Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Being Judge-Mental

A fact that many debaters don’t realize, both novice and veteran alike, is that the minute you step onto the campus of a debate tournament, you are being judged. That mom that you just passed that was dragging her four screaming kids out of the minivan? That’s your 6th round prelim judge. Or that alumnus whose name you don’t remember and you passed in the hall? That’s the third judge of your 2-1 outround decision. Or how about that nice old man you opened the door for in the cafeteria? He’s one of the esteemed scholars on your finals panel. “Leaving your bias at the door” seems to be judge orientation’s favorite phrase, but any debater must realistically realize that the majority of the time, your judge will have some type of bias. To anticipate that bias, let’s examine what to look for from the moment you step into the room and see your judge. If you ignore judge bias and criticism you only dull your competitive edge, and that judge’s perspective will be like a semi-truck hitting you at full force when you read your ballots later. 

First of all, you can divine a lot about a judge the minute you walk into your round. Do you know who it is? How old are they? What does their background appear to be? How attentive are they? Do they look like they actually want to be there? What kind of presence do they emanate? By immediately answering these questions you know how to adapt your presentation and a little more about how the round will go.  For example, I walked into a round with my partner at a qualifier this past season and we immediately noticed that our judge was elderly, had a pen but no paper, and had an old “I voted” sticker on the lapel of her jacket. Just with those few hints, we were able to realize that we couldn’t run a spread in our negative block and sticking to a more “patriotism first” approach would be effective. We adjusted our strategy and stuck with 3 key points that we built throughout the round to beat the affirmative case. Maybe the debate itself with the other team wasn’t very challenging, but had we lost the judge we would have lost the round! Keeping it simple worked. 

Secondly, asking for the judge’s philosophy or preference is critical. That is your freebie of information that is handed to you on a silver platter. Actually listen to what the judge has to say as well, as I cannot count the number of judges that have told me things like: “well, the other team may have been the better debaters, but they completely ignored my statement of ‘clear tags’ and didn’t use any tagging so they lost me.” You may groan inside every time you ask for a philosophy and the judge answers: “I like stock issues…and go slowly…and be nice.” But don’t moan! The judge just told you exactly what they want: simplicity. This means that if you’re affirmative you need to be very careful with your 1AR and if you’re negative you need to stick to fewer arguments. 

Thirdly, choose your cases wisely! It’s both audacious and ludicrous to write a case that you might completely agree with and think is the best thing in the world, but not realize that there is a heavy bias within the league you’re competing in. I competed most heavily in the league of Stoa, which is generally conservative/libertarian. But once when I competed in a CHSAA parli tournament my partner Aaron and I quickly realized that the general political views were fairly liberal and adjusted our cases accordingly.  That goes against common sense, and simply throwing up your hands and thinking, “oh, well that judge is just dumb and wrong” when you lose doesn’t get you anywhere.  It hurts both your reputation and your win-loss records. 

Fourthly, minimize your prep table movement. A judge can tell a lot about the round by simply looking at how a team or debater or acting (or reacting) at the prep table. If you’re scrambling for briefs, dropping papers, shaking your head, talking loudly to your partner, or looking like you’ve given up on the round, the judge picks up on all of it. Professionalize your appearance in every manner that you can, from keeping you and your partner looking spiffy, to making sure your briefs are organized and out of site (and not slamming the Britannica’s Encyclopedia of Negative Briefs onto the table for the “intimidation factor”), to keeping your emotions and actions in check at all times during the round. Remember, being the best debater isn’t about winning rounds; it’s about striving to be someone of the utmost integrity. 

Finally, have fun! Judges get bored very easily and a little joke or funny remark can make you incredibly persuasive (just avoid forced humor)! Be yourself and be comfortable in rounds because that helps ease the tension you might be feeling in the air and make everyone feel a little more relaxed. Don’t think that you have to be stiff or impersonal or change who you are at a whim to try to make the judge love you. Being both honest and intentional in your actions and speech will come across quite clearly to the judge. 

Yes, 1 out of every 10 judges may vote against you because their sister’s grandmother’s dog used to work for the agency that you’re abolishing, and 2 of every 100 will vote for the other team because they can do that cool pen flip, but if you win those other 9 of 10 or 98 of 100, it’s because you were able to adapt to both who they are and how they react to the round. Don’t be the smart car being crushed helplessly by the big rig; put the brakes on judge bias. After all, it’s your job to earn that 5 in Persuasiveness. 

