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Bulldozer or Tortoise? President or Lawyer? Wizard or Motivational Speaker?

From Survivor to Scholar, each debater has a unique flair and personality. Last week, I shared a quiz in the hopes that it would help you identify some of the advantages and disadvantages that come with your unique style. Today, I wanted to go over some of the ways that you can maximize your strengths, while working to overcome some of your weaknesses.

Best Friend

Let’s face it, most of those debaters take themselves way too seriously. Speaking doesn’t have to be an exercise in politics—it’s important to show your judge that debate can be fun, too. You automatically make friends with your audience, using analogies, personal stories, and relatable examples to win them over. While some debaters treat evidence cards as though they’re reading through a traffic report, you prefer to make them as interesting and engaging as possible. While most judges love you, some may say that you’re a tad insincere, or maybe that you lack credibility due to your lighthearted approach.

A quintessential Interper-Turned-Debater, the Best Friend places a high value on delivery and connection with their judge. And they’re good at it. Of course, as with anything, too much focus can be placed on the packaging instead of what’s inside the box. So to focus more on generating content, you can run a Multiple Response Drill.

Pick an argument that typically gets run against your case, and brainstorm as many responses against it as you can come up with. Do some research and get evidence to support each one (if possible). Then set a timer and practice running them.


You wish you had more speaking time so you could properly dismantle each and every point your opponent brought up. However, you can still achieve that ‘total demolition’ effect by increasing your speed and making use of multiple sub points under each tagline. Keeping control of Cross Examination is important, too—a yes or no answer is all you need, and you don’t let anyone waste time by rambling. Once you’ve boldly established your case, it’s time to go on offense. You push for stats, evidence, examples, and advocates to confirm the opposition’s position. You’re confident that they don’t have what they need to uphold their end of the debate, and you have no qualms about telling the audience that. Though this approach is extremely convincing, it sometimes hurts you when your opponent is younger or cuter. You may want to tone down the speed and volume at times to incorporate a more relatable, courteous style.

These are the debaters that most people are (secretly) afraid to argue against. Their focus is typically on winning—and they usually succeed. Unfortunately, this can be perceived to be their sole priority, which sometimes may feed a negative reputation. A Bulldozer has to be very courteous, very kind, and very gallant to balance out their more assertive side– while at the same time making sure it’s actually sincere, and not fake.

One of the greatest things a Bulldozer can do is to debate with a novice. If you’re a policy debater, spend at least a couple of practice rounds paired with one of the novices in your club, to get the focus off yourself. (See this post for more info.) If you’re not, get some friends together and stage a couple of Parli rounds just for fun.


Okay, so maybe becoming a debater wasn’t actually your idea, but it’s not so bad once you get into it. Coming up with arguments off the cuff takes some getting used to, and having evidence would be nice—but wait, does that mean you’d have to do research? You may not be totally confident in what you’re saying, but you’re a natural speaker with a flair for persuasion, and most judges seem to start nodding when you talk. Ideas and logic-based arguments work best for you, but your credibility can crumble if pressed for details you don’t have. Putting a little extra work and effort into your debate career will help you reach the next level.

Some younger siblings tend to cruise when they start debating. They coast on natural ability, the support of an older sibling, or years in the debate culture backing them up. Cruisers could also be the ‘Mom Made Me Do It’ type. If debate is not your priority, you tend to drift through it with minimal effort. Typically relaxed, unruffled, and easy going, Cruisers aren’t afraid of failing since they’re not overly invested in debate. However, they sometimes miss a great opportunity to take their skills to the next level.

One way to overcome this tendency is to set goals and action steps. Be intentional about finding an area you’d like to improve, and conquering it. Debate doesn’t have to be a lifelong passion, but the skills you learn definitely can be, so make a spreadsheet or a flowchart or whatever works for you—just write them down and stay on target.


