Duane Benton, Oratorical Commission chairman for the Department of Missouri, shared best practices with attendees of the Legion's National Oratorical Conference in Indianapolis, Sept. 24. Photo by Tom Strattman/The American Legion

How to grow, promote Oratorical Contest at state level

In three out of the last five years, The American Legion’s national Oratorical Contest youth winner has hailed from the state of Missouri. Duane Benton, Oratorical Commission chairman for the Department of Missouri, said the department’s robust program is thanks to its promotional efforts online, support from post, district and county Legionnaires, and involvement with the local high schools.

Attendees of the Legion’s 47th annual Oratorical Conference in downtown Indianapolis last Saturday heard best practices from Benton on how to grow and promote the program at the state level.

Feature “scholarship” in promotions. Benton said research shows that 89 percent of high school students in grades 9-12 have access to a smartphone and are searching online for scholarships. Therefore, make sure the word “scholarship” is included in all promotional efforts of the program – name the program by its full title, the Legion’s High School Oratorical Scholarship Program: “A Constitutional Speech Contest.”

Get online. Out of the department Oratorical Contest links featured here, three departments do not have a website, 12 departments link to their home page and not to their Oratorical program page, and 26 departments have information on last year’s contest. The Department of Mississippi doesn’t have a website, but they created a special webpage for its Oratorical program for free through the web-hosting service Weebly.

Explain how to enter the contest. The Department of Missouri’s online application for its Oratorical program is easily accessible on its website and its electronic entry format is available to both high school and home school students. For the electronic entry, the department used the free Web form builder www.coffeecup.com/sdrive/plans.

Create a Facebook page. “You don’t just have to promote the program to the outside world, you have to promote in the Legion,” Benton said. A great way to achieve promotional efforts in and outside of the Legion is through Facebook. The Department of Utah has an Oratorical Contest Facebook page that is updated regularly to encourage student and Legion participation, announce deadlines, congratulate winners, and more.

Define leadership. The Department of Missouri has a rule that if a post doesn’t have an Oratorical program chairperson than the post adjutant assumes the position. The department also has an Oratorical contact for each of its 114 and past department commanders are on its Oratorical Commission “because they know how to get things done,” Benton said. “You have to promote your contest within the Legion so when you have the student send an email or submit electronic entry, they have someone they can talk to. It’s one thing to get the demand, but you have to have the supply of workers to meet it.”

Recruit students. Benton emphasized the need to get in front of students as much as possible to promote the program, whether that’s through conducting speaking engagements at speech and debate clubs, government classes or National Honor Society conferences, or advertising in the school newspaper. When Benton attends award ceremonies at high schools, he brings with him that year’s department Oratorical Contest winner to speak on behalf of the program and the scholarship money they earned.

The Department of North Dakota promoted the Oratorical program, as well as Boys and Girls State, to several hundred youth at a student council conference; and the Department of Phoenix presents a plaque to high schools that participate in the program and one of the schools has the Oratorical Contest on its scholarship app that students utilize.

To reach home school students, every September Benton emails home school associations that he accesses at www.home-school.com/groups or www.hslda.org/orgs. In his email he includes a link to the Department of Missouri’s Oratorical Contest webpage and explains how to enter the contest.

Legion members also can find teacher contact information on the National Speech and Debate Association's high school district page here.

For additional Oratorical Contest resources, such as videos and supporting materials on how to conduct a contest, brochures, PSA’s, posters and more, visit www.legion.org/oratorical.