Iowa Forensic League State Tournament
2023 — Indianola, IA/US
Congress Paradigm ListAll Paradigms: Show Hide
About me: I generally judge Congress, speech, and sometimes PF. In high school, I primarily did extemp (mostly international) and congress at the local, state, and national level.
In college/graduate school I studied political science and philosophy and I currently work in editing/journalism. When they come up, I can handle more theoretical/philosophical arguments, especially if they're more in the domain of political theory or IR theory. That being said I do like debating the intricacies of policy as well. This paradigm is generally tailored to Congress (which I judge most of the time) but much of it can be applied to extemp and PF.
Things I like:
- Clash is great. Call people out! Don't be afraid to get a bit aggressive especially if someone tries to pull a stunt but don't veer over into sheer meanness. Direct refutation is especially preferred, particularly if you can point out how someone misread an article by telling me what it actually says.
- Sources sources sources. Especially interesting or underutilized sources like think tanks that aren't Brookings, AEI, CFR, etc. Or interesting news sites like The Intercept or foreign news like Rudaw. Or interesting journals. One time someone cited the American Journal of Potato Research in a round and I almost died from happiness. Doing some digging for something off the beaten path a) shows you care enough to do deep research and b) leads into my next point...
- ...interesting and unique points! Don't let debate get repetitious and show me some interesting and unique ways that a bill may affect something that is unexpected. An example: did you know that investing in infrastructure in Afghanistan like highways or public transit may actually let rural terrorism become more mobile and nationwide in urban areas? Or that Tibetan freedom activists are trying to improve their cybersecurity efforts to remove an epidemic of Chinese malware? Stuff like that is great.
- Extemporaneity is also really good. I hate canned speeches because they really reduce the possibilities of debate and the ability to directly refute arguments. And it allows you to be a more dynamic and engaging speaker. I prefer when people speak with notes in Congress and PF -- it's more natural than a memorized speech.
- Impacts!!!! Lots of Congress I have seen lacks direct impacts and linking sources/arguments to them. Tell me why something matters as well as how it matters. Ultimately this is a DEBATE event, and you should reflect that in your rhetoric.
- Enunciation. Don't slur your words together. I understand speaking fast but you can do that without letting speech get mushy. Be crisp.
- POs: I love when POs have personalities even if they are kind of supposed to fade into the background. Make some puns and some observations! This goes for everyone else. I love a good joke or witty statement.
- Pronouns: This should definitely be a norm in speech and debate at this point. If you're in congress, give them while you're walking up to speak. If in PF/speech, give them to me/the team before round. I.e. "That's Representative Maxwell Fenton, school code JD. I use he/him/his pronouns."
Things I don't like:
- Don't be racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, classist etc. etc. Particularly avoid using slurs. If you get really offensive or get into a direct personal attack on someone I have no hesitation about ranking you the lowest possible score and if I know you, informing your coach of what you said.
- I hate when people judge or mention clothing on ballots and I won't dock you for not wearing a suit or whatever. I think people that do judge based on this are fundamentally classist (and maybe worse). That being said you should tuck in your shirt.
- If someone doesn't want to speak whatsoever don't push them to do it. They made the choice to show up and hang out for three hours while everyone else participated. Don't edit the docket because of this.
- Don't speak from your computer. Use a legal pad or notebook. It's super unwieldy and I'm always afraid someone will drop one.
- "Legislation" is a mass noun. There's no such thing as "a legislation," but there are such things as "pieces of legislation." Same with the word "economist" -- it's pronounced ee-KON-oh-mist, not the dreaded "eh-kon-OMM-ist." I have other word pet peeves like this but these are the big two I've seen in Congress/debate more generally.
- "Basic economics" is not evidence. Neither is "logic." Both of those things require sources and people disagree what they mean and how they matter.
- Repetition. One time I saw a Congress round where 10 people from the same school gave the same canned speeches on the No Child Left Behind Act with the same points, same sources, and same text. You will be ranked down if you rehash the same points over and over and over and over. See above for my love of interesting arguments and sources.
- Don't just sit there, particularly if you're in Congress. You're here for three hours. Give a speech or at least ask some questions.
- Disorganization. Give me a roadmap and an intro, and do the "walk" to split up your points visually as well as rhetorically.
- For intros, don't just say the subject and then move into the speech: i.e. "The national debt. I don't like it because...."
- If you're texting or Facebook messaging in round there's no way you're getting a decent rank. If you're using your phone to access sources because of a broken computer or something please tell me beforehand.
- "Are you aware...?" questions are loaded and stupid and demeans the intelligence of the speaker. Don't ask them. Same with questions that are essentially extended comments -- your statement should easily end in a question mark.
