You remember Charlie Brown’s teacher from the old cartoons? In the animated adaptations, teacher Miss Othmar sounds exactly like a trombone honking (that might be because they actually used a trombone to make the noise). This is what it sounds like. And unfortunately, this is also what many of us sound like when reading evidence in a debate round. Judges unconsciously imitate Peppermint Patty, jerking awake only when they hear those blessed words, “So what this piece of evidence means is…”
I’ve written about how to use evidence before. Now, here are a few quick tips on how to improve your evidence reading.
First, increase your fluidity. Some people just struggle with reading out loud—it’s weird, because they’re not bad speakers, but when they start reading, people start snoozing. So practice reading out loud. Start by picking up a random kids’ book. (Personally, I would recommend We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Click Clack Moo Cows That Type, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar.) Use easy material to build a good foundation, then you can work your way up to Beowulf and some of those 378 page PDFs about the Bennet Hypothesis.
Second, practice identifying important sections. Grab a highlighter and read through a card, identifying the most important phrases or the most confusing clauses. Those are the sections you’ll want to spend a little extra time on. Slow down and use your voice to give the audience the clue, Hey, you want to pay attention to this part. By practicing this outside the round, you’ll get better at doing it in the round.
Finally, read that card like it has the best news the judge has ever heard. Make it sound interesting. This may seem basic, but you’d be surprised at just how boring evidence sounds when read in Debater Voice. Practice breaking out of this by pulling a random card from a random brief, and reading it out loud. Read it like you’re Tigger, the most excited creature on planet earth. Then read it again as Eeyore, the dismal donkey who always has his own personal raincloud following him around. There are endless variations to this. Once you’ve warmed up a little, start reading the card with actual meaning—but exaggerate everything. If the evidence talks about adding jobs and boosting the economy, grin and nod as you read that section with happiness dripping from your voice. If it mentions adding to the national debt, channel your inner Puddleglum, pull a long face, and wipe away a tear. When you emphasize an important phrase, overemphasize it and throw your voice so high it hits the International Space Station. These extremes will make you more comfortable with normal levels of inflection in an actual debate.
There. Now you will never be a Miss Othmar.