You hear it at every tournament: “I only lost because it was a bad judge!” I hate to break it to you, but this is just an excuse. No one wants to admit that they didn’t do a good enough job appealing to the judge because no one wants to admit that they approached a round wrong. But I’m here to tell you that there is almost no such thing as a “bad judge.”
Don’t get me wrong, the judge that picks who won the round based on the color of the competitors’ ties…bad judge. The one that picks the winner based on the side that the competitors debate because of personal bias…bad judge. The judge that picks the winner because they didn’t think you did a good enough job of making your point is not a bad judge. The event of Public Forum was designed to be watched by anyone, not just experienced or trained judges. Most debaters LOVE the judges that walk in the room and say “I debated in high school and I’ve been judging for five years. Speak as fast as you want, I can flow if you spread” but these aren’t the judges that you need to appeal to. The majority of judges are lay (not experienced in weighing arguments based on the flow) and most of these are “mommy judges,” parents of debaters who were forced to go to the tournament by their children. THESE are the judges that you have to learn to appeal to.
If you watched the debates between President Obama and Governor Romney, you probably noticed a few things about their debate style. They are both really good at avoiding the actual answer to the question (but let’s ignore that for now). Did they talk fast? No. Did they blast through their opponents constructive argument by laying on responses? No. They both spoke extremely slowly, allowing the judges (the American people) to take in what they were saying. They spoke in layman’s terms, which is where the term “lay” comes from, and debated while not sounding as if they were debating. You may have thought “well this isn’t debate,” but I assure you that it is. The job of those candidates was to appeal to the most people and they did this by speaking in a very specific style. It didn’t matter that Obama didn’t have a response to a lot of Romney’s claims, it only mattered that he spoke in a way that persuaded the audience that he was right. Let’s say an opponent claims that the sky is blue. Obviously this is a fact, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot respond to it. If you are persuasive enough and speak with the right style, you can convince your judge that the sky is green. And this is exactly what candidates are extremely good at.
So how do you win rounds? If your judge is one of those that “knows how to judge” aka a flow judge, then debate by the flow, show your judge that your opponents are wrong. If you’re being judged by 90% of judges, though, you shouldn’t debate in the same way. These judges aren’t going to value things like “I have 15 complex and heavily warranted responses as to why their impacts don’t apply to the resolution.” They’re going to value you speaking slowly, calmly, and persuasively. Tell them “I am winning this debate round and here’s why you should vote for me.” If you speak persuasively, it won’t matter if the sky is blue or green, the judge will vote for you either way. The people that vote your way for this reason aren’t “bad judges”…they’re the group that this event was meant to appeal to: humans.
So hopefully you now understand why debating isn’t just about appealing to the flow judges. You need to learn how to appeal to lay judges as well. If you can do this, these “bad judges” will become your favorites.