“I wish I could come back just one more year.” After Covid-19 cancelled the debate season, I heard that phrase countless times from my senior high school friends. “If only I had one more year.” I’ve come to realize that the years you have in speech & debate are short and fleeting. Trust me – if you’re entering your first year of speech & debate, your final season will arrive faster than you’ll ever expect. I have one simple recommendation to make the most out of your time in speech & debate: Diversify Events.
What Does it Mean to “Diversify Events”?
Diversifying events means choosing to compete in more events at tournaments and throughout the season. For instance: In NCFCA, you can do a maximum of five speeches per tournament. Diversifying events would mean doing the maximum of five, plus debate.
If you wanted to take it even further, you could even do multiple forms of debate throughout the year. When I competed in Stoa last season, I did TP at half my tournaments and LD at the rest.
You can obtain success by making a decision four months before you even set foot on the campus of the first tournament of the season. That’s by making the decision to diversify events. Last season, I decided to compete in two debate leagues (NCFCA and Stoa), five forms of debate (NCFCA LD, Stoa LD, Stoa TP, Parliamentary, and Moot Court), as well as seven total speech categories. To be fair, what I did was a bit extreme. You don’t have to diversify to that extent; try to diversify as much as you can. If one form of debate and five speeches is all you want to take on, then go for it. But aim higher, rather than lower. Try to do more events, rather than less.
You may have heard the saying “quality before quantity”, and you might be thinking this principle runs completely contrary to that mantra. So let’s discuss…
Why Diversification Works
Throughout my experience in speech & debate, I’ve found diversification to be beneficial in three main ways.
First – Diversification Combats the Uncertain Nature of Speech & Debate
We have to acknowledge something: speech & debate is uncertain. For instance, you could be one of the best impromptu speakers in your region, but draw topics you know nothing about.
In 2019, I made finals in extemporaneous at the first NCFCA Region Two tournament. When I heard I advanced, I spent all my time in student commons reading the news and repeating my extemporaneous strategy to myself. I was determined to succeed. With a 3×5 card in my pocket and my laptop in my hands, I confidently walked into the extemp prep room. “Speaker four, you may draw.”
I picked up my topics, excited to make the most out of this opportunity. Verbatim, the two topics were “Will the new Brazilian administration change its foreign policy toward Cuba?” and “Do the health benefits from regulating smoke-stack emissions outweigh the cost to power providers?”
Extemp Genie found not a single article for either topic.
Frantically, I tried every possible keyword and phrase for both topics – nothing. “Speaker four, you have ten minutes remaining.” With my hands covered in sweat and half my prep time expired, I impulsively chose the Brazil and Cuba question. I found one article about who the Brazilian administration was, and that was all. Not a single article about both Brazil and Cuba. “Speaker four, your time has expired.” I went into the competition room, with an audience of over thirty people, seven judges, and a virtually blank index card. Somehow, I made it through the seven minutes, but it’s needless to say that I ended up last in the room.
There’s always something you can do to improve. Looking back on that experience, I would’ve approached the topic differently. At the same time, there’s luck involved in every activity. Speech & debate is no exception. A few years ago, a friend of mine ran a case to abolish the American Bar Association. Round six at nationals, his judge was…. a chairman of the American Bar Association. You could get an insanely weighted resolution in Parliamentary, a topic you’ve never seen before in apologetics, or a room where the lack of air-conditioning makes it feel like you’re giving your platform speech in the Sahara Desert.
The best way to combat the uncertain nature of speech & debate is to compete in more events. If you get a panel where all three judges simply didn’t like you in one speech semi-finals room, then you still have more speeches to compete in, even if you were unlucky in one room. If you compete in both Parliamentary and Lincoln Douglas, even if you land on the world’s most weighted Parliamentary resolution, you’re still in the game for Lincoln Douglas.
Diversify to combat uncertainty.
Second – Diversification Makes the Most Out of Tournament Time
Tournament costs are expensive. Not just in money, but in time. No matter whether you do seven events, or one event, you’re going to be on the tournament campus for the same amount of days. Why not make the most out of it? While it’s fun to spend time with friends in student commons, you’ve traveled to the campus to compete and learn. You can find opportunities to spend time with your friends outside the tournament, but besides speech & debate, there aren’t other easily accessible opportunities to deliver an open interpretation to a panel of three judges with a ballot on their table and pen in their hand.
Every event you do, and every speech you deliver, teaches you something. When you choose to compete in more events, you build more experience and thus make the most of your time at tournaments.
Third – The Skills Transfer
When you compete in more events, you learn different skills. Platforms teach structure and how to build a moving speech. Limited preps teach impromptu speaking skills and delivery. Debate teaches logic, strategy, and a wide array of other skills. Everything you learn from competing in an event crosses over to other events.
The structure you learn from writing a persuasive will help you craft better limited preps. The delivery skills you receive from impromptu will aid you in debate rebuttals. Learning to deliver a three-minute 2AR in Lincoln Douglas will improve your efficiency in Team Policy rebuttals.
In many other activities, quantity doesn’t mean better quality. But in speech & debate, a higher quantity of events means more experience – experience which will boost the quality of all your other events.
How to Diversify Effectively
Learning to diversify successfully takes skill. Doing the maximum amount of events can be overwhelming, and you might be thinking “How in the world can I do so many events? I have school work, a part-time job, and hobbies – I’m not about to throw that all away for a debate league.” The good news is: You don’t have to. This past season I took an incredibly heavy course load for school, had time for my hobbies, and was even able to go to the gym for an hour every day. At the same time, I had twelve speech & debate events and was planning on attending a total of fourteen debate tournaments in that year alone. I attribute being able to do all of that to two principles:
First – Start Early
You’ll know both the events being offered and the debate resolutions at least four months before the first debate tournament. Don’t procrastinate. Start during the off-season. You’ll find it amazing how much you can finish during that time, and how much of an edge off-season prep will give you. If you want to start diversifying mid-season, it’ll be extraordinarily hard to find the time. Start early.
Second – Work Smart
Plan out which events you want to compete in before you start writing. Commit to an event; don’t lose time preparing an event only to not use it. Choose events that will be enjoyable for you to prepare – If dramatic interp doesn’t appeal to you, don’t do it. If your friends want you to do a humorous interp, but you don’t want or know how to, save your energy for events you are interested in. Figure out what you want to compete in before you start working. Work smart.
The next season of speech & debate is right around the corner, and it’s time for you to make a decision. Do you want to make the most out of your time in speech & debate? Diversify your events.
About the Author
Kyle Lee has competed in both NCFCA and Stoa. His accomplishments include over fifty top-three finishes, the record for the most first places won at a single NCFCA tournament (seven firsts in one go at the 2020 Bothell WA, NCFCA Qualifier), first place Lincoln Douglas debater & speaker at the 2020 NCFCA Online National Championship, and first place Team Policy debater & speaker at the 2020 Stoa Online National Championship.
Outside of speech and debate, Kyle is an avid rock climber, holds a second-degree black belt in Karate, and enjoys writing music in his free time.