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About the National Tournament

Since 1931, the National Speech and Debate Tournament has elevated public speaking. Every summer, more than 6,000 middle and high school students travel to the largest academic competition in the world to debate current events, voice their views, and share their stories. After months of preparation, rigorous qualifying tournaments, and five days of prestigious national competition, the best of the best will be crowned champions in front of a live audience of thousands and tens of thousands more streaming the events online.

Feel the energy at Nationals!

Why Speech and Debate?

The Road to Nationals

Only the best of the best make it to this pinnacle of public speaking. Learn more about competitive events, the qualification process, and student membership.

Dramatic Interpretation by Lanny D. and B.J. Naegelin

Watch #Nats20!

Experience the magic of the National Tournament final rounds and awards ceremonies!

2021 National Tournament

After months of careful consideration, we have made the decision to host the 2021 National Speech & Debate Tournament online for middle school and high school students due to the ongoing pandemic.

Every day bears out the importance of teaching speech and debate at our schools. Our mission remains the same: to connect, support, and inspire a diverse community committed to empowering students through speech and debate. The National Tournament offers students an unparalleled platform to share their stories and speak up on the issues they care about, and we are committed to giving students that opportunity through an online event.

Key Dates for High School and Middle School

February 15

The Tournament Procedures for high school and middle school were posted online featuring deadlines, how events will work, our hosting platform, judging obligations, and more. The updated high school and middle school manuals were also released with results calculation details, pairing procedures, and other rules.

March 1

Tournament registration opens on

May 15

Tournament registration closes. All entries, judges, forms, and payment, are due.

May 1

Nationals debate topics announced.

June 1

All recordings for middle school, supplemental events, and high school main speech backups are due.

Changes to 2021 National Tournament Qualification

Expanded Access to National Tournament Supplemental Events

Every member school that participates in the district tournament series will have the opportunity to enter up to two non-qualifying students in supplemental events at the online 2021 National Tournament. These students must have attended the district tournament but not earned qualification in any event. Stay tuned for more information.

New Supplemental Events for 2021

In 2021 we will offer two new supplemental events for high school students. These events will allow students to explore more avenues for personal expression and approach topics in new and exciting ways.

    • Original Spoken Word Poetry: Competitors will write and perform original poetry in order to express ideas, experience, or emotion through the creative arrangement of words according to their sound, their rhythm, their meaning. The maximum time limit is 5 minutes with a 30-second grace period. The delivery must be memorized, and no book or script may be used. An original poetry contest was offered at prior National Tournaments. Watch original performances by the finalists to get a feel for the event.
    • Pro Con Challenge: Students will select the National Tournament topic for Policy, Lincoln-Douglas, or Public Forum Debate, or choose a piece of legislation from the Congressional Debate Docket and write a 3-5 minute affirmative speech and a 3-5 minute negative speech on that topic. They will read both of those speeches within a time limit of 10 minutes and 30 seconds. Visit our topics page to find the resolution for Policy Debate and potential topics for LD and PF. The Pro Con Challenge was offered at the 2020 Middle School Speech Challenge. Watch an exemplary video from the showcase to get a feel for the event.

For rules and more information about these events, please visit the Unified Manual.

District Entry Requirements

We understand that team recruitment, online tournament scheduling, and participation numbers have been impacted this year. To help alleviate concerns over entry numbers and ensure students can be represented at the National Tournament, the entry requirements for earning qualifiers to the online 2021 National Tournament have changed. Learn more on page 64 of the Unified Manual.

Help take their stories to the stage!

Donate to provide more students with the resources they need to bring their stories to the stage.

Your organization can provide the platform for more than 6,000 students to share their stories. Click here for more information on becoming a sponsor.

Future Host Sites

2021 | Online – June 13-19
2022 | Louisville, Kentucky – June 12-17
2023 | Phoenix, Arizona – June 11-16

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has placed this program on the 2019-2020 NASSP List of Approved Contests, Programs, and Activities for Students.