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Dear insecure debater,

I grappled with your deep-seated uncertainty for much of my debate career. The brooding fear that, while you appear controlled and composed, in some pivotal moment, your abilities will dissipate and render you unable to form cogent thoughts, speak coherent sentences. Gnawing at you every time you speak or debate, the idea that you’re not articulate or capable.

Is this plaguing worry irrational? Probably. Insurmountable? Absolutely not.

Not to discount prayer or talking with my parents, but the way I believed that best enabled me to cope with my insecurity was practice, practice, practice. Drilling impromptu speeches until I felt assured that I could speak fluently and think critically under pressure. Here are several of the drills that I found incredibly beneficial and I hope aid you in conquering your own fears.


Impromptu Drills

  • Drill #1: Limited Selection. Instead of drawing the tournament-standard two impromptu topics, simply choose one and force yourself to expound upon it. If your opponent presents an argument in a debate round, you don’t have the opportunity to pick an alternate argument to refute. Besides, it conserves topics so you can practice more speeches. 🙂
  • Drill #2: Trifecta. Give three impromptu speeches back to back. The way I attempted to make this meaningful was by striving not to recycle examples. I learned rapidly how to generate new content and discovered that it contributed to a newfound ability to adapt to my opponent’s arguments in debate.


  • Drill #3: Reduced Prep Time. Try 1½ minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, or even 10 seconds (if you’re feeling adventurous). I found that this dramatically improved my prep time economy in debate, assisting me in speaking cogently yet with severe time constraints.

Of course, these drills could be merged to make it more challenging (and thus more educational ;)).


Impromptu + Debate Drills


  • Drill #4: Forced Responses. Find a debate round on YouTube. Flow the first speech and begin writing responses on your flow. Consistent practice will help you develop refutation on the fly.
  • Drill #5: One-on-One Speed Debate. This was a club exercise I found invaluable, and so much fun that my sister and I staged a couple rounds on our own. 🙂 After a resolution is announced, both debaters get one minute of prep, then affirmative speaks for one minute, negative for two, and affirmative receives a one-minute rebuttal.
  • Drill #6: Car Parli. I learned this one from Isaiah. Practice short parli rounds in the car with your family, flowing in your head. Usually my family doesn’t structure rounds, but instead picks a (controversial) discussion point and each of us presents various perspectives on it.

Again, I found that regular application of these drills mitigated my fears and fortified my own self-confidence. Speaking articulately ex tempore isn’t an unattainable goal, rather, it’s a skill you can forge by allocating about 10 minutes every day. I hope these help you overcome your own insecurities about speaking well.




**Credits: I did come up with many of these, but other coaches and debaters devised them independently as well.

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