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What to Do when Your Rankings are Consistently the Highest or Lowest in the Room

(Pixabay, athree23)

Imagine coming out of a tournament, eagerly waiting for ballots, opening your envelope and seeing the cursed rankings… 1-8-8 in every single room. Your soul is crushed… The speech you worked long and hard at only had 33.33% approval ratings from judges. What you do next is a crucial step. 

First, you must face the facts. 

Step 1: The Diagnosis

(Even if you have not yet written or delivered your speech, rethinking your audience and wide appeal is a crucial part of the writing process, so keep these tips in mind as you formulate.) While you may not have received this extreme 1-8-8 split, if you got mainly 3 and up and 6 and down, it’s time to stand up straight and look the facts in the eyes.

The hard truth: Your speech is only appealing to half the people it encounters. Only a few people in each room are connecting with you. Your goal should be to impact every person who hears you. If you’re only reaching one judge per room, it’s time to reevaluate. 

Step 2: The Treatment

A. Rethink Audience

Who are you trying to appeal to? Chances are, you’re picking too narrow an audience. There are basically three categories of judges. Parent judges with an active competitor, alumni/coaches, and community judges. If your speech is stuck, you first need to ensure your speech is appealing to all audiences

Identify which audience your speech most appeals to. Stop and ask yourself these questions for platform and limited prep speeches. Interps may also require asking these questions, but the questions may differ slightly. Did you quote a famous figure, or reliable source? Do you tell a personal or relatable anecdote? This can also apply to the way you present yourself, details of which can be found in many of the Ethos articles under “Speaking”.

If your topic is nitty gritty science techniques, you may reach some of the parents, and perhaps an odd alumni or community judge, but the majority will be unimpressed. So, what do you do with these answers? Once you’ve identified who really likes your speech, and who may remain neutral, adjust your speech to be universally appealing. Add the missing elements. 

At the end of my Open Interpretation my final year, all of the characters died. For three consecutive tournaments, one of every few judges was left confused about what happened in the end. So I adjusted. Even though to me it felt like a bit of an exaggeration, I re-stated the death of the characters three times. This was a successful technique, and I never got the same comment again. Sometimes over-stating is a much preferred alternative to confusion. 

B. Adjust (humor, acting, value)

The speech I’ve seen with the widest appeal was a Digital Presentation on Carbon. Yes, normally this speech might be rather niche and dull, but because of the humor and connections to all aspects of life, the speech was a big winner. Sometimes, the answer in adjusting may mean you change your topic, but this speech was proof that even the most doldrum topic can break free of the sludge. Most of the time you just want to alter the humor, the acting, or present a clearer value. 

One example of this is to study humor. Different types appeal to various people, some like sarcasm, some prefer wit/wordplay, physical humor, topical humor, etc. Judge’s humor preferences will not always be the same as yours. The trick is to be able to sacrifice what you might think is funny to humor someone else. 

You may need to rethink the sources you use, add in a story or statistics, maybe even rethink how you present yourself. Always be aware of your tone, inflection, and body language. They can have major effects on your connection with the judges.  (Here is an excellent article on how to keep your judge’s attention

Most people make edits to their speeches in between tournaments, (if you’re not already, you should be!), but you also need to incorporate the audience in your editing. It’s easier to just dismiss comments, or the odd judge, but you want to be in the 3-5 sweet spot, or preferably in the 1 slot every time! So keep editing, adjusting, and improving. 

After you have made changes, the next step is the fun part!!! I quote every speech coach/parent when I urge you to, “practice, practice, practice!” 

C. Test

The easiest way to test your audience outreach is to present for a variety of people. While you may not ever have an 8 year old as a judge, it can be valuable to see if they’re tracking. 

This can also be accomplished by testing the reading level of your speech. Free online tests are available, simply copy paste several sentences at a time, and ensure your reading level is as low as possible without compromising the meaning. Aim for speeches that glide easily over the ears.  Never force your judges to dissect what a word might mean. This will enable easy listening and (hopefully) higher rankings😜

Other test audiences should include people who might disagree with your topic, your parents, siblings, grandparents(these are judges most people fail to appeal to. A mistake because a lot of community judges are a bit older), your friends (especially those in other Regions), overall, try to get as much variety as possible. This means you should not simply content yourself with the other students and one coach in your club. Booking a different coach than you normally would, or using Legends to communicate with a variety of students and coaches is an easy way to widen your audience. 

Overall, remember your goal. Impact every person who hears your speech. To achieve this, shoot for the sweet spot of appeal. Diagnose and treat your problem. 

You can book coaching with Amanda here.

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