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Looking back on my freshman year of high school, I imagine that I and my partner were one of the most obnoxious teams in the region, perhaps the nation.  We would run topicality almost every single negative round, not to mention starting virtually every single speech with a dash of wisdom from either Bob Ross, Mary Poppins, or a certain wise man we all know and love that has a thing or two to say about the brevity of 1AR’s.  Surprising nobody but ourselves, our results reflected this: we seldom made it past the first or second outround and barely slid into nationals on a roll down slot.  Mostly due to my partner absolutely kicking tail in the last two prelims, we somehow managed to break.  But we were completely caught off guard by what our first outround had in store.  You see, neither of us had ever competed in a high-stakes round before and certainly were unprepared for the stress of debating, one, in an auditorium in front of a sizable audience, and two, in a round that would be the first step towards twenty-five thousand dollars for whoever won.  Needless to say, the round was a mess: I spent my entire 1NC lambasting the panel with a mixture of sketchy T-presses, vagueness procedurals, fiat arguments, and on-case refutation from a questionable brief we’d borrowed, and while an improvement, my partner’s constructive wasn’t much better.  This continued for virtually the entire round, culminating in my partner explicitly conceding Topicality and Solvency in the 2NR (the first time I’d ever seen her do this) and going for a DA which the aff wound up turning in the 2AR.  (Note: in no way do I blame my partner for how the round went; I definitely dragged us down more then than she did).  Needless to say, we lost.

The moral of the story?  Outrounds can get the best of us all, meaning we gotta figure out what to do about it.  But first, we need to get one thing straight:

Everybody Has an “Outrounds” Speaking Style

For better or worse, higher-stress situations bring out different sides in everyone, and outrounds are no exception.  Don’t believe me?  Go and look at your ballots from the last tournament you broke.  I’d be willing to bet that your speaker point average in outrounds was at least two points greater/less than your average in prelims, probably the former.  

In all honesty, most people I’ve talked to are aware of this.  But most of the discussion surrounding this topic (for instance, that from our very own Isaiah McPeak) centers around how to adapt your outround style in order to be more successful.  And don’t get me wrong, I agree with virtually everything they have to say on this topic; they’re certainly more qualified than I am.  However, I’ve got a different suggestion:

Use Outrounds as a Template for Prelims

In other words, we need to get rid of this conception of there being a difference between outrounds and prelims.  9 times out of 10, your speaking in outrounds is going to be better than in prelims; there are more people watching, there’s more on the line, and on the whole, there’s increased pressure to perform, which is typically going to lead to a better performance.  So here’s what I’m going to suggest:

  1. Think back on your last outround.  Is there anything that you think you did differently then than you do in normal rounds?  How did that work out?  What did the judges think about it?  Make a list of the differences you noticed.
  2. Like it or not, your partner is in a position to give you some of the best feedback you could ever receive: they already know a thing or two about debate, they literally watch you perform every single round, and most importantly, they have an incentive to help you improve as a debater and thus will likely be more honest than most would.  While you might notice certain things about your delivery in outrounds, your partner will pick up on things that you never could.

In full disclosure, your rounds may feel a little weird at first: speaking like there are a hundred people in the room when there’s actually just one is off-putting, to say the least.  But in my experience (as well as others’ I’ve consulted on the topic), judges tend to appreciate your professionalism even if it may initially seem out of place.

In short, the debate community needs to stop thinking of outrounds as being different from prelims: by saying there’s a higher expectation of performance in elimination rounds, we’re implying that a lower standard in prelims is acceptable.  To fix this, we need to sit down and identify how we perform best, namely when the pressure is high, and hold ourselves to that high bar even when others say it’s low.

Hope y’all found this helpful!

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