Nov 1, 2010

how to earn more speaker points: from the LD mailbag

Recently, a reader wrote:
Dear Jim,

I am a novice in LD but I have attended a debate camp over the previous summer and competed in my first tournament last Saturday. I went 4-0 but only placed 3rd in the novice division due to speaker points. Unfortunately, many of the tournaments we have around here do not have elimination rounds. I was wondering how I could possibly increase my speaker points. Maybe you could give me a top 10 things to do or something similar. The debate camp I went to was more focused on JV and V levels and thus were focused on argumentation and higher level debate skills, many of which I picked up quickly. I really enjoy your blog and it has helped me.

Thanks in advance,
Ten seems like a good number. Here are a few things you can do to increase your speaker points. (Have other ideas? Suggest 'em in the comments.)

1. Work on your prose.
Write your cases so they're elegant, not just functional. Learn some rhetorical devices and employ them (judiciously, of course). I particularly like anaphora and epistrophe, especially when allied with asyndeton and polysyndeton. Your case, at least on the Affirmative, is your first chance to shine. Don't waste it.

2. Work on your prosody.
The best speech is like music, with discernible rhythm and melody. Bust out of monotone, slow down a little, and emphasize the words that really count.

3. Introduce and conclude.
I know it's the fashion for some debaters to skip the "fluff" because, in their view, it wastes precious time, time that could be spent warranting or analyzing the resolution or dropping a second underview (yeah, I've seen it). However, don't underestimate the power of a snappy quote, or, heaven forfend, a poignant anecdote.

4. Be charming.
Simple things: eye contact, a smile. Don't ask your judge, "What's your paradigm?" Instead, ask what school they're from, or "What do you look for in a round?" or "Anything we should know before the round starts?" Sound like a human being, not Debate Robot 3000.

5. Be forceful, but not irritable.
Don't sound, or look, like a jerk.

6. Be gracious in defeat--and moreso in victory.
Say "Good round" when it was. On the other hand, don't say "Good round" if you thoroughly trashed your opponent. You will sound insincere and condescending. Thank the judge for judging instead, and don't speak unless your opponent wants to talk with you.

7. Have an organized approach.
Have a roadmap: "First I'll address my opponent's points, then rebuild my own." Line-by-line is safe for starters.

8. Be witty.
Pepper your thoughts with pithy quotes by folks like Mark Twain or Mae West. If you're good at telling jokes, use one as an analogy. (If you're not good at telling jokes, please, don't.)

9. Don't suck up to the judge.
Seriously. Don't compliment them (it'll ring hollow). Don't shake hands (it's awkward for some of us, and it spreads disease). Don't over-apologize for being late (it happens to everyone; it's usually extemp's fault).

10. Videotape yourself, and learn from the experience.
You'll be glad you did.


Anonymous said...


Could you provide some cross-ex help for this month's res? I'm hitting a brick wall - any way you could provide me with an example or two or a good jumping off point?

Jim Anderson said...

Working on it, thanks not only to yours, but a previous suggestion. I should have it up sometime tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim, I think some of your points are spot on, however the majority of them only apply to more "traditional" styles of debate. I especially think your 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th points are especially relevant for circuit debate - the others, not so much.

Anyway, in more competitive circuit debate points are given out based on (for the most part) how strategic you were, though persuasion plays a major role. If you do something especially awesome or risky, you get bonus points. For example, if your opponent has a very weak neg case and you are affirming, you could easily sever your AC in the 1AR and go for turns on it with the 4 minutes you have. This is a devastating strategy, but it also carries a lot of risk. As such, when it works it is heavily rewarded.

Though that's not to exclude persuasion, but I don't think following much of your tips that focus on prose will help with that. Persuasion is all about constructing a clear, organized story on why you should win the round, and perhaps why your opponent is losing. Further, judges may not like to admit it but they prefer arguments that make sense vs. arguments that don't or lead to morally repugnant conclusions. Well warranted arguments are a huge plus in evaluating rounds. Persuasion really helps in theory too, as for many judges who don't buy the competing interpretations model they will only pull the trigger on theory if abuse passes a certain level.

Anyway, just my two cents. Any comments?

Jim Anderson said...

Points that definitely complement the ones I'm making (which do come from a traditional perspective, but also were aimed at a novice who already had already taken the lectures on argumentation).

I especially like the point about risk-taking. Debate should be fun.