Tim O’Shea — Join Tim at this summer’s Millennial Speech & Debate Institutes!
In an environment as mixed and competitive as the Tournament of Champions, the path to high speaker points may encounter multiple obstacles in either the topic, the opponents, or the judges. When I received the Top Speaker award at the 2015 Tournament of Champions, taking five 30’s across seven rounds, I’d gone up against all levels of opponents from across the country, and judges that varied from first-time parents to 30-year coaches. Although absolute rules are dangerous to swear by, it’s my hope that these ten tips will put anyone closer to the speaks they want in Kentucky.
Thou shalt practice, practice and practice: Drills and practice speeches give you the double benefit of both becoming more comfortable on assembling sentences on the topic, improving fluency, and engraining the evidence you’re using into your memory, making it easier to use them when push comes to shove. If you want to truly invest time here, I recommend what I call ‘master speeches’, where you don’t set a timer and pretend you’re facing either a case with every argument in your block file, or a rebuttal with a nearly unlimited set of responses to frontline. The speeches then proceed to include almost every piece of evidence or analysis you have available, giving you practice with anything you might need to use. They’re tedious, but they help.
Thou shalt know thy judge before the round: A large amount of judges at the TOC put paradigms on tabroom.com, which means they lay out what type of debate they like. Once you’re assigned a judge, use this information to do practice speeches tailored to the style they specify. If you can find out more about a judge from their students or someone who’s been judged by them previously, make sure to ask about them, and ask important questions. Don’t just ask “how’s the judge”: ask what they focused on in their decision, how they visually reacted to different arguments, and which arguments seemed to resonate with them.
Thou shalt know thy judge in the round: Even if a judge’s paradigm is intricate and detailed, still make sure to ask them about their preferences in person before their round. They’ll include some points of their paradigm and leave out others, which will tell you which parts they truly care about. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about jargon, speed, roadmaps, or acceptance of certain types of arguments. As long as you phrase the question respectfully, no judge will be upset that you asked, and the advantages that type of information can offer you is immense when it comes to tailoring your speaking to what your judge wants.
Thou shalt have soundbytes ready at the hip: One of the traps of the TOC is that, with judges who are able to understand more complex arguments, contentions become messy and overcomplicated. Not only should you be able to explain your entire argument in a sentence for sake of clarity for confused judges, but you should have specific phrases that you repeat over and over again. For example, in every speech mention that “infrastructure is the only way the poor can diffuse to opportunity”, or “welfare is the internal link to all of aff’s arguments”. These focal points are easy to build speeches around and resonate better with judges.
Thou shalt plan until thou cannot plan any more: The number one reason why, in later speeches, people don’t speak fluently or clearly is because they’re rushed, unsure what to say or how to say it, or are making strategic decision on the fly. Plan out your summaries and final focuses down to the individual pieces of evidence that absolutely have to be in each speech. If you know which arguments from your own case you want to go for ahead of time, plan out time allocation to the second if possible, and make sure you know the reasons the judge will be voting for you before the round ever starts. This includes planning which responses and frontlines you’ll probably be reading. If you plan enough, you’ll essentially be re-giving a practice speech, which is sure to be easier and more fluid.