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I judged PHC Debate Camp’s tourney this year. After two rounds, I was known, apparently, as ‘that judge.’ The judge that requested a team argue in rhyme and told another team to argue alliteratively. Part of this was pure malevolence. More than that, I wanted the teams to communicate well. It only takes a few practice rounds to become proficient at reading cards in response to the other side’s arguments. This, however, is Nerdly communication. It takes serious work to really communicate.


I was the best of card readers. Our debate league pushed a ‘conversational style,’ and I was right on the edge. I could read two cards for every argument no matter how complex the round. Wham bam! After keeping careful track, I could make ‘preponderance of evidence’ (not to mention bellicosity) a voting issue and win, 37-14. Then I got a new partner. Who, during one of the first rounds we argued, asked me, with clear focus and pensive determination, ‘what word means x and starts with the letter C?’ I was dumbfounded. She could’ve found another three cards. She was communicating.


Productive debaters focus on solid communication. After conquering their vocal weaknesses, verbal pauses, and other nervous tics, they begin to treat each speech as their one chance to get the message across. Instead of relying on many weak arguments (the spread) or many weak words (the speed), they rely on crafting their most effective arguments in the most compelling language. They compose, on the fly, fantastic speeches. They are communicating.


This skill could be the most transferrable of all debate skills. In the real world, you rarely get five uninterrupted minute to pontificate (or three to prepare). But you do get many chances to add relevant information and push the meeting or conversation forward. Good communication is being ready for that chance and getting your point across.



Take Action: The next time you make a debate speech, pretend you are talking to your next door neighbor. Eliminate the words you only use in debate (because all other debaters know them) and introduce words that package the exact idea you are trying to convey. This can be really hard for veteran debaters (who are almost always Nerdly communicators). Have someone stop your speech every time you use a buzzword or vague word.

Potential buzzwords: topicality, inherency, solvency, significance. Bonus: anything you abbreviate with letters and anything you say in latin.


Real World Debate Part 1: Overcoming Nerdly

Real World Debate Part 2: Build Your Knowledge

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