Michael Sheetz is an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo, CA. He loves surfing, baseball, Disneyland, and driving almost anywhere with his friends. He has competed in speech and debate for four years, winning multiple titles including 1st place in parliamentary debate at the Inland Challenge and finalist in Extemporaneous speaking at numerous tournaments. Michael is the reigning National Champion in Team Policy debate. One day, he wants to be a news anchor. 


Defeating Kryptonite: How to Take Down Unbeatable TP Cases

Have you ever sat through your opponent’s 1NC in horrified shock, because you have absolutely nothing to say in response? The more you scour the case during your prep time, the more fortified it seems to become. By the time you stands up to give your 2AC, you are convinced that the case is unbeatable. I would venture to guess that most debaters have been in this position at least once during their debate career. At the very least, I know I have experienced the deer-in-the-headlights panic that comes from an opponent’s excellent argumentation. Even though it is commonly said in the debate world that even the best arguments have their flaws, when in-round paralysis sets in, it becomes impossible to identify those holes. In this article, I will propose several refutation tips that you can take with you into debate rounds so that the next time Batman pulls out his kryptonite- also known as the time when your opponent reads his brilliant 1NC- you will be prepared.

Refutation, or the process of attacking and defeating opposing arguments, can be broken up into two basic categories: defensive and offensive. Defensive arguments attempt to mitigate the importance of arguments while offensive arguments accept the opposing logic but “turn” it to support the opposite side of the resolution. Of the two, offensive arguments are stronger because they not only take out the opposing case, but they also create arguments for your side. As in sports, both offense and defense are necessary to succeed in debate. Not only do you have to prevent the other team from “scoring”; you need to “score” yourself.

Before we look at specific refutation tips, it is important to review the basics of argumentation. When making arguments in a debate round, you should follow the steps of 4-point refutation. First, identify your argument. Tell the judge in one 10-word sentence or less what your opponent said and under what point, and then give a short tag line (2-5 words) expressing what you will be saying. Next, explain your argument and tell the judge why your opponent is wrong. Step three is to support your argument using logic, evidence or examples. Finally, impact your argument and show why it matters. Identify, explain, support and impact your arguments in order to have the most effect.

Now that we have seen what refutation is, let’s break both defensive and offensive tactics down into specific strategies, looking first at defense.

1) Out-weigh the Impacts

A very effective way of defending yourself from arguments is to attack the impacts. If you have no way of specifically rebutting the argument, simply show how your side is more important. For example, if the negative team has brought up a environmental disadvantage that you cannot refute, simply show why saving 10,000 lives through an affirmative ballot is more important than causing a little pollution. Impact calculus, as this is often called, is a way to distract from arguments and, subsequently, deflect them.

2) Minimize the Relevance

Calling into question the relevance of your opponent’s arguments is another way to avoid direct confrontation. One way to do this is to identify contradictions on the part of the affirmative team. You can also discredit your opponent’s arguments by attacking weak or non-existent impacts, questioning quantifications, asking for numbers and trying other similar strategies. If you can point out that there are flaws in their arguments, the weight the contentions will have in the round will be greatly diminished. Hence, even if the judge had been buying the opposing team’s points, they likely will begin to question their relevance.

3) Contest the Facts

Another type of defensive argument consists of contesting your opponent’s facts. By pointing out that your opponent has used incorrect statistics or has misinterpreted history, you effectively nullify his argument. In one of my first debate rounds, my partner and I hit a case that had gone inherent the day before. Because we utilized this information, we won the round. Moral of the story? Always jump on the opportunity to point out that your opponent is incorrect because, by doing so, you will not only take down his arguments, you will chip away at his credibility.

4) Attack the Evidence

Identifying flaws in the evidence takes out the support for the argument; it also leaves the judge questioning the credibility of the opposing team’s position. Scrutinize the wording of each card and identify questionable phrases such as “it may”, “it could”, “under certain circumstances” etc. Quiz your opponents on their solvency advocates and the credentials of the authors of their evidence. Take any opportunity to attack their evidence and credibility.

Now that we have covered the basics of defensive argumentation, it’s time to look at offensive strategies. Since these arguments are basically turns, let’s cover the two different types of turns.