If you have any questions, just ask me when you get to round!
Last updated April 2023.
I mainly judge congressional debate and speaking events. I'll include information for how I evaluate PO's and speeches in different sections.
1. For Everyone Speeches should be well organized. By this I mean the listener should be able to clearly delineate between your points, introduction, and conclusion. If the delineation between these things is unclear to me, the listener, your speech isn't organized enough.
2. For Everyone Your speech, when appropriate, should be well supported by reliable and relevant sources. If you can't find research or credible analysis to back up a point that doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't make it but your speech shouldn't be entirely filled with this type of argument. Additionally, I would caution you to avoid simply making an appeal to authority in your speech make sure the source of your information is properly credentialed before making a claim
3.For Everyone I prefer an extemporaneous delivery. Computers/notepads should be used as a reference rather than as a script. I also prefer a more polished delivery in which eye contact is more frequently maintained and a students movement is controlled so that it enhances the speech rather than distracts the listener. I can handle faster speech speeds but to a reasonable limit. I need people to speak at a reasonable volume. I need to be able to hear you but yelling is also inappropriate
4. In congress Your speech should be bringing up new information. If your points have already been made in round than don't waste everyone's time by repeating them. Secondly, While I understand that crystalization speeches are popular in the congressional "meta" they have to be well done and actually work to clearly delineate why one sides arguments are preferable to the other sides arguments. If all you have done is summarize the arguments the other speakers have made in round you have wasted everyone's time.
5.In Congress this is congressional debate not congressional speech. While I can understand a lack of clash in the authorship speech I believe that all other speeches in a cycle of debate should make a clear attempt at refuting the specific arguments that other speakers have made in round. Bonus points if you can set up these arguments using a questioning block to draw attention to the flaws in your opponents logic.
6.In Congress If you are speaking in the negation please don't center your argument around a problem that can be amended away. Write an amendment. If your problem with a bill is that it appropriates 20 million dollars instead of the 25 million that it should have fix that problem with an amendment.
7. In Congress While the PO is responsible for running a smooth and equitable chamber it is not only the responsibility of the PO. debaters that have a clear understanding of the rules and don't disrupt the chamber by making incorrect motions or violate chamber rules will be more highly ranked.
8. For Debate Events While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in debate I recognize that I am not a competitor thus it is not my responsibility to counter problematic arguments in round. If a competitor says something factually incorrect or logically incoherent my belief is that it is the responsibility of the other debaters to actually call you out on it. If the chamber doesn't expose these problems during questioning, cross fire, or cross examination than I don't feel It is my responsibility to weigh it.
9.For Presiding Officers in Congress I care that you run a smooth and equitable chamber. Make sure you are properly following rules for recency and presedence. Additionally, where rules/procedural issues arise I expect you to be able to handle them without relying on the parli. I will say that I typically have a hard time ranking PO's at the top of the chamber unless the quality of debate is exceedingly low or the PO is exceptionally proficient. However I will usually rank the PO in the top 5 if there are no serious errors in the way they conduct their chamber.
10.For Debate Events I realize that this is debate and not speech and so I don't decide debate rounds on speaking skills but rather the argumentation. That being said an argument rendered incomprehensible because of the rate of a persons speaking is the same as an argument not made on my ballot. I will not dig through a typed document to figure out what you are trying to say. Your job is to communicate your arguments to me. My job is to decide who wins a round. My job isn't to try and figure out what you are saying.
- I don't care about how you are dressed. Though understand that other judges may care about that kind of thing.
- I'm not typically a fan of silly arguments with the exception of the final speech in a round of congress but make sure everyone knows you are having fun.
- Please make sure your judges are ready before stampeding into a speech. I want to make sure that I've found the appropriate place on my ballot to provide you adequate feedback.
"I believe judging debates is a privilege, not a paycheck." My promise to you as a judge is always giving you 100% of my attention and rendering decisions that I honestly believe in and can defend/justify. Additionally, I am always happy to provide additional feedback if desired (feel free to email me). Speech and debate is awesome, please stick with it if you’re reading this especially if you’re in Iowa. I'm committed to making speech and debate a safe and welcome space for everyone.
Also, I'm on the 2024-2025 NSDA Public Forum Topic Selection and Wording Committee. Send me ideas!
Public Forum paradigm
[NATIONAL CIRCUIT ONLY — local competitors just do your best, your coach should’ve taught you how to win PF at a fundamental level, I give really extensive and constructive feedback]
Add me to the email chain (firstname.lastname@example.org). In national circuit varsity/bid PF rounds, send speech docs with cut cards ahead of (1) case & (2) all speeches where you read new evidence. (i.e. not a link to a google doc, not just the rhetoric, etc.) This is non-negotiable. (1) It makes the debate and by extension the tournament run on time and (2) it allows me to be as non-interventionist as possible.
