Last changed on
Sat October 22, 2022 at 9:59 AM MDT
I am a practicing attorney who occasionally moonlights as a debate judge. Over the past 30 years I have watched competitive debate deteriorate from a program of teaching students effective communication to a program contrived to win rounds by any strategy, including so-called "progressive" tactics that are designed to confuse and overwhelm opponents with tangential and obscure minutia rather than inform and persuade judges with impactful, well-reasoned argumentation.
This is ironic because in real life, in a real courtroom, I will only win a trial if I win the hearts and minds of the jury---presenting artfully crafted arguments that accentuate my personal ethos, while balancing appropriate appeals to logic and passion. If I tried to "spew" or "spread" my arguments to a jury, I would lose the case. If I tried it in front of a judge, I would get kicked out of the courtroom! If I tried to win every case by overwhelming the judge, jury and counsel with every "card" I ever stumbled upon (even remotely related to the case), I would lose all my cases and my clients with them.
The same goes for nearly every other professional communicator. No teacher would teach that way. No news broadcaster would report that way. As far as I can tell, the only job opportunity available to a "progressively" trained debater is to deliver the annoying legal disclaimers at the end of radio commercials.
I realize that my views are hopelessly outdated. No one reading this paradigm statement will ever select me as "1" on a judge preference sheet. Nevertheless, if you have the bad luck of getting me in a round anyway, here are some tips on how to get my vote:
(1) Speak at a normal, conversational rate;
(2) Look me in the eye;
(3) Begin with a clear, real-life illustration of how the Affirmative or Negative case effects real people;
(4) Make me laugh;
(5) Make me cry;
(6) Make me care;
(7) Help me understand what the resolution means;
(8) Help me understand why your ideas are right;
(9) Help me understand why your opponent is wrong; and,
(10) Organize your ideas in a way that makes sense.
I realize that this rhetorical model is profoundly outdated (it is in fact about 2,500 years old). Nevertheless, in the spirit of learning something useful (rather than simply winning another piece of shiny plastic today for speed-reading), please give these ideas a try!
Many Debaters [and coaches] consider speech events to be "throw-away" events---something to do when debaters are not in a "real" debate round. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Speech events teach students about the power of pathos---of making human connections. They provide a wonderful balance to the logos-heavy debate events. To capture my vote [or the vote of most ordinary human beings], a student must be prepared to do the following:
(1) Begin with a clear, real-life illustration of how your topic effects real people;
(2) Make me laugh;
(3) Make me cry;
(4) Make me care;
(5) Help me understand what you mean;
(6) Help me understand why your ideas are right;
(7) Help me understand why any competing viewpoint is wrong [or "misinformed"]; and,
(8) Organize your ideas in a way that makes sense.
Don't be intimidated by all of this this [if you happen to be a hard-core, card-flipping, evidence-stacking debater]. Instead, embrace the opportunity to learn a new [and equally real] way of communicating in a way that focuses on building human connections [rather than squabbling over obscure, marginally-relevant minutia].