A. Turn the link. For example, let’s consider a scenario where the negative team presents a disadvantage of lost revenue with an impact of an increased deficit; their link is that the plan costs millions of dollars. If you were to take turn the link, you would argue something along the lines of this: “Actually the plan doesn’t cost millions of dollars because in the end it makes the status quo more efficient and saves more money in the long run.” By turning the link, you take the impact they said was so terrible and apply it to their side. The negative team is now responsible for increasing the deficit because the affirmative team’s plan doesn’t lose money; it saves money.

B. Turn the impact of an argument. Going back to the lost revenue disadvantage, let’s consider the impact of deficit increase. In order to turn the impact, you have to concede the link. Your argument might go something like this: “Yes, our plan costs millions of dollars, but by temporarily exacerbating the fiscal crisis, our plan will force Washington to act and solve the deficit. In the end, then, we do not increase the deficit but actually reduce it.” Once again, the impact of increasing the deficit becomes the responsibility of the opposing team.

Of these two types of turns, turning the link is stronger because it nullifies the disadvantage and its impact. Turning the impact concedes the link, giving the negative team the ability to bring up different impacts later on during the round. In effect, turning the impact is like cutting down a tree but leaving the roots in the ground while turning the link is pulling out the entire tree, roots and all.

How do you apply these tips in a debate round?

Connect the dots; extend your opponent’s logic and see where it leads.

For example, if your opponent is claiming that the United States should intervene in the Syrian civil war to promote justice and human rights, you should immediately be thinking of what this logic would mean on a global scale. Look back to the Libyan civil war and forward to the chaos in Egypt; how would your opponent’s arguments regarding a particular instance apply to other similar scenarios?

(One note here: beware of faulty comparisons. If you are going to apply your opponent’s logic to another situation, make sure that it is a comparable example. You couldn’t, for example, compare prison deaths in the United States to prison deaths in Iran; however, you could compare prison deaths in the US to, say, prison deaths in Canada or the United Kingdom.)

- Keep the resolution and the stock issues in mind throughout the round.

Continually ask yourself “How does this link to the resolution?”, “How does this prove their case is topical?”, “How do we know they can solve for their harms?” etc. Don’t get caught up in minutia or go down rabbit trails; keep the affirmative burden and resolution grounded in your mind.

- Keep your eyes (or should I say ears?) open for logical fallacies, inconsistencies and assumptions.

Often times, affirmative cases are built on certain key assumptions and generalizations. I recently judged a debate round where the affirmative claimed to increase world fish supplies by opening up the Gulf of Mexico for fishing; however, they never established the link between allowing companies to open fisheries and businesses actually deciding to launch a new operation. Learning to identify assumptions like this is one of the keys of refutation. However, listening for logical fallacies and inconsistencies is also critical. If your opponent claims that you don’t have evidence for your claims and then proceeds to give unsubstantiated statistics, call them out! If you notice they are committing a fallacy, point it out!

5) Scrutinize their evidence.

Make sure that what they are saying is borne out by their evidence and that they haven’t exaggerated the source’s claim. Power-tagging, as this is called, is a very frequent occurrence, so don’t assume the evidence says exactly what your opponent claims it does. Check it out carefully. When examining the evidence, also check out the credentials of the source; in real life, you should give people the benefit of the doubt, but in debate, you need to capitalize on uncertainties.

Take these tools and practice utilizing them; they will be like radiation, slowly building up your immunity to kryptonite. Next time Batman arrives at the scene- I mean, in the round- you’ll be ready.

Katie is a 17-year-old from Placentia, CA. She loves reading the classics, discussing philosophy and playing the organ; she aspires to enter journalism.  She has won Mars Hill Impromptu and took second in Impromptu at Concordia, won Extemp at the Inland Club Challenge, placed second in Apologetics at the Sonoma County Classic and finished third in Original Oratory at the Point Loma Classic. This year she ranked 15th in the nation in both Speech and Debate and 7th in speech alone. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sounding Like An Expert When You Don't Know What The Heck You're Talking About

My heart sank to my stomach and started beating a mile a minute all at the same time. My throat got dry and my hands immediately starting sweating. I thought I had prepared well for this debate tournament, but there I sat, listening to the 1AC of a case I had absolutely no information on. The speaker was nearing the end of his speech, and I was supposed to go up in a few moments for cross-examination -- but I had been so terrified of the fact that I didn’t have any information on the case that I didn’t even pay attention to the last half of his speech. What on earth was I going to do?
Welcome to my first debate round ever.
As you may have guessed, it didn’t go that well. But even if my twelve year-old emotions went on a bit of a roller coaster, I emerged from the embarrassing debate round (and nurturing judge ballot) with some great lessons on how to keep your cool when you have no idea what you’re talking about. The odds are that if you compete in just about any limited prep speech or debate, you’re eventually going to run across a situation like this. So! Here are some helpful tips to prepare you:

1. Don’t Forget to Breathe
In a situation where you’re insecure about your own foundational understanding of something, it’s easy to get so flustered by the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about that you can’t focus on trying to learn about the topic because your brain starts going a mile a minute thinking about all the potential worst-case scenarios and how terrible it is that your mom is watching.
Take a minute to breathe. Then begin looking for files that may have some sort of connection (if you’re in an extemp round), or listen carefully to your opponent’s case and search for weak points in the evidence (if you’re in a debate round). The main idea is that once you are able to focus, you can start critically and creatively thinking about how to respond; taking a minute to calm yourself is key to having the ability to focus.

2. Less is More
One of the biggest problems I had to overcome when I was flustered about something in a speech was my tendency to over-explain. If I didn’t think I had enough to say, my default response was to speed up my speaking pace (out of nervousness) and talk myself in circles. Try to remember that less is more. So heed tip #1 -- breathe -- and consolidate your sentences. Speak in general terms about the topic you are addressing, and draw conclusions based on your understanding of the topic’s premises. It is much better to make inferences from your general understanding of a topic than it is to make up specifics and roll with them (this would be especially bad if you find out that your judge has a better understanding of the topic than you do).

3. Don’t Undercut Your Own Words
As a judge, I’ve seen that sometimes, the most noticeable difference between an expert and a clueless debater lies in their use of “caveat phrases”. Caveat phrases are those that undercut or minimize the argument that a speaker has just made. Examples of these can be:
“I don’t have any evidence for this, but...”
“Even though the source isn’t qualified...”
Let your opposition make arguments against your arguments. Your job is to give strength and credibility to your arguments, not to minimize them.

4. Smile
Honestly, looking calm is half the battle. If you can convince your judge that you’re confident in your own answers, your judge will likely absorb some of that confidence and trust that what you’re saying is credible. Nonverbals play a HUGE role in this. If you are whispering frantically at the prep-table, or nervously adjusting your suit while speaking, your judge is not going to believe that you are an expert. A kind, but confident smile, a firm handshake, and a steady posture can sometimes indicate more to a judge about your credibility than your actual words can.

Whether it’s your first debate round ever, or you’ve been involved in public speaking for years, you will probably be required to speak on topics that you are unfamiliar with. It’s not the end of the world. You can still sound like an expert, even if you have absolutely no idea what the heck you’re talking about.

Bethany is a 19-year-old from Riverside, CA. She enjoys hiking, horseback riding, writing music, painting, and reading. Her favorite subjects are Humanities and Moral Philosophy. In Team Policy Debate, she has placed 8th place at the Modesto Tournament, 7th place at the San Diego tournament, 5th place at the National Invitational Tournament of Champions, and 1st place at the CLASH tournament of San Jose. Currently, she is working on a Bachelor's degree in Communication Disorders, after which she hopes to attend graduate school and work as a Speech Language Pathologist. Her plan is to help those with speech disorders to be able to pursue the same speech skills that she was able to develop in high school debate.

Don’t Let Down-Time Get You Down

One of my most memorable tournament memories comes from a cute but foolish idea. Want to hear it? Although I was competing in debate and five speech events, I had spare time in between rounds. I spent one of those sections of time singing and reenacting the duel scene from “The Phantom of the Opera” with my best friend for about an hour. Although it was fun, I was exhausted for the rest of the day’s rounds. Even the busiest debaters have a few spare moments between rounds. How you use your free time is up to you, but ultimately, down time at debate tournaments should revolve around refreshing yourself to prepare for the next round.

Here are a few do’s and don’t’s for down-time success.

Don’t exhaust yourself out of the round: it will not pay off in round. Speaking and debating together form a marathon that sucks a lot of energy out of you. If you do not preserve your energy during your downtime, your upcoming rounds may be a little too lifeless for success. How do you avoid exhaustion during downtime?

Don’t stress about the rounds behind you. Tempting as it is to criticize your every word spoken and breath taken during the previous round, it destroys your confidence and wastes mental energy. The past is the past; you cannot change it and God planned the preceding round for your special benefit. You can change the future, however, by resting well and preparing well. That’s where the second tip about avoiding exhaustion comes in.