Just the facts, please. You excel at analyzing evidence, statistics, and concrete examples—preferably historical examples. You have little patience for fluffy stories. The real question is how—how is this plan going to be implemented? How is this value going to affect our daily lives? How was this study conducted? If your opponent doesn’t have the details, then they should not win—no matter how passionate they are, or how compelling their ideals. Facts, statistics, and qualified experts are the most important things to have on your side. While you have great credibility and organization, you may struggle to make a connection with your audience. It’s also hard to give a compelling ideal for your judge to get behind when you’re so focused on the details.

If you’ve ever done Math club, this is probably you. If you’re in law school, this is probably you. If you like Excel spreadsheets, this is probably you. Having that research thing down, it’s now time to move on to being a little more relatable. There are a couple of things you can try. First, humor in your intros. Prescript humorous stories or illustrations—ask the Best Friend for help. Second, if you can use a personal story, do so.

Motivational Speaker

Using stories, analogies, and personal touches, you excel at painting a compelling picture for your audience. Evidence is a great structure to build on, but it can’t achieve the goal by itself—in addition, you need to show your judge the important ideas behind the logic. Your judge needs to feel how pressing the problem is, and how urgently we need to take action. You excel at building a connection with your audience, and persuading people to adopt a particular course of action. However, you may want to be careful about relying too much on ideals or emotion instead of facts. After all, even the best concept needs implementation.

If you love doing Persuasive speeches, this might be you: strong on values, dynamic when speaking, passionate about ideas. The details/implementation/numbers sometimes take a back seat, which can sometimes mean that research isn’t your natural priority. If that’s the case, having a research party can help. Gather a group of fellow debate nerds, order a pizza, and research together. Write up a list of all the assumptions behind your case, and prove each step. You can have a few stories or anecdotes, but they are just the icing on the cake.


Debate is a serious exercise. You treat your audience with the same level of professionalism and respect that you would Congress or any other governmental body. After all, the ideas we discuss today become the policy of tomorrow, and the policy we implement must be above reproach. Because of this, you focus heavily on implementation, real world impact, evidence, and advocacy. You are charismatic and bold, with a high level of credibility. People trust what you say, because of your impeccable polish and confidence. However, sometimes you may miss a vital connection with your audience, if they’re looking for someone more relatable or empathetic. Make sure you take the time to build a relationship with your judges, and be careful about running over debaters who are shorter than you.

Presidents are typically experienced debaters who have been doing this for years. As opposed to the Motivational Speaker type, Presidents can focus too much on content and not enough on delivery or engaging the emotions of their audience. I have two tips for you: Slow down, and do an Interp.

Slowing down will enable you to focus on engaging your judges, adapting to their reactions, and cultivating a thoughtful, personable demeanor.

Doing an Interp will help you loosen up. Your ability to captivate an audience will skyrocket. Your facials, vocal variations, and physical presentation will improve exponentially. Interps make better debaters.


The big picture is the important thing—setting up context, explaining the ideas and values behind the policy, and educating your judges on the world as a whole. After all, that’s the best way to reach the best decision, right? Even if your opponent calls the how into question, it’s still important to uphold the right set of values. Your delivery tends to reflect a set of deeply-held beliefs, which you’re very passionate about. Though the ideas you convey are extremely compelling, you sometimes neglect the more concrete aspects of implementation or real world impact.

Many Lincoln-Douglas debaters are actually philosophers at heart and would tend to get this outcome. They make their stand on an ideological foundation and have the historical context for every issue discussed. Yet the application is important too—why does this matter? What’s the practical effect?

For a Scholar, I’d suggest two things: first, a tournament of Policy debate. Though I may be a little biased, TP is the best way to bring those values into a real-world context. However, if you don’t have the time commitment for TP, I’d suggest a one-minute drill. Pick a value (justice, freedom, life, human rights, etc.), then give a one-minute explanation of why that matters to the owner of a lawn-care company. Or a bank. Or a grocery store.


