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In the short time since I graduated, as well as my several years in the league, I developed many pet peeves in debate rounds. Some of these included people making super dramatic faces at the table or using those timers that beep for every second of prep you add. But as a judge and a competitor, there is nothing more annoying than hearing someone start their speech off with, “In this speech, I just want to go down the flow and address my opponent’s arguments…” Now this may come as a shock, as this is a popular habit in pretty much every debate round, but it’s wasting the valuable first impression that you have the chance to make. 

The first sentences of your speech are the first thing that the judge hears from you, and wasting that time telling them what they already know that you’re going to do wastes valuable time. Instead, providing them with some kind of story, quote, or intriguing thought serves as a much better use of your time, for 3 key reasons: 

1 – It makes you look more prepared

If you just say you are going to rebut your opponent’s case, the judge knows that you just came up with that off the top of your head. But, if you are able to share some quote or story and connect it to the resolution, it shows the judge that you put effort into the first words they would hear, setting you apart from a lot of your future opponents.

2 – It makes you look more knowledgeable

When you are able to connect an abstract quote or a personal anecdote to a complicated philosophical or factual concept, it shows the judge that you have a thorough understanding of the topic you are discussing because you are able to connect two ideas that, seemingly, have nothing in common with each other.

3 – It is less boring. Just think about it: the judge already knows that you are going to be addressing your opponent’s arguments; that is a basic idea of debate, so all that you are doing is telling them something they already know. It wastes your time and theirs, and it also gives them a poor first impression. 

Now, I know you may be thinking something along the lines of, “That takes extra time out of my rebuttal!” or “That’s too much extra work.” First off, no it does not; a good hook can be as short as 15-30 seconds, leaving you plenty of time to address all of their arguments (yes, even in the 2AR). As to the second, it takes very little work to brainstorm a couple of stories that might relate, and if you feel like it is taking too long, use that super cool electronic device that you’re reading this on to look up a few stories or quotes that relate to the resolution. 

I know it might not sound like an introduction is that important, but I cannot even count how many ballots I have gotten that have commented on their appreciation of my introductions, or the smiles I’ve gotten from judges listening to a funny story I thought of during prep. Especially as a judge, first impressions are incredibly important, maybe more important than they should be. They can affect how the judge weighs your arguments, and I’ve even seen it affect how they vote as well. Overall, it makes a far better first impression to be prepared with a clever insight instead of being redundant. 

Hannah Cavanaugh competed in the NCFCA for 6 years. She is currently studying Law and National Security at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. If you want to book coaching with Hannah, Click here.

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