Prepare what you need to. If you encountered a new argument in the last round that is surprising, talk to some friends, call up your debate coach, get ready to face the argument again if need be.

Relax about the future rounds. You may become completely tongue-tied, the timer may mess up totally, and an asteroid might interrupt your speech, – however, most of your worries probably will prove blissfully fruitless. As Mark Twain said, “I have had many troubles in my life, most of which I have never experienced.” I found that worrying about the future made the present miserable and stifled my ability to excel.

Feel free to frolic frivolously but efficiently (okay, I just had to write that sentence; ‘twas too much fun to mentally say.) Resting your brain will enliven it for the next round. Laugh! Hug some friends! Eat something yummy! Take a nap!

Take care of physical needs to rejuvenate yourself. I often found tournaments so exciting that I would forget to eat or go to the bathroom. Eating and drinking, taking restroom trips, and refreshing makeup (for girls) are essential for maintaining your physical wellbeing. Your performance will fall short of your full potential unless you are well fed, well hydrated, and well groomed.

Esther Grace,  a 17-year-old student of Patrick Henry College,  is a shameless nerd and lover of life.  She rejoices in theology, music, friendship, and bunnies. 
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Somebody’s Watching Me: the Importance of a Good Attitude Outside the Round

They’re in the lobby. They’re in the bathroom. They’re in the lunch line. They’re in ballot distribution, judge orientation, and ballot return. They’re in the hospitality room. They’re even in the hangout room. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!!!!  Who are they? Your judges. 

(Feel judged, yet?)

You never know who could be your judge. That nice man who helped carry your debate boxes or that parent you ignored. Whoever your judge may be, he or she could very well be watching you at any point in the tournament, and what they see could affect their judgment. Speakers should be certain to have polite and courteous interaction with adults, their friends, and fellow competitors at a tournament.

 1) Interaction with Adults
The golden rule of interactions with parents or any adults is simple: be respectful. No matter whom you’re talking to, you should treat each adult with respect. Even if you know the adult you are interacting with will never judge you, other judges are watching– you don’t want to give a bad impression to anyone. One way to be respectful is to show gratitude; all tournament staff members deserve a simple “thank you for your time and effort you have put into this tournament!” Also, if you see any adult in need of assistance, offer to help them! One time, I saw a senior adult in the women’s restroom unable to find the paper towels. After helping her locate the towels and thanking her for coming to judge, she smiled and thanked me as well. Little did I know at the time that she would be my judge in a debate outround and impromptu semifinals! You never know who your judges are. Be respectful to every adult, not only because it could hurt you if you were disrespectful, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

2) Interaction with Friends
The most popular place at a debate tournament is the hangout room. Full of coolers, snacks, music, and friends, the hangout room is the perfect place to relax after a hard round and prepare for the next one. However, you want to make sure you have the proper balance of relaxation, fun, and seriousness. While the hangout room is a great place to chill and have fun, you want to make sure you are still behaving somewhat professional. Remember, parents go in the hangout room too. If a parent sees you acting disrespectfully or causing trouble, that parent’s perception of you will be tainted, which can be hard to overcome in a debate or speech round. Make sure you treat everyone in the hangout room with kindness. That little boy you yelled at because he stole some candy? His mom could judge you the next round. The person whose suit you laughed at? Her debate coach could be your next speech judge. Be even more careful with how you interact with your friends outside the hangout room. I remember at a tournament one of my friends literally laid on the floor of a hallway– right as a judge walked by. I jokingly told him that would be his judge. I was right. 

 3) Interaction with Competitors
Speakers must be sure to treat their fellow competitors with class and respect. If you faced a debater that might not have been the greatest opponent, don’t compliment the speaker after the round, and then go tell all your friends how horrible he was. If you’ve ever had a judicial issue with an opponent, after the incident, don’t ruminate and tell all your friends about it. If you just had a bad debate round, don’t let it affect your attitude. Why? All of these things will have two negative impacts: 1. You will bring your bad attitude into the round. If you are feeling over confident in your skills, you will sound arrogant. If you have a particular bias against someone, debating him or her can become personal and the round can become heated. If you are discouraged after a debate, that melancholy attitude can easily carry into your other speech and debate rounds, hindering your effectiveness as a speaker. If you have a bad attitude about a competitor, it will negatively impact your speaking and debating style. 2. You will earn a bad reputation among judges. While people shouldn’t judge you by your reputation, you must realize that they do. If you have a negative attitude parents will notice and begin to silently judge you outside the round. If you are always angry with fellow competitors, they might be less likely to vote for you. If you are a sore loser, parents begin to think you are too competitive. How you act has an impact on the judges’ judgment. Be respectful to those around you– you never know if that parent is your future judge!

