October 6, 2016
Earning a top-five speaker award feels awesome. Being recognized as the top speaker of a tournament is even more awesome.
Though I received a lot of bids to the Tournament of Champions, I never really won many tournaments. Iíd usually end up dropping the elim following the bid round, or drop in semis/finals. That didnít bother me because I knew I wasnít perfect. It especially didnít bother me at tournaments where I ended up the top speaker!
But this article isnít about me. Itís about how, with the right effort, you can consistently make the list of top-five speakers during your season. It goes without saying that high speaker points are a testament to your debate skills. What you need to remember, though, is that speaker points have a real influence over how well you end up at the tournament. If youíre 4-2 with low speaker points, you could end up getting the dreaded ď4-2 screwĒ where those low speaks are the only reason you donít break. Speaker points also determine seeding in elimination rounds, which influences your placement on the bracket and thereby the difficulty of your debates. If you just make it as the 32nd seed, youíll have a tougher time winning doubles against the top seed than if you were the 9th seed debating the 24th.
Itís clear that speaker points are important. But how do you improve your speaks? Whatís the difference between a debate where you deserve a 29 and one where you deserve a 30? Iím not claiming to have devised a formula that guarantees you 30s, because speaker point scales are very subjective. However, by learning general tips for improving your delivery, persuasion, and strategic intuition, youíll see your speaker points improve significantly.
Over time, the wins will come. When you start winning more debates because of these tips, your speaker points will tend to be higher simply because the judge knows you have a proven record of success. That might seem political, but judgesí determinations of speaks do tend to be influenced by how well they think youíll do at the tournament, or in elims.
There are three things that you can do to improve your speaker points: (1) schedule regular practice speeches, (2) do solid research, and (3) think many steps ahead of your opponents when you prepare a set of arguments to read.
Giving regular practice speeches is important for improving your delivery, your efficiency, and your comfortability with arguments. Speaking drills are one thing, but if you arenít practicing a speech that simulates the conditions of a real debate, youíre only going to be fast and clear when youíre reading evidence. The key is to be fast and clear when youíre talking about your evidence as well. Iíve seen too many high school speeches where debaters will be really fast in the constructives, but their rebuttals will be inexplicably slow or inefficient because debaters wonít be able to give a 2NR or 2AR as fluidly as if they were reading the AC.
The best way to give practice speeches is to have lots and lots of practice debates. If youíre on a large squad, take advantage of the fact you have lots of teammates who are committed to win, just like you. If youíre a lone wolf (like I was in high school), make connections with debaters from other schools and arrange practice debates to have on Skype.
You can also arrange practice speeches with yourself and a coach. Put together a 1AR block to an NC that you want to read, and prepare a 2NR to give in front of a coach or a friend. Donít type out the entire speech, because that defeats the purpose of practice. Pull together the cards you want to read, flow the 1AR block as if someone else read it against you, and write out some answers to each argument. Then give the speech! The benefit of having a coach or a friend watch your speech is that they can give you immediate feedback. You can also record a video of yourself giving the speech then watch it for some crucial self-coaching.
Iím a firm believer in the old adage that practice makes perfect. Practice speeches not only make you more acquainted with your arguments, they also help you correct for inefficiencies and poor speaking habits. For example, in high school I picked up a horrible habit of double breathing. So, I would practice giving speeches where, every time I double breathed, I would stop the speech and start over. The goal would be for me to complete the speech without double breathing once. This can be done as well with inefficiencies like ďum,Ē ďlike,Ē ďinsofar asĒ (that one was huge back in my day) and more.
Rebuttal redoes are one of the best ways that you can do practice speaking, but I think an even more effective method of practice is to give a speech for the first time given a series of arguments youíve prepped to answer your own positions. In a sense, once youíve given these speeches the first time, when you give them at the tournament those tournament speeches will be as amazing as a rebuttal re-do. Because youíd already simulated the conditions of a debate you expect to have, you will have ironed out any mistakes you could have made at a tournament if you didnít watch out for them.
Since practice makes perfect, youíll give better speeches and expect to see higher speaks!
Cutting lots of amazing cards is actually great for improving your speaker points. If you do a lot of research, youíll be very well-educated on the topic. If youíre well-educated on the topic, youíll have a firm command over all the evidence thatís been read in the debateóyours and your opponents. One judge complimented me on how effectively I could just look at an opponentís cards and immediately know how I was going to answer them. Thatís because I did so much research that I thought about my positions a lot. Iíd played out the back-and-forth arguments in my head multiple times already, so I knew what I was going to say if a debater said x, y, or z to answer my offense.
Having a strong command over evidence gives you more credibility when you harness your topic knowledge to make sound analytic arguments as well. If the judge can tell youíve done your homework, your ethos has significantly improved on everything you say in the debate.
Aristotle said that between ethos (credibility), logos (logic), and pathos (emotion), ethos mattered most for oneís rhetorical abilities. If you donít have any credibility with the judge, that affects how theyíll view your logic. This isnít to say that debaters with the most evidence will always win their debates, but you generally tend to be more persuasive when you can give a detailed and educated defense of your arguments.
If youíre more persuasive, judges will be really impressed with your debatingóresulting in higher speaks.
Whenever you prepare a positionóyour AC, your NC, your off-case positions, etc.óyou have to think about what you want your 2NR or 2AR to look like. For example, if you know that your 1NC against a certain affirmative is going to consist of four off-cases, some framework answers, and link turns, you need to think about what you plan to jettison and what you want to defend by the end of the debate. You should have a sense of what your ideal 2NRs would look like (for example, you know that your best bet of winning is the elections disadvantage and link turns, so thatís what you should intend to collapse to unless the 1AR really screwed up some other area of the debate).
Similarly, when youíre aff, you should think about how youíre going to explain the story of the debate, or how youíll explain your affirmative position vis-ŗ-vis what you expect the 2NR to do. For example, if you know the 2NR is likely to be the anti-blackness kritik, you need to think about how youíre going to explain your aff in relation to the links and alternative. If you know the 2NR is likely to be a Kantian NC (and youíve read util), you need to think about how youíll articulate your best util justification in relation to their own framework justifications.
Thinking multiple steps ahead of your opponent means youíll anticipate things that they havenít. Youíll be more aware of mistakes theyíve made and how the arguments you make position you to win in the long-term. Itís just like a game of chess; thinking many steps ahead of your opponent makes your debating a lot better.
Most judges will use speaker points to reward your strategic insights. If you went for a horrible argument but managed to win the debate, the judge will give you low speaks. If you lost a close debate but had an amazing strategy, the judge will reward you with high speaks.
You certainly want to be in debates where you end up with high speaks and youíve won. But wins arenít everything. Thatís true in general, but thatís especially true when you think about speaker points.
The only way to become a champion is to win like one. And winning like a champion starts with getting the highest points from your judges!