in our world.

The best way to survive crit is to find a topic you think is really cool and interesting.  Find something you enjoy and it will show in the speech.  I have a friend that refers to topics that perk the interest of the audience when they hear the topic as "sexy."  Having a "sexy" topic doesn't hurt either.


Finding a Model

Finding and understanding an appropriate model for your analysis may be the most difficult thing you will do in forensics.  That is why you have coaches.  We can point you in the right direction because we each have a background in rhetoric.  But you can also find a model yourself.  Here are some questions that you might want to ask yourself to find the model.

  • What is the intent of the communication?  What is the person/group doing the communicating trying to say?  What is the intended message?
  • What genre of communication is this artifact?  Health Care Cmapaigne, apology, religious rhetoric, advertisement, humor, art, protest, etc.?
  • Why do I find it interesting?
  • Is this something a general audience of people with an interest in communication studies would find "sexy"?

Typically the first main point of the crit is dedicated to describing/explaining the model you have chosen.  The second main point is an application of the model to the artifact you have chosen and third main point consists of the implications or conclusions we can draw as a result of the analysis.



The third main point of the speech is dedicated to implications and/or conclusions we can draw based on the rhetorical analysis you completed in your second main point.  These can be addressed on a couple of different levels.  The most common is a critique of the artifact itself.  Remember we aren't just trying to understand the artifact we are trying to critique it as a communication act.  Was it successful/unsuccessful and why or why not?  The application of the rhetorical model to the artifact should lead us to the implications and/or conclusions.  We can also draw conclusions about the model we used to analyze the artifact.  If the model was originally designed for a related medium or act and the application of the model proved effect with the new medium or act then we can conclude that the model's usefulness extends beyond the author's original expectations.  If it wasn't designed for this artifact/medium and it doesn't apply well, then you probably shouldn't have used it.  If the communication act is unsuccessful and you have an appropriate model that leads us to believe that, for all practical purposes, the act should have been successful, then we can speculate about why the model fell should and draw conclusions about what else should be considered when making an analysis of this type.


Unique to Crit

Typically, an introduction doesn't run more than a minute or minute and 15 seconds in a prepare speech (that includes the attention getter, statement of significance, thesis statement and preview).  But in a Crit you also need to introduce and briefly describe your artifact so the introductions tend to be a little longer.  Typically I like to see us keep the introductions to two minutes or two and a half at the very outside.

The event name is Rhetorical Criticism and often we see speeches that are more appropriately labeled Rhetorical Description.  It is easy to let that happen.  These speeches will sometimes achieve reasonable regional success and periodically one of them might even make it to quarter finals at a national tournament but they are quickly done in by speeches that offer more of a criticism of the the communication (that doesn't mean finding fault with as much as it means viewing it through a critical eye).


Explaining the Model

The rhetorical model can be very complex.  It may take you several hours working alone and with a coach before you really understand the model and all of its complexities.  Then comes the hard part, you have to be able to explain that to the audience and the judge in about two minutes.  You have about 120 seconds to get them to understand what it took you hours to digest.  There are some things that can be done to help them.

  • Tag your planks.  When you are talking about the different parts of the model (the planks of the model) tag each part with a one or two word catch phrase that the judge can write down.  This helps them stay focused on you while still flowing your speech.
  • Use only the planks of the model that are important to your analysis.  It is possible that the best model out there for you has a dozen planks.  Don't try to cover and apply all 12 (I have seen it done and frankly its not pretty).  Pick the 3-5 that are the most telling/revealing or consider a different model.  If you are only going to use a portion of the model you will need to briefly explain why the rest of the planks aren't being used.  BUt that only takes a sentence or two up top.
  • Use examples.  In the Crack Babies Campaign Crit (below) the speaker uses a brief example after each of the components of the model to solidify in the minds of the audience what each plank meant.


This is a very complex event.  You will spend a lot of time working with your coaches the first time you do this event.  But it can be a very rewarding event as well.


Sample Speeches

The Misanthropic Mr. Chue

Flying Spaghetti Monster

Crack Baby Campaign 

Veggie Tales

Harry Potter

Goodbye Earl

Tom Green Show



Accept No Substitutes