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Have you ever wondered what is the most optimal way to communicate with someone? Coming from the world of debate, one would expect that it is a carefully crafted series of arguments that have been built with bulletproof responses. Although this was my personal opinion for years, I recently took a class for the Communication aspect of my major that changed my mind. If you have a second, I’d like to share with you a brief overview of what I learned… 

The focus of the class was on Communication theories – a field of study that is question-based and seeks to understand why people communicate the way that they do. In one of the classes, my professor introduced a theory called the Narrative Paradigm. This theory, proposed by Walter Fisher, sought to undo the belief that the fundamental level of human engagement with the world is through organized logic and reasoning. Instead, Walter Fisher wrote that humans actually engage with the world through stories. 

In his book titled Human Communication as Narration, Fisher elaborates this idea as he explains that all humans orient their worldview around a fundamental need of finding a story to be a part of. Within this, their conversations and engagements with the world around them are greatly defined by this need. Additionally, Fisher proposes that the first thing that humans latch onto when engaging with other people is the stories that they use. 

As someone who also enjoys debate, when I first came to accept this theory, I immediately began asking myself, “how could I apply this to debate?”. Well, at first this theory seemed more of a fascinating idea to entertain than an actual strategy that people could use in debate. However, with more thought, I started to see a simple, yet clear question emerge to help debaters. 

“What story am I trying to convince my judge of?” 

If Walter Fisher’s paradigm is true – and I, for one, believe that it is – this is a question we all should be asking ourselves. As you continue to prepare for the debate season in the spring, don’t just focus your time on creating a perfectly logical debate case. First, because that is impossible. And second because that is not actually what your judge is ultimately looking for. Instead, focus your effort on crafting a logical debate case from the basis of a convincing story. Yes, pursue logic and reasoning as you craft your case. Obviously you will need that. But my hope is that through this quick overview of this communication strategy, you will begin asking yourself, “what is the core story that my case is communicating?” Then, build upon that question through thoughts like, “Is this a story that I think they would want to be a part of?” or “Is this a story that seems to make sense in the world that my judges live in?”. 

Through these questions, you can begin the process of the tailoring your case to be a message that is not only a powerful case, but a case built with the proper tools for the proper audience. 

Jala Boyer has earned numerous 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place medals and competed at the NCFCA National Championship in five categories. As an intern on the Student Advisory Council of the NCFCA, Jala worked alongside the executive director, Kim Cromer, to learn the inner workings of competitive speech and debate, helping students create long-term and meaningful success. Jala is currently an Honors student at Liberty University studying communications with an emphasis in politics. To book a coaching session with Jala, follow this link https://www.ethosdebate.com/ coaching/book-coach/

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