We all have pet peeves, things that to others would simply be minor annoyances, but to ourselves represent all that is wrong in the world. For example, the difference between “I could care less” and “I couldn’t care less” is hardly important… but it still makes me unreasonably angry when someone uses the former. This article is about a pet peeve that I have: it certainly bothers me more than it does most people, but I still think that it’s applicable enough to make it worth addressing.
Far too many debaters stall for time before their speeches. You know exactly what I’m talking about, but let me paint you a picture anyway: Speaker stops prep time, and slowly writes down the amount remaining. Speaker takes a swig out of their Leftist Tears cup. Speaker gathers all their papers and brings them to the podium. Speaker returns to prep table for the paper they forgot. Speaker sets timer. Speaker shows timer to opposing team and judge. Speaker asks opposing team and judge if they are ready, and refuses to begin until they receive verbal affirmation or a violent nod. Then, and only then, does the Speaker begin their speech.
There’s a pretty good chance that you didn’t find anything especially wrong with the above scenario. If so, I’d like to challenge that assumption. This kind of stalling has become so commonplace that, at this point, many debaters don’t even realize they’re doing it. If you think about it, there’s no good reason to increase the amount of time between the end up prep and the beginning of your speech (which will be my first point). In fact, it’s almost always better to reduce that gap (my third).
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Many debaters go along with the pre-speech ritual, because they just accept it as a part of the experience. Everyone around them does it, so they do it too. It’d be silly to begin without checking if everyone else in the room is ready, right? Actually, I’d like to challenge that assumption.
Personally, I find it unnecessary to show my timer to the opposing team and judge, and then to ask if everyone is ready. In regards to the timer, I like to show my opponents that the time is correct as I’m walking up to the podium, which saves time when compared to waiting to turn around and show them. Furthermore, it makes showing the judge redundant: the other team is more likely to catch a mistake anyway.
When it comes to asking if everyone is ready, I find this even more unnecessary. Obviously, it would be rude to begin before the judge is set, but if the judge has looked up from their flow, is making direct eye contact and staring expectantly at you… Please just go ahead and begin. Turning then to your opponent(s), maybe it seems strange to not ask them as well. If that’s your conception, please think back to the last time your opponent said they weren’t ready. If you’re like me, it’s never happened… because aside from spontaneous hearing loss there’s hardly anything that would make them unprepared for your speech.
As for the other things that I mentioned in my original example (shuffling paper, drinking water, etc.), there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t be done before prep time expires. So, forget everything you thought you knew– There’s no reason why you can’t pause prep, walk up to the podium, pause for a beat, and go.
Why Does It Happen?
If the pre-speech rigmarole is unnecessary, why is it so common? The answer is in the title of this article. I would argue that most debaters don’t truly care too much about whether or not the judge is actually ready, and that instead they are merely trying to buy a couple of extra seconds to think of an opening quote.
When you’re a novice, this is completely excusable. One of the hardest parts of speaking is knowing how to start, so it helps new debaters to have a series of steps that is consistent with every speech. The same goes for saying “For all these reasons I would urge a(n) Affirmative/Negative ballot.” This phrase is so overused and generic that it’s essentially useless, but it’s nice for newer debaters to have a fallback phrase to use when they run out of things to say. See Patrick’s article about the most common cross-ex question for another example of this principle in effect.
Advantages to Jumping Right In
There’s a few ways reducing the amount of time between the end of prep and the beginning of your speech will help you.
First, it shows confidence. Stalling for time, intentional or not, tells the judge that you’re not ready for your speech. Someone who drags out their opening seems unprepared and unconfident, whereas a speaker who jumps right into it demonstrates the opposite. If you truly aren’t confident, applying this will still help you–your judge has no idea how confident or unconfident you are.
Second, it sets you apart. One of the easiest ways to gain an advantage in competitive speaking is to stand out from the crowd and stick in your judges’ mind. A surefire way to not do this is to follow the exact same ritual everyone else does. Not only does jumping right in show confidence and preparedness, but if it contrasts the other team, it can give you a competitive advantage as the judge automatically assumes you’re more experienced. Check out this article and this article for more examples of how standing out helps.
Third, it gives a good first impression. This is more or less a combination of the previous two ideas. I don’t need to regale you with the importance of first impressions, but I want to remind you that the judge starts forming opinions about you before you open your mouth. The last thing you want to do is create bias against yourself and spend the entire round trying to dig yourself out of that hole. On the other hand, if the judge assumes you’re experienced, it will be a downhill ride.
To conclude, these opinions are all my own, not Ethos’. Flame me in the comments 🙂
Jeremiah Mosbey is a current NCFCA-er who competes at the national level. Formerly a policy debater, he made the switch and is looking forward to the new experience of value debate in 2023. Debate aside, he competes in a variety of speech events with an emphasis on Platform and Limited Prep. He’s extremely involved in the speech and debate community, crediting much of his growth as a high school-er to the lessons learned and relationships made through NCFCA. Jeremiah loves helping younger competitors and watching them gain the same love for the activity that he has.