most applicable to Public Forum and traditional LD debate
My dad hates watching gymnastics and figure skating during the Olympics because it bothers him that judges make the final call, and at times those calls can seem arbitrary or unfair. But as debaters we’ve had to accept that our judges ultimately hold our fate in their hands, and often have to change the way we debate in order to facilitate these judges. But there are so many different kinds of judges, it’s hard to keep track. So I’ve made you a list of the kinds of judges you’ll likely run into and how to deal.
The Confused but Kindly Parent: This poor specimen is only here as a favor to their student, or a student’s friend. They’re the ultimate novice, and usually have no idea what to expect. So make sure you don’t use jargon (debate-speak like “flow” and “cross-apply”). Other tips: be polite, because this judge is intimidated enough, be painstakingly organized, because this judge won’t have had flow experience, and speak slowly and confidently, because if you’re confident in your arguments, they will be, too.
The CX-er: This judge normally judges policy debate (or CX, as we called it in Colorado), and so they’ll probably start off the round looking extra bored. See, my experience with CX judges, and CX debaters in general, is that they believe their form of debate is the best kind there is. If it’s not spoken at fifteen miles per hour with 80 different sources from the past two weeks, it’s boring. But. This is not an excuse to speed talk. Your cases will not be geared for CX speed. But don’t be afraid to be a little more aggressive if the debate calls for it. CX judges aren’t as sensitive to it. Feel free to use as much jargon as you need, but make sure you can back up every assertion you make with legitimate sources.
Seasoned Veteran: This judge is usually a coach, an ex-coach, or someone who has judged for several years. Don’t BS with this judge. They will know. Again, feel free to use jargon, but don’t overdo it. Also, don’t try to charm them (which often works with the “Confused Parent”, see above), because they won’t fall for it.
Flow Judge- This judge makes decisions almost entirely based on their flow. So the biggest thing to remember is be organized, even more painstakingly organized than for the Confused Parent. When you make an argument, tell this judge exactly where you want it applied on the flow. Example: “My opponent’s 2nd contention is ____ and I have _____ to say about it.” Also, these judges are extra sensitive to dropped points, or points you miss/ignore. So make sure you have at least something to say about every main point your opponent has
Question-Flow Judge- Apply all tips from the Flow Judge, but add this: During crossfire, keep clarification questions to a minimum. This is your chance to directly confront your opponent, and this judge will be paying specific attention, so don’t waste this opportunity.
The Politician- This judge isn’t actually a politician. They’re the judges that have a very strong political leaning and tend to agree with whichever debater is most closely defending their point of view, regardless of who is making better arguments. So if you find yourself on the opposite of their beliefs, your case had better be rock solid. Spend most of your time attacking you opponent’s case, punching holes in every weak spot. Planting even the slightest inkling of doubt in this judge’s mind may make all the difference.
The Recently Graduated Former Competitor- You might even know this judge personally from previous years, but if not, don’t fret. Knowing what they competed in will be of the utmost importance. If they did PF, they’ll be most sensitive to legitimate sources and logical arguments. If they did LD, they’ll want a solid value/criterion pair. If they did CX, I’m so sorry. Just do your best. And if they did Interp events, they want something fun and exciting. So don’t be afraid to make dramatic statements (if you can back them up even a little), and don’t worry so much about being “professional”. Joke, smile, laugh, and be merry, but don’t forget you’re here to make a point.
The Expert- Often, coaches will know people who are experts in current debate topics and ask them to come judge. If they give oral critiques, their feedback can be priceless. But be very careful the assertions and links you make with the topic. Just like with the Seasoned Veteran, BS will not fly, so don’t even bother.
The Sulk- This judge might also fall under the “CX” judge category, but it might also just be a random community member or teacher that hasn’t seen any good debates so far and isn’t impressed with the turnout. So I only have three tips for you: use voice inflection to keep them from being lulled to sleep by your monotone, ask smart, direct questions during crossfire, and for God’s sake, don’t be stupid.
Other general tips for dealing with any judge:
- Talk distinctly and confidently, but don’t rush. You’ve got plenty of time.
- Ask your judge for their paradigms (what the judge looks for in the round)
- Be polite. I don’t care how frustrating your opponent is. Keeping your cool looks good to any judge. And smile, girls especially. When boys get aggressive, no one cares, but when girls do, we’re immediately labeled as a word that isn’t very nice. As my old coach always says, “kill them with kindness.”
- Even if the judge is a novice, don’t patronize them. They don’t have to know you’re dumbing it down for them.
- Don’t pull the “my honorable judge” crap. No adjectives. Just call them “judge”, or I will personally hunt you down.
- Don’t move around too much. No pen tapping or feet shuffling, and for goodness sake, don’t walk around to the front of the podium and approach the judge’s table during your speech. Also, don’t sit in front of the table for your final constructive. Leave your pompous habits outside.
- Don’t talk or make angry noises during your opponent’s speech. You get your own time to respond. It looks unprofessional, and what are you, five?
- Clarify time signals (or the lack thereof) before your first speech. I have been screwed over more times than I can count because I forgot this.
- Be organized. Otherwise, no one knows what’s going.
- Be tactful. My old PF partner lost us a round, at state no less, because of inadvertent racism. (Remind me to tell you that story sometime)
Bri Castellini is a college IPDA debater, blogger, and denizen of Twitter.