I used to have a really long paradigm (it's still too long probably) with a diatribe about how I generally don't like theory or Ks in PF. At this point I'll vote on any and everything -- BUT I would still much, much prefer a topical substance debate (even if it gets really techy or framework-y or evidence comparison-y) over anything that attempts to modify the role of my ballot. Again, I'll still vote on those things, I think judge interference is really bad and I won't intervene if you win the round with whatever strategy you use -- I just won't have as much fun as a judge. If you think there's been a violation (disclosure, paraphrasing, misgendering, etc.) run a shell. I'm probably familiar with your K if it's "stock" (cap, setcol, security, pess, etc.) -- if not, just be clear about what exactly you're trying to accomplish and why it's better than the resolution. If you have questions, please ask (preferably with both teams present), I want debate to be fun and educational.
I’m a tech/blank-slate judge, I flow on my computer using Flower. Best way to win the round is to do the work for me, judge instruction in final focus is key
Be kind and respectful, I will never change a ballot on this but I will lower speaks especially when it comes to experience/age/resource imbalances.
Extend everything you’re going for through every speech except 1st rebuttal
I vote on offense/defense, that includes framework and specific weighing mechanisms
Speed is fine
I always disclose my decision alongside some feedback. Feel free to ask questions afterwards
Personal things that I care about but probably don't explicitly apply to the round where I'm judging you (this is a pretty self-indulgent section so only read if you think I provide useful insight into the activity):
You should always presume the other team, the judges, and the audience are acting in good faith. Any accusations or even implications towards someone cheating or otherwise breaking the rules should be "stake-the-round" moments -- that is, you better be willing to take a min speaks L if it's unfounded.
One of the single dumbest things I see in competitive debate is this trend of "I'll give u 0.5 speaks if u reference The Office" or "+1 speaks for bringing me a coffee!" It's pathetically and brazenly anti-educational and borderline exploitative (of children!), not to mention it'd be so stupid for someone to get like a 4-2 screw because another team mentioned a dumb meme in their speech. I presume good intentions from people in this community but I am quite skeptical of those who do this.
Speaking of judges, I have zero patience for people who use their ballot/RFD to bully and demean. Congratulations, you're a college-educated adult and you found flaws in a 14-year-old's argumentation. If I'm on a panel or spectating a round where a judge's RFD is moving into bullying territory, I have no qualms cutting them off and reporting them to tab.
And finally with regards to judging -- I allude to this above, but I see far too many debates, especially here in Iowa, where the extent of judges' RFDs is "I didn't like your case" regardless of the actual content of the round. That makes me sad, as it invalidates dozens of hours of preparation and strategy-building between competitors and their coaches. It breaks my heart when I see a well-prepared team lose because the judge just "didn't buy it." I only vote on what is communicated to me within the debate. I do not care how unlikely it seems or how incoherent the link is.... if it's that obvious, the opposition should point it out, not rely on me to intervene and make that evaluation on my own.
Debate as an activity is incredible. Obviously I'm biased but I genuinely think it's the single best thing high schoolers can do with their time. If you're reading this you're probably a nerd or a competition freak (or both) but you also should be proud that you are involved in this thing we do. It makes kids smarter, more confident, better at speaking, better citizens, more critical of the world and its power structures while also more open to alternative ways of thinking.... and it's exhilarating and fun! If I could just coach debate all day I'd take that job in a heartbeat. I often find myself getting emotional when judging high-level debate rounds because of the talent, passion, prep, and dedication in front of me, and I swell with pride when my debaters develop new skills and deploy them.
Feel like quitting debate because you don't think you're any good? DON'T! My first ever tournament I went 1-4 at the Des Moines Lincoln Railsplitter. Even worse, we started 0-4 and were power-matched against the only other 0-4 team at that point -- we only won because our opponents forgot what side of the topic they had chosen. I promise, it gets better. I have a team that went 1-5 and 0-5 at their first two bid tournaments in '22-23 who just picked up a PF Gold bid at Blake '23. Keep at it and you will blossom.
