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Heading into nationals, I find myself in another quandary of speaking style and the absolute best strategy for persuasive speaking.

At nationals nearly everyone is expected to be fairly proficient at getting things across and doing it a persuasive way. And the way I see it, there are really only two options when it comes to the sides of the speaking spectrum. These being either a rigid, tagging, structurally-solid organization rock-style or a looser, more engaging, and, dare I say, persuasive water-style.


But which is preferable and where’s the balance between the notion of rock and water?

Well to tackle the first question we have to establish foremost what any form of speaking in debate (or in life for that matter) aims to achieve. Naturally in debate we are trying to persuade an audience, or judge, or potentially even another team to our way of examining a given situation or idea.

Thus, the utmost thing to keep in mind when speaking is, “How is this persuasive?”

So that’s the basis.

Now we can actually examine the first question of “which is best.”

To know which is best we have to at least know what we’re looking at, of course.


Spectrum End 1: Rock

This speaker has all of the points he wishes to make in his speech written out either before the speech to even before the tournament. He has numbered his responses and tagged them with a quick phrase and also a longer, more descriptive tagline underneath the quick one. He does not deviate from the plan. He has clearly dissected his argument into each individual part, like an entomologist dissects bugs and labels their pinned body parts with scotch and a sharpie.

Here is what he says:

“Under the disadvantage of nuclear war, I have five responses.

Number one! Nuclear war good.

I have three subpoints:

a. Radiation cures cancer.

b. Nuclear war means new governments.

c. Global warming reversed.”


Spectrum End 2: Water

This speaker generally knows what he wants to say. He may have a few of his most important arguments fairly fleshed out on paper, but overall he knows his stuff and what he knows remains in his head. He comes up and clearly identifies that he is responding to a particular argument, but after that he just sort of “gets right into it.”

Here is what he says:

“The negative team said that my plan will cause a nuclear war and while this is normally thought of as bad, I’d like to submit that this a good thing. For example a nuclear war would produce a lot of radiation which might cure some diseases like cancer, or a nuclear war would eliminate the bad governments and allow the world order to reset, or even further nuclear war could possibly reverse global warming and better the human race.”

There should be (and is) a distinct difference between the two. In their mostly raw form (although polished by still being used by a proficient debater and thinker) the two styles are rather ineffective. In the end, if you have both being used in a round the decision on which is more persuasive will come down to absolute preference (providing both teams are very good in content).

It is my personal opinion that if you are going to adopt one, extreme, end of the spectrum that the rock form will be more successful for you.

But we’re not aiming for personal opinion or chances of being best, we’re going for what is best and what will most likely win out and that is found in the middle of the spectrum. Sticking with the water and rock theme, let’s think of being like that water and cornstarch mixture that we made back in 1st grade. It’s got attributes of both substances but is not entirely one or the other.

We want the middle of the spectrum.

So how do you get there? To be honest, I don’t have a formula and I’m still having difficulty reaching that myself.

But here are some tips:

1. Don’t script speeches. Have your most important points out and maybe even numbered, but don’t write exactly everything you’re going to say. An important part of speaking to people is ebbing and flowing and being able to deviate from the course. A good example of this is a class I was in once. The teacher loved using PowerPoint and had his entire lesson on a digital presentation, but he had no room for any deviation. When someone had a question or needed further explanation he fell short and was slightly incapacitated because the content was not within his PowerPoint. You don’t want to be that guy; you want to be able to flex.

2. Do get yourself some ninja-tags. Rather than saying “you may write this on your flow as…,” say “first we have to look at, important emphasized ninja-tag.” For example, in my case (IPP cancellation) I might say “under this disadvantage I have a response which is ‘1. IPR Makes Difficult,'” but I could say “the negative team claims that the IPP has incredible success in technologies, but an important item that shouldn’t be overlooked is IPR issues in Russia.” You’re hoping the judge writes something down on his flow and knows what you’re talking about, so whether he knows via a rigid tag or a clever ninja-tag, the result is the same.

3. Don’t subpoint things. Unless of course it’s an argument that needs structure such as link DA or a press. Subpoints allow for analysis, but what they also allow for is canned & boring, debateified speeches. No one cares to hear “my ‘j.’ point” in a speech. What they care to hear is the words under the “j..” So use the ninja-tags again to make sure they know broadly what you’re talking about (such as, why Russian accession to the WTO is good) and specifically the important things you’re saying in that instant.

4. Do pick a main point. Let’s imagine you’re judge doesn’t flow and has poor memory (which sometimes I feel is characteristic of lots of judges). What will they remember about your speech? Your fifth subpoint? Your fourth significance point? Your 2nd topicality standard? No, no, and no. Unless maybe you’re employing some really, really clever or dramatic rhetoric with one of those, but chances are, there is nothing that makes sig 4 stand out from T s 2. So make sure they have something to hang their hat on. Have an overarching point you’re making in everything. Be it Russia does not like democracy or the west, or that responsible spending is paramount for effective policy everything must tie in to that. If you have a main point your judge will remember it no matter who they are or what your specific arguments were. The thing to remember here is that main points have no organization, they have no solid structure, they just are. They are an idea, a philosophy, a principle. And that what persuades people.

You can even look back at this post. I had numbers in it, I bolded parts to distinguish some sections from the others, I had a main point. This post is not rigidly organized, but nor is it a random jumble of thought, a stream of consciousness.

Don’t be a rock, don’t be water, be aqueous cornstarch mixture. And make sure you find some ninja-tags; the ultimate combo is a ninja-tag possessing cornstarch mixture.

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