Traditional Japanese schoolmasters have an incredibly hands-off method of instruction. Students often find it frustrating. Penmanship class involves the student painstakingly copying their characters, presenting them to their schoolmaster, and receiving cryptic grunts of “It’s not right” until they discover what their instructor expects. Instructors choose this mysterious form of teaching in order to summon the attitude of hard-work, proficiency, and affinity for learning.
Traditional schoolmasters believe that breeding the right spirit will end in perfect results. Students with traditional instructors get inordinately frustrated, as would be expected. A vague standard of improvement isn’t enough to improve.
On the other hand, American teachers are sometimes so specific that they lose the student’s desire for learning.
The juxtaposition of these two teaching styles reveals their contrast. And yet it’s often how we handle improving ourselves. We either desperately seek to engender the right spirit, or apathetically strive to achieve arbitrary standards. Effectual debates are indeed born out of a constant hunger for sharpened skills. But we both know that rarely gets anything done. It’s a simple thing to say “I want to improve”, yet a far more complex matter to determine how.
If you’re stuck in the vortex of wanting to improve but not knowing where to start, don’t try to “understand everything” and then get started—instead, just get started! Pick one or two areas, and improve there. Your context for other areas will grow without you even trying. .
Here are five ways that you can enhance in your debating, and the results will be valuable.
Say less. Mean every word. Be blunt, succinct, and choose powerful language. Experiment with different tags for your arguments, using normalized terms. Your word choice should be specific to communicating clearly, and consociating warmly, with your audience.
Connect with Your Audience, Don’t Perform
Don’t perform for your audience. Connect with them. Share a bit of yourself; competition should never stunt you from humor or courtesy. Include your audience in your speeches, using “we” instead of “you”. Converse with them. Ditch your “debater voice” and be genuine, interesting, and appreciative of their presence. Relatable communication is never born out of rigid rhetoric.
It can be incredibly refreshing to bring a common-sense, real-world approach to the lecturn. Some debaters get entangled in the confines of debate theory, which they understand to be little more than tournament rules. In outrounds at Nationals 2015, my partner and I ran a topical counterplan. Our opponents responded by arguing that we were shirking our “job” as the Negative team and had stepped beyond our “ethical” parameters. Our response was to reject the entire theory.
We stood up and explained our belief that debate rounds shouldn’t come down to subjective theory, but to real-world-impact. It would have been absurd for us to say, “No, nothing needs to change, everything is fine, don’t worry.” Instead, we told the judges that we offered a better solution than the Affirmative team. In the real world, we choose the best option. Debate should be about finding the best option, and if we can’t talk about what’s best because “theory” restricts it, debate is useless. Some judges bought it; others did not.
We were knocked out after that round, but were exhilarated to have defied the arbitrariness of debate theory. We had finally communicated on a real-world, relatable level. When we looked back, we realized that we had denied some form of pointless debate theory every round at Nationals. And on cue, our speaker points were actually close to perfect, we won each ballot, and ended up 5-0 going into our last round. It was incredible to know that we hadn’t “mastered the tricks of the cult”, but had actually communicated. If you have to reject counterplan theory to sensibly present the truth, do it. Let common sense triumph over nonsense.
Get Well-Acquainted with Your Briefs
Know your briefs! We advocate making your own briefs. That way, you know exactly what you have, how it should be used, and you’re well-acquainted with the arguments in it. Sit down with your briefs before a tournament and read through them. Don’t just flip through; read. Refresh yourself on all the contents of each brief. If you know what’s in them, where to locate what you need, and a strategy for its use, your prep time can be used for other things. Knowing your briefs means you have to keep them reasonably-sized, have a detailed table of contents, and develop strategies before going into the round. Send your coach the table of contents and have them drill you by presenting an argument, and timing your hunt for counter-evidence.
Keep in mind! If you have knowledgeable experience with your briefs prior to a round, your prep time will be spent coming up with excellent intros, examples, word-choices, organizational structures, and powerful closers. The addition of these finishing touches is essential. Even at high-competition levels like Nationals, being able to take the time for them is what separates the good from the outstanding.
One thing you can do is employ figures of speech. Start with epistrophe, anaphora, antimetabole, asyndeton, and personification. Ethos coaches can help you develop these. You can also type up 30-second introductions and conclusions beforehand. Make them specific to each case, powerfully-worded, and end on an impactful sentence. And then let your breath hang on it. Maintain eye contact for two/three more seconds, and then sit down. Don’t say “I strongly urge an aff/neg ballot.” End with impact and power.
Don’t settle for a vague idea of improvement. Book a session with an Ethos coach to flourish.