If you want a deeper explanation on why I think substance/topical debate > critical or progressive debate, it comes down to two reasons: the structure of the activity, and the value of the resolution. While there are of course teams who have run Ks, for example, to great success in PF, even at their best, they come across as "policy for dummies." The reason they're so effective in policy/LD is because they are legitimately critical of established ways of thinking/avenues of argumentation and as such they require that extra time AND speed to fully elaborate. Afro-futurism, for example, is unbelievably complex, with dozens of scholars each reaching their own interpretation of what that could possibly mean. Four minutes is simply not enough time at normal PF natcirc speed to upend thought paradigms, and it's definitely not enough time to refute those attempts while also extending your own argumentation. On theory, I think open source disclosure with full round reports and no paraphrasing are excellent norms, but I'm also like "well, it'll sort itself out over time and they will become the norm" -- rather than the in-round norm-setting model of theoretical debate. And finally, I simply think that it's good that there's an event where 95%+ of rounds are about a resolution plan text that was negotiated in advance and requires no burden of rejoinder or anything like that. That allows students to focus their prep and fosters a fair game (although fairness is a link, not an impact, haha). But I have to reiterate: run what you want, I will not intervene, even if after the round I end up telling you "this wasn't fleshed out well." I refuse to be that judge who stresses kids out because they don't know what to do in front of him.
Long story short, Just win baby~!
Lincoln-Douglas / Policy
I have begun to coach LD. I will wear my debater's Hoover Husky Howler Novice LD tournament champion ribbon with pride for all eternity.
Overriding judge philosophy is blank slate/no judge intervention. Debate's a game, do what you have to do to win.
I have a strange relationship to these events as up until this year my exposure to them has pretty much exclusively been through LD circuit rounds on YouTube / college CEDA policy / scraping the wiki for your best topicality shells. Long story short, in all events, I want to judge the highest-level debates possible, so whatever your national circuit meta is, debate like that. Even after judging NLD for a few tournaments I still don't really know what a value premise or criterion is (it mostly just seems like unjustified assertions about how to frame rounds? Like in PF people usually card their FWs but whatever, maybe it's just who I'm judging) but I do know LARP/plans/K/K affs/theory/T/FW debate etc. Not confident in evaluating performance or academic philosophy, this would probably require lots of warranting, but if that's your lane, don't feel the need to adjust to me. Fine with speed (send docs obviously). I will default to voting on offense extended through the round, but judge instruction can convince me to vote on (almost) anything. Ask me questions ahead of time if you're unsure about anything.
Novices: Do your best! Debate like your coaches taught you to, and use your instincts. (:
If you're in Iowa and you do the literal bare minimum (speak as much as you can, provide sources for your arguments, REFUTE OTHER SPEECHES, ask questions), you're practically guaranteed to finish in the top half of my ballot. Seriously, why are so many of y'all just seemingly along for the ride!
Smaller things: Crystallization speeches are lazy unless it's like the 7th speech of a bill and there has been actual clash the entire way down (make actual arguments instead!), being charismatic/entertaining is a good tiebreaker but doesn't replace a well-argued speech, good POs are hard to beat and bad POs make debate no fun (unless literally nobody else was willing to do it -- then I'll reward you on the ballot), treating bills as having real-life implications around the world >>> LARPing as US legislators
Director of Forensics of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA, former coach for Ames (IA)
I debated PF in high school in rural Iowa and had no exposure to national circuit BUT since then have coached multiple partnerships to TOC and state champions. I also coach Lincoln-Douglas, Congress and Speech and have national qualifiers in each
Favorite debate event is Public Forum and my favorite speech events are Extemp and Oratory
Coaching forensics and attending tournaments are among my favorite things in life~ I feel so lucky to be able to do this a couple dozen weekends every year.
PF - I have been judging PF for around 7 years now. I am a judge that listens for Impacts on why your Impacts outweigh others. I am not a huge fan of speed. I am more concerned with the content of the speech rather than the amount of information given. I do understand the PF jargon. It is up to you to persuade me to vote for your side. I am not a huge fan of using FW and definitions as a weighing mechanism but will consider it if the other arguments are well balanced. Make sure to clearly state your Impacts and how these impacts link to the resolution.
Congress - I am looking for you to know the Robert's Rules of Order as well as seeing you participating in the debate by asking questions. In terms of your speech, I would like to hear a clear structure for your speeches. I want to hear the impacts of your points and I want you to be very familiar with your speeches as well. Make sure to bring up new arguments when a bill has been debated for awhile. If you speak later in the session, I want to hear clash with other representatives/senators. I also want to hear new information if you are representing the same point as someone who has spoken previously. I also track recency so I will note if a PO may miss a recency order. Make sure to maintain your professionalism during cross and during your speech. I will knock down a speaker if I feel they are being too aggressive during their speech or their cross.
LD - I do not have much experience judging LD currently. Please focus on argumentation and impacts rather than the jargon that goes along with LD. Tricks, theory, etc. will not work with me. Also, speed is discouraged during your speeches. Please make sure I can follow your supporting evidence and arguments. I am familiar with PF and judging PF.