Filling your speaking time is the main priority right now, so you tend to run any argument you can think up. If you had more prep time, maybe you could focus on organization or flashy intros, but now is not the time. That other speaker sounded so confident, you hesitate to make too many bold claims, so instead, you’ll read another piece of evidence and emphasize the author’s many credentials. Some of your strengths include innovation, a straightforward style, and easily understood logical claims—very appealing to most judges. You may want to work on your confidence level, as well as direct refutation.

If it’s your first year debating, you will typically fall into this category. (To be honest, sometimes I’m pretty sure that I’m still a Survivor, and it’s been five years.) A Survivor’s biggest weakness tends to be a lack of confidence—they have things to say, but have a hard time standing up to a bolder opponent.

If this sounds familiar, try one-minute drills. First, pick a generic argument. Take a few moments to structure it or find a piece of evidence, if you want, then practice giving that one argument in one minute. Use good structure—Tag, Argument, Support, Impact—and do each argument three or four times until you can articulate it smoothly and persuasively. Make sure you have someone watching you. This best simulates the situations you’ll be in, and make the drills more effective.


A debate geek in the best sense of the term, you love every aspect of debate theory and how it can be used to argue successfully. You’re a creative thinker, crafting unique arguments that will leave your opposition wondering what just happened. In addition, you love using Cross Examination to trip up your opponent. It’s an excellent opportunity to set a subtle trap for them, which you’ll spring in your next speech. While your knowledge of debate theory gives you the ability to argue on a higher level than some, it can also work against you if your judge gets lost in all the terminology. You have to work hard to keep things grounded, accessible, and applicable.

Ahhh, the curse of knowledge. The Wizard has the most thorough knowledge base of anyone, but there may come a time when they become so saturated in the debate culture that they forget how real people talk and think.

To avoid that outcome, try the simple sentence drill. Pick an idea or an argument, and express it in five sentences or less. Then, take that same concept, and give it in four sentences. Keep working your way down until you can do it in one sentence. Next, limit yourself to fifty words, and work your way down to ten. Your goal is to put it in the simplest, most straightforward way possible. It may not be the way you’ll do it in an actual round, but the ability to distil an argument into one sentence will be invaluable.

Wise Tortoise

Unlike some debaters, you don’t think that overwhelming the opposition is the way to go. Instead, you adopt a calm, confident style as you methodically work through the two or three most important issues in the round. Since many arguments are connected by common underlying ideas, you tend to group them for refutation under one main point. You’re easily understood by judges since you take the time to truly delve into each argument and develop it clearly. You value quality, not quantity. However, sometimes it’s tough making a connection with your audience due to your steady pacing and delivery, and occasionally you may struggle to adequately cover each and every argument your judge thinks is important.

Calm, clear, and organized. The Tortoise trades speed and volume for method and depth. People trust the Tortoise, but sometimes they do need to lighten up a little to draw in the judges. There is one thing I’d suggest: smile. Really, it’s okay. In fact, you may want to try doing some Interps along with your friend the President.

Though each debater has areas they need to focus on more than others, each of these drills or tips can be beneficial regardless of your persona. In the end, what’s your goal? If you truly want to improve as a debater, then be intentional about it. Dedicate the time and effort necessary to get yourself to that next step.

Anna Johansen is a TP and advanced speech coach in the Chicago area. During her two years in NCFCA, she competed at Nationals in eight speech events and Team Policy debate (taking 3rd place at Nationals in Original Interpretation her novice year, and IronManning at Nats the year after). After graduation, Anna moved into a teaching position at her local club, EverReady, where she discovered her passion for coaching and seeing lives transformed.
Currently, she is also working part time for an executive level recruiting company. In addition to providing targeted research and support, she works in the internal hiring sphere, screening resumes and interviewing candidates.
Anna is pursuing a degree in English, and hopes to continue teaching and writing long-term. Whether it is through editing others’ work or creating her own, teaching the tools or using them, she wants to pass on a love of speaking and writing and communicating to everyone she comes in contact with.

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