Loose Nukes Because every debate can be improved with a little highly-enriched uranium.


Running out of time?

Running out of time, especially in the 1AR, can be a major problem. You need to respond, but how do you get through everything you need to without speed-talking like a dying fish? In this post, I'll lay out some basic techniques to improve efficiency and timeliness.

There are two main "problem areas" that contribute to running overtime: The table and the stand, or how you construct your speech and how you deliver it.

At the table

When planning your speech, you first need to very quickly estimate how much content you'll have to omit. (A few things? A lot of things? Almost everything?) Once you have a baseline, you need to "clump and dump" until you have a reasonable amount of content.

1. Clump

If you can take out several arguments with one response, do it. Recognizing opportunities for clumping is highly intuitive, but if you actively look for patterns, it will quickly become automatic. Procedurally, you want to imagine all the possible responses you could give to each argument, and see which ones are similar across subjects. If you can use the same response against a lot of different arguments, clump them. If all else fails, never underestimate the power of simply outweighing things en masse. (More on that later.)

2. Dump

If it isn't important, drop it. An "unimportant" argument is, basically, one that you can drop without losing the round. (Obviously.) Some examples of arguments you can safely drop:

  1. Disadvantages you can outweigh later.
  2. Weak arguments.
  3. Extra responses to things.
  4. Otherwise-strong arguments that the judge clearly isn't buying.

Basically, when in doubt, just focus on the core theses of your strongest arguments.

At the stand
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of State. Not even kidding.

Not a podium.

First, a quick side note. That thing you are standing behind (a music stand, a stack of debate boxes, whatever it is) is not a "podium", it's a lectern. A podium (derived from the Greek πόδι, or pódi, meaning "foot") is a raised platform that you stand on; a lectern is a slanted desk that you stand behind. Got it? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

1. Organization

Bad organization (and bad explanation of your organization) can waste a lot of time. If you're constantly having to explain where you are, you won't be able to say as many things. Design your speech to flow smoothly, but as you talk, keep that flow low-key.

A flowery, long-winded introduction/roadmap is sort of like a really big bun with a tiny hamburger patty on it. The bun is important, but if it's the entire burger, the judge is just going to go to Wendy's instead. In other words, you need a roadmap, but keep it short - no more than one or two sentences. (For example: "In this speech you'll be seeing that a lot of the Negative's 'problems' are actually just benefits of our plan. I'll be covering the two disadvantages first, followed by the three solvency points." Literally that short.)

In the speech, keep your signposting clear but concise. Before each argument, try to summarize what you're responding to in one sentence or less. ("They said this would hurt the economy. However...") Keep it short and sweet.

2. Know when to stop

By far, the single most effective way to save time is to talk less. Most people use more time than they really need to make their points. Additional explanation helps drive the argument home, but if you're pressed for time, just leave it out.

The first key is simplicity. Skip the complicated side-issues and focus only on the core concept. This is pretty straightforward - you just have to do it.

The second key is conciseness. Get to the point immediately. A good way to practice conciseness is to break all your arguments down into four points (argument, response, warrants, and impact) and try to say only one sentence for each point. For example:

"They said that their plan will improve relations with Russia. (argument) However, history disproves this. (response) Almost their exact plan was passed in 1949, and again in 1973, and both times it made relations worse. (warrants) If you pass the Affirmative plan, relations won't get better, they'll get worse. (impact)"

In a real round, you'll usually have evidence in your Warrants section. (By the way, getting in the habit of responding to all arguments with this basic structure will help your clarity and make it easier for the judge to follow you. Personal experience here.)

The third key is to simply stop talking. Once you've said everything you need to say, don't repeat it - just move on. 99 times out of 100, if you make your point clearly, the judge will get it the first time and won't need to hear it again. Force yourself to stop talking and move on down the flow.

3. Talk faster... but sparingly

Generally speaking (pun intended) slower is better. However, there are certain situations where being able to talk fast is an advantage. When you have a lot to say, for example!

As I've mentioned before, however, your word economy will usually degrade the faster you go (and your judges will take longer to understand what you're saying.) Thus, you may not actually be able to say any more by talking faster. Focus on conciseness first.


Top 5 simple speaking tips

1. Smile!

Being friendly can make the difference between a speech that the judge understands and a speech that the judge likes. If you've never intentionally smiled in a speech, give it a try. Obviously, use discretion - you don't want to be grinning from ear to ear while talking about human trafficking - but there's rarely a reason to look like the Grim Reaper all the way through your speech. Treat your subjects with respect, but don't look like you're about to die.

2. If the judge asks you to do something, actually do it.

This seems kind of... obvious, but I see it violated almost every. single. round. Recently, one judge's entire "judging philosophy" was basically, "I like it when you repeat your taglines." Guess what? Nobody repeated their taglines.

If the judge asks you to do something, doing it should be your highest priority for the round. If the judge asks you to repeat your taglines, then by golly, you better repeat your taglines. If the judge asks you to signpost your arguments, then those arguments had better be signposted. They're the ones checking the ballot, after all.

3. Fix your tics.

Most of us have some little thing we do constantly that annoys the fuzzy furballs out of everyone else - saying "um", clicking pens, etc. Stop doing it.

Most of the time, we just don't realize we're doing it, so all we need is to have someone point it out repeatedly. Have someone watch you speak and *BANG!* on the table really loudly whenever you do it. (Alternatively, you can have a little sibling shoot rubber bands at you.) Several years back, our club president decided to stop saying "um" (which he said all. the. time) and had everyone do this whenever he talked. By the end of the meeting, the "um"s were practically gone.

If, like me, you have problems with "dancing" (moving your feet around too much), a good way to stop is to use a "magic mat". Basically, just stand on something while speaking and pretend your feet are glued to it. It sounds silly, but it's actually remarkably effective at forcing you to think about what your feet are doing.

4. Get sleep.

Caffeine is overrated. If you want to talk well, sleep well. What comes out of your mouth will make a lot more sense.

About a month ago, I inadvertently became a good illustration of this. I was attending a tournament in Fort Worth, and on the first day, I got about 5 hours of sleep. Average speaker points? 25. On the second day, I got about 8 hours of sleep. Average speaker points? 29.

Obviously, that's not statistically robust, but it's illustrative nonetheless. I felt a lot better on the second day, and apparently I spoke a lot better too.

5. If you're a fast talker, SLOW DOWN, seriously.

Think about it this way: If you make sense when you talk fast, you'll make more sense when you talk slow. The average person has difficulty producing an eloquent sentence at ordinary talking speed; if you can do it at 300 WPM, what you come up with at 160 WPM will be brilliant.

I'll use myself as an example. A few years back, I talked... really fast. I was good at it - I won rounds, the judges understood me, and I got decent speaker points. I got a lot of "SLOW DOWN" comments, however, so I decided to cut the speed a bit. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made in debate.

All of a sudden, I didn't just make sense, I was eloquent. Talking slower gave my mind more time to think about what it was saying. I still said the same things in about the same amount of time; I just said them a lot better. (I was afraid I would run out of time, but slowing down made it so much easier to be concise that I never really had problems with it.) My speaker points went through the roof.

There are some situations where being able to go fast is still useful - like when you have 50 arguments to tackle in your 1AR and you can't clump any of them - but as a general rule, talking at a normal rate is far superior. Seriously - slow down. You'll be glad you did.

How? 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will. (Mostly concentrated power of will, though.) Unfortunately, as with most habits, the only real way to stop talking fast is to force yourself not to. It may also help to intentionally breath at the end of every sentence, or intentionally pause now and again to "reset" your speed.

Filed under: Speaking, Speed 7 Comments