Rebecca is a 16-year-old from Pike Road, AL. She basically lives in speech and debate, but in her spare time enjoys playing piano and singing for her church’s youth praise team. She has won over 45 titles over her five years of speech and debate, including first place Team Policy at Regionals in 2011.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Killing Squirrels


If you’ve debated before at all, you almost certainly know the feeling of utter panic creeping into every inch of your body when you realize…you have not a single piece of evidence against the case you’re hearing. It is a given in Team Policy debate that no matter how much you research, you cannot possibly write a brief against every possible case—topical or not. To make matters worse, judges will very often only say, “I like evidence” when you ask for their philosophy. What can be done in such circumstances? Fortunately, giving up is never your only resort; squirrels can always be killed.

Firstly, make sure that you know the resolution well. You should become a mini-expert on the issues you’ll be discussing all year. Of course, you can’t know everything; but the goal is to understand the ideas, not know all the facts. While competing in Team Policy under the STOA 2012-2013 resolution of United States foreign military presence and commitment, I started off very ignorant. I did not have the time or desire to know everything about our foreign military policies. However, by reading the news, educating myself on military terms and warzone tactics, researching twentieth century wars, and learning about current military conflicts, I developed an understanding of the United States military. I could not explain to a judge exactly how a nuclear weapon worked, but I could tell them that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal and why that is bad. This personal education is so, so important because knowledge is evidence. Even if you do not have a single card against your case, you have evidence and arguments in your head. If you are educated, you can easily make off-case solvency arguments and simple disadvantages against almost any case. (An off-case argument is a point that you wouldn’t flow directly across from a point on the 1AC; rather, it attacks an underlying idea of the case or a leg it secretly stands on.) You will also simply sound smart, giving you an automatic advantage in debate. Your job is to make the judge feel safe and comfortable voting for you, and you can only do that if you know what you are advocating.

Secondly, learn how to attack evidence. Off-case arguments will win rounds, but especially if you don’t have evidence to back them up, you need to mitigate the case as well. The 2nd negative speaker should probably spend most of their speech going through the evidence and explaining to the judge how it’s been exaggerated by the team (though be careful to not accuse them of unethically twisting evidence unless they’ve actually done so), how it does not clearly support their taglines or plan, how logic or current events contradict it, or anything else that comes to mind. Cast doubt on the other team.

Finally, stay calm. The worst thing you can do for yourself in this situation is to freak out. Not only will neglecting to relax speed up your heart rate and destroy your thinking capabilities, but it will detract from your professional appearance. You’ll shake, your voice will speed up, you will stumble, and you will lose your place. You have no need to get so worked up! When you realize you have no evidence, take a moment to remind yourself that this is what you have prepared for by educating yourself. Tell yourself and your partner that you can do it, that you have no reason to worry, and that even losing this round would not be the end of the world.

The next time you hear a squirrel case, don’t let panic take over. Instead, smile to yourself and kill that squirrel like Yosemite Sam takes out rabbits!

Brenna is a 17-year-old from sunny Southern California. She loves French, communication, psychology, school, and really big books. Her speech and debate experience includes five years of speech, four years of Team Policy, and two years of Parliamentary debate competition. She has previously worked for debate focused Ethos Publications and has taken national titles in all limited prep speeches for two years in a row. This year, she placed 4th in Team Policy debate at the National Invitational Tournament of Champions, as well as earning a place in the top five debate and speaker awards at all major tournaments. She plans on switching to Lincoln Douglas debate next year. 
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Speaking From The Heart When Your Heart Isn't In It

I was elated. For the past several months, I had lived and breathed all of the details and discussed them as much as I could.  The chronology, the statistics, the impact: I knew it all inside and out.  After nervously watching the clock tick down the seconds until go-time, I finally snatched at the sacred slip of paper with shaking hands and hesitantly turned it over.  When I was greeted with the words “Benghazi: sideshow or scandal?,” I was on cloud nine; if there was one domestic question I wanted, it was this.  During the 37 minutes that followed, I constructed and delivered the most intensely passionate, and subsequently the best extemp speech I have ever given.  
If the euphoria hadn’t quite worn off by the time the next round rolled around, it certainly did when I excitedly flipped over my next set of questions.  The future of plug-in electric cars held absolutely no interest for this politics junkie; I knew even before I started sorting through articles that my speech was going to be an absolute bore. 

