Every debate team wants to see the check mark under their names on the debate ballot. Winning is important. Winning is the best. There is nothing wrong with winning. But one of the worst feelings is when you see “LPW” scribbled on the side of a ballot: Low Point Win.

Yes, your arguments were fantastic. Yes, your reasoning was impeccable. No, the opposing team could not adequately refute your analysis. But the opposing team out spoke you…whether by a ‘mile’ or just a few feet, it doesn’t matter.

How do you ensure that every victory on the ballot is a victory in the speaker point realm as well? How do you ensure that if you lose the ballot, you still win higher speaker points? How do you get that illusive “30”?

Here are five steps:

1) Awesome tags. Like this one. Most debaters I watch who are average speakers are just kind of starting points with long sentences more like this one. When I’m coaching in club, I often pause the speaker and poll the room for what they tagged the latest argument. Great debaters think through these tags (we call them bumper stickers, because tag has a completely different meaning in evidence briefs) and make sure the exact same words end up on everyone’s flows. More imagery = more points.

2) Keep numbering straight. It’s super challenging to follow someone who switches back and forth between As and Bs and 1s, 2s, and 3s.

3) Don’t forget the basics! Eye contact, 3-second rule, confident poise, and so on. Debate is still an oratorical event, not a list of arguments. The top violation I see time and again is starting a speech with “I’m the 2AC, so I’m going to go down and refute the arguments presented” and ending it with “for all these reasons, please vote AFF.” That’s not a HOOK or even an intro or at LEAST a thesis (e.g. “Procurement Task Force is what we need” is even a better start than that). “For all these reasons” is an anti-conclusion. If you knew what your reasons were, you’d say them and be persuasive. Pick your best reason, and don’t be so crass as to say “vote X” as much as “decide X”.

Example: “Because the Procurement Task Force was overzealous in a land of bureaucrats, stick with the oversight agency we’ve already got.”

4) Understand the debate. This one doesn’t happen overnight, but you can’t do it without awesome flowing skills. You need to be able to see the big picture AND identify the crux and use language and arguments that demonstrate this. Continuing your irrelevant fifth justification when it’s about funding and your first three are about human rights, child soldiers, and nuclear proliferation simply demonstrates that you don’t understand the big picture.

5) Own your platform. While you’re speaker, you are the stage. Walk around a bit, make some meta-commentary, crack a smile, say “I see some confused faces – let me try that again!”, don’t just mindlessly execute what you prepared. Adapt adapt adapt. Random sidenote: this is why script submission for platform speeches is such a silly idea—the best speakers in the world adapt on the spot.

You may object: “But I’m out of time!” Then you haven’t yet learned much about communication, which is that getting the most out there as fast as possible is NOT communicating. Communication is about listening, finding what’s important, and communicating it so others see the essence. Make time for intros, conclusions, and clear tags.

I’d propose that items 1-3 on this list so far are some of the most important uses of prep time. If you want to get that “30” you need to put in the work in the areas that need it. Follow these steps, and what yourself improve dramatically!

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