Just got a question from a debater struggling to win outrounds. I thought I’d share my response.
The question: “For background, I’ve been doing debate for three years and I’ve always done exceptionally well when it comes to prelims. This year for example, I’m 16-2 in prelims in TP and have been either the 1, 2, or 5 seed at all of my tournaments (including the NC open). Last year I got multiple 6-0 and 5-1 records in LD. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate to outround wins. Currently my outrounds record all-time is 4-16 (0-3 this year). At this point I’m at my wit’s end and I have no idea what to do since I can’t pick up on anything that I do differently from prelims to outrounds. Are there any tips you can give me?”
Great question. I have a few of my own:
1) Can you send me the ballots from your three outround losses this year?
2) What is your mindset for an outround, and how is it different from prelims?
There are some basics to outrounds that I can give without that info.
1) Include everyone. In an outround, your audience is the entire room (more than just the judges). It’s important to have wide gestures, wide eye contact, etc.
2) Go slower. When an audience grows, interestingly the judges in particular think “on behalf” of their assumptions about other audience members. For example, if one person knows certain jargon but thinks the other two judges don’t, your use of jargon will be highly disfavorable to that judge as well. It’s important to communicate as “unlike a debater” as possible – using normal language, that you’d expect in a Harvard professorial debate on the same issue.
3) Likability is key. In outrounds, people assume you deserve to be there. Judges can find reasons to vote for either side. Going for the jugular is not a viable strategy in outrounds… the audience doubts, and even may think you pulled a sleight of hand, if you attempt to win with shock and awe.
4) Own the platform. Don’t get excited by outrounds – you need to look like you’ve been there before.