After all, passion produces picket fences, as my Benghazi speech showed me.  For thousands of years, orators have considered passion an integral component to successful speaking; Aristotle even considered it to be one of the three keys of persuasion.  It is easy to be passionate about something you love; where your interest lies, there a drive will be born.   The fact of the matter is in order to succeed as a speaker, you have to have speak from your heart. Your engagement in the topic carries over to the audience, drawing them into your speech.  When you are captivated by a topic, others will want to know why and will pay close attention as a result.  However, when you are uninterested in the topic of your speech, it can be almost impossible to find that authenticity.   
Here are five tips on how to deliver an energetic, heartfelt speech even on the most tedious topics:

1. Make it matter 
One of the main reasons that speeches that lack passion generally fall flat and earn poor rankings is because they aren’t memorable. If your speech doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the judge, they will have no reason to remember it.  When they are sitting the judge’s lounge filling out their ballots, your judges will be probably rank speeches they connected to highest.  
How do you draw judges into your speech when you yourself are uninterested in the topic?  Start by finding the impacts of the topic.  Why does tax reform matter to average Americans?  How does an over-reliance on gasoline affect the people on your street? By connecting privacy to the bullying of innocent school children, you have given the judge a reason to care.  Drawing on the hypothetical consequences will give you something to be passionate about and will make your speech memorable.

2. Be personal 
In order to deliver a heartfelt speech on less-than-intriguing topics, try adding personal stories or anecdotes.  After struggling to connect with judges, I began to give personal introductions or examples throughout my speech; you would be amazed at how my speaking style changed.  Sharing about yourself allows the judges to connect with you and gives them something to remember.  Being personal breaks up the monotony of an uninteresting topic, allowing you to show energy and excitement that otherwise would not come out.

3. Use analogies and illustrations 
Another way to generate enthusiasm both in yourself and in your audience is to use analogies or other illustrations.  For the most part, it isn’t the content of your speeches that will win you tournaments; it is the way you deliver them.  Humorous word pictures will give you a chance to express yourself naturally and establish a connection with the judges even when no one is enjoying the topic. For example, I remember watching a debate round on trade policy with Russia, which I did not find a particularly engaging.  However, because the debaters started their speeches with jokes and anecdotes, I enjoyed the round and had a reason to pay attention.  Using analogies and illustrations allow you to connect with the audience and give them a reason to listen to what you are saying.

4. Draw the judge into the speech
I suppose I have used the word “connect” much too frequently in this article, but that is because I cannot emphasize enough how important it is.  The simple fact of the matter is that speeches that don’t resonate with you are boring.  If you don’t have any fascination with hard monetary policy, having a debate resolution on quantitative easing could feel like a death blow.  The reason you would find the year a snoozer would be because the topic doesn’t connect to you.  In the same way, you run the risk of putting the judges to sleep if you don’t find a way to draw them into your speech.  

One of the best ways to make the topic relatable and prevent boredom is to take time to explain how the topic will or could affect the judge.  Tell them why quantitative easing isn’t simply an abstract fiscal concept but rather has pertinence to their lives.  Another way to connect with judges is to speak conversationally, making them feel that you are sharing enlightening news with them rather than reciting heady facts. 

5. Don’t let your boredom come through
Most importantly, though, don’t ever let your audience know that you are uninterested or bored.  This is a sure way to lose the attention of your judges and lose their ballots.  Vary your delivery and facial expressions, look for ways to connect with the judges and act interested.  Do your best to make the speech engaging even when you find the topic tedious.

Following the above tips certainly won’t give you a passion for a topic you previously were put to sleep by; however, they will help you to deliver a heartfelt, authentic and genuinely passionate speech every time, regardless of your opinions on the topic. 

Katie is a 17-year-old from Placentia, CA. She loves reading the classics, discussing philosophy and playing the organ; she aspires to enter journalism.  She has won Mars Hill Impromptu and took second in Impromptu at Concordia, won Extemp at the Inland Club Challenge, placed second in Apologetics at the Sonoma County Classic and finished third in Original Oratory at the Point Loma Classic. This year she ranked 15th in the nation in both Speech and Debate and 7th in speech alone. 


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