Tips for Success

Top #7 Reasons Why Competent Speakers
Don't Pass the Competency Exam

The COMM Department provides a single overview and preparation session for all students signed-up for the Speech Competency Exam. This is NOT a Public Speaking class; it is designed to assist those students who have had prior speech training or experience and who wish to maximize their opportunity to pass the speech competency exam.  

Just “showing up” minimizes the chances of passing the exam. The best chance of success is to download the criteria and follow the instructions on the Communication Department website. Most people fail because they don’t “fully” cite reputable sources in their speech (no vague or inadequate references to websites), they go under or over the time limit, they “read” their speech, or they limit eye contact. A clear thesis statement, target audience, and organizational pattern are also important. You must submit an outline in proper outline format and annotate your bibliography. There is a review session the Wednesday before the Speech Competency Exam where you can ask questions and make any last-minute changes before presenting.

Here are the top seven reasons students don’t pass the exam.

I. Cite Sources FULLY and verbally in speech including (all 4): Author / Title / Source / Date.

A. Say it verbally in your speech – not just “list” references in your Bibliography only. Remember, you are speaking to a judge. They are not reading a paper. You will be judged on what you “say”, not on what you have written.

B. Don’t use vague references to material.

1. “According to a study” – What study? Who published it? When? Why is it relevant?

2. “According to the website…” – Don’t cite the website only; cite the article / study published on the website. Who is the author, etc.?

C. Verbally cite at least 4 sources minimum -- more is ideal. The more you cite, the more knowledgeable you appear to your audience. It shows that you have done your research, and you know what you are talking about.

D. Use mostly recent sources – within 6 months preferable!

II. Stay within the Time Limit of 8 minutes (+ / - 1 minute)!

A. Under 7 min. = lack content development / supporting details to back up your thesis

B. Over 9 min. = disorganized / inadequate rehearsal of speech delivery

C. Time limit is strictly enforced and results in automatic failure if not within 7-9 minute time frame.

III. State your Thesis (Specific Purpose) statement in your Introduction.

A. Give an Introduction to introduce your topic to your target audience.

B. State your Thesis (Specific Purpose) clearly and early in the speech -- using a single sentence.

C. Make sure your Thesis reflects the speech requirement of being Persuasive, and not merely Informative. A Persuasive speech needs to include a direct Call to Action or plea to Convince.

IV. Use an Organizational Pattern to keep listeners focused on your main points.

A. Standard organizational patterns include: Problem / Solution, Motivated Sequence, Topical.

B. Use transitions between your main points to connect your thoughts and highlight where you are going in your speech.

C. Provide a Conclusion or summary of your main points.

V. Adapt to your Target Audience

A. State who your target audience is for this speech. Tailor your message to your audience.

B. Find examples your audience can relate to.

VI. Use Extemporaneous Delivery

A. Don’t read from your note cards or speaker notes, refer to them only.

B. Establish and maintain eye contact.

C. Be conversational, careful to not be so rehearsed or memorized that you come across like a robot.

D. Use hand gestures and body movement to keep interest.

E. Limit your vocal fillers or “um’s” by practicing.

VII. Use proper Outline Format and Annotated Bibliography.

A. Use MLA formatting

B. Use proper outline notation (I. / A. / 1. / a. / i.)

C. Indent correctly.

D. Every point has at least two subpoints.

E. Annotate your bibliography -- write 1-2 sentences about each source.

See Exam InstructionsOral Communication Criteria, and Tips for Success  for all exam requirements. Here is the  Evaluation Form judges use to evaluate the Oral Competency Exam. Additional resources available at The Speech Center.