My Christmas break from college always comes with at least a few requests from students wanting help with debate before the upcoming January qualifier season, which I enjoy obliging. As I’m nearing my 5th year of coaching debate, I realized this Christmas that I end up saying three of the same things to almost every one of my students, whether in camps, classes, online coaching, or an in-person prep session. Maybe that means they are important! Care for some free advice?
1. You’re 1AC is a speech, not a research brief with extended tags.
I don’t want to see 10 pieces of evidence in your 1AC. View the 1AC as a persuasive speech, a chance to make sure the judge truly understands the point to you are trying make and the full emotional and practical importance of your plan. I really don’t care that 10 experts care about your plan until you’ve made ME care about your plan, which you can’t do by reading a brief.
2. Appeal to your specific audience.
If you are in a homeschool debate league, your judges are between 70% and 90% homeschool parents and homeschool parents’ friends who are like homeschool parents. This means that while running a point about a financial budget being overburdened may seem lame/unimportant to you, it is not unimportant to your judge who has to work to balance a budget everyday. And this means that if you can relate your case back to the 1970’s oil embargo, the Cold War, the Iran Hostage Crisis, Operation Desert Storm, the Beatles, Muhammad Ali, The OJ Simpson trial, the Reagan/Gorbachev struggle, etc., you may just win some serious credibility points.
3. Your strategy needs a stronger theme.
Good communication is practically always thematic. Your favorite movies are your favorite movies because they leave you with strong, central feelings. Every round strategy–aff or neg–must be centered around a strong theme. Stating a value in a case does not make it thematic, nor does stating a negative philosophy. Some of the best values I have ever seen in debate are so obvious that they don’t even need to be labeled–every argument the team makes ties back to a clear idea that they value. Please don’t let your judge leave the debate round wondering, “Hmm, so I wonder what was really important to them?” Every team should have an obvious passion in every round, and it shouldn’t be topicality or inherency or significance or solvency.
Truly, 5 years of debating and 4 years of coaching have distilled these three pieces of advice as my most repeated points to my students. Consider them. Close seconds? Stay hydrated and eat food, remember that sleep is more important than research, maintain judge eye contact at the end of your speech while waiting for the CX, always start your speech with a positive statement about YOUR position not a refutation of the opposing position, slow down, PLEASE don’t say the word “observation”, remember debate isn’t actually that important in life so take care of yourself, smile, and tell jokes. There you go. 🙂
Have a great debate season, and remember that Ethos loves to help students, so reach out to us with your questions! Also, if you’re looking for some extra coaching, we’d love to work with you–check us out here.