Adapting at Nationals

If you actually want to do well at NFL/CFL you will need to adapt. Most people do this terribly or not at all. If your attitude is “whatever I do what I want” well then you can do that wherever you live and not need to go to Alabama.

1. Slow down- most judges will want you to go slow, and not slow to you- slow to them. At CFLs I was on several panels where the debaters were like “whats your paradigm” (an insanle stupid question btw) and the other 2 judges said something like “i’m not very experienced… stock issues… persuasion…i’m old…” all of which translates to go slow. Then the teams went “fast”  (for them). The other two judges would stop flowing 2 seconds into each speech and the debaters would never notice or care. You are basically rolling dice at this point. Some quick guidelines

-default to the slow side- PT Barnum once said no one ever went broke betting against the intelligence of the american public, likewise, no one ever lost at NFLs for going too slow. It’s pretty simple to see why- if you go fast and the judge doesn’t like  it, you’ve auto lost. If you go fast and they are ok with it, you then still have to win the debate. 75%+ of judges aren’t going to like it- so by going fast you have a partial shot at winning 25% of judges (generously)- does that sound like a winning strategy to you?  But furthermore, you rarely NEED to go fast in these debates to win. You are not debating the top 10% of national circuit teams at NFL’s, you are debating a lot of smaller regional teams who don’t take debate as competitively as many who would read the 3nr. They will have mediocre cases/evidence, not be very experienced etc. What they will be good at is talking “persuasively”- I put that in quotes because I personally do not find some idiot fluff talking and using folksy wisdom while dropping the politics disad to be particularly “persuasive” in getting me to vote for their plan, but I am no tthe majority judge at these things. So you don’t need to go fast, and it is more  likely to hurt you.

-Bad habits- if you do any of the bad speaking habits like stuttering, double breating etc. these are magnified when you try and go like moderately fast for the most part- they stand out more because there is not as much quick recovery like when you go super fast. This makes you sound really terrible. You should be really practicing on having a smooth rate of delivery. If you sound really really good and are smooth judges won’t KNOW when you are actually going reasonably fast because none of the warning signs are there- and lets be clear- many of these judges are about style over substance- so if you can trick them (not hard to do) then you are in good shape.

-Overviews and summaries- actually work well here. For each contention of your case you should have a short introduction that explains the general concept so that your judges hear it before they fall asleep or stop flowing. Same with a disad- a short explanation of the thesis at the top. In later speeches- don’t go for hyper technical overviews, its story time. Very many of your judges will have a predominanlty speech background (or some other background) meaning they don’t know a lot about the topic. This should also lead you to mainstream/simple arguments instead of obscure complex ones. Now some will say “but some judges will be smart” and yes, some will. They will be in the minority however, and adapting doesn’t alienate smart judges because they know you are playing the game, whereas dumb judges will be alienated by you not adapting.

2. Professionalism

-no tag team cx- even if they say its ok, they are lying. They expect you both to be involved in asking and answering questions and really how hard is this

-Dress nice- you may think it sucks that you cant wear your flip flos, lip ring, and slayer t-shirt but are you going to this thing to make a fashion statement or win 10k? This one is a total no brainer, you can make your “im a unique rebel” statements later.

-Be nice- more so than at any other tournaments judges at these things care about decorum, so no matter what the other team does kill them with kindness. All jokes should be double checked that they couldn’t be misinterpreted as mean spirited.

-Minimize prompting – if your partner is about to drop a disad say something, but other wise STFU when they are speaking, this isn’t public forum and its not grand crossfire (thank god)

-Know what your evidence says- you should be able to answer cx questions intelligently without having to constantly reference your evidence or get it back to read it. Particularly if you are the 1A- you should be able to sail through any CX about your case.

3. Realize they aren’t going to call for 100 cards and sort it out- most judges call for zero and at CFL they can’t call for any- so reading 10 link cards is meaningless- read 1 or 2 and then explain them /re read key parts out loud etc.

4. Focus on qualifications- you should always read them in your 1AC/other speeches and emphasize when the other team does not have qualified evidence. Add a little style to this, don’t just say

“economic decline causes war-mead 92”

say “Economic decline causes nuclear war, this is Mead, a Senior Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in 1992”

5. Look up- watch the judges to see if they are flowing/paying attention. Make eye contact. Also- note if they are flowing sideways- this is a pretty good sign no matter how fast you are going you are going to fast (esp if your judge is Ross or Dallas).

6. Don’t freak out about disclosure- if the other team doesn’t disclose they probably suck and its not a big deal.

5 thoughts on “Adapting at Nationals

  1. Ryan

    Good list, but number 5 needs to be number 1 with a gold star and a bullet. Judges are people. People tend to react to things with their face. True at NFL, TOC, Poker, etc.

  2. Poneill

    Ryan is definitely right. One of the things one of my lab leaders told me last summer is that if you can make eye contact with the judge while you’re reading, you can go a bit faster. They can hear you more clearly, and it feels like you’re engaging them. Not only can you pick up on all their nonverbals, but you dont have to slow down as much, so it’s basically a win win for you (note, you still have to slow down a ton)

  3. brian

    just as a fair warning on the ‘can’t ever go too slow’ tip – i usually agree but would caution against taking this too far. during the second elim rd (rd 8 maybe?) i judged damien’s top team vs. a *very* persuasive slower team (i wish i could give these guys a shout-out but they didn’t publish their name and they left before i could ask.) damien just got time pressed in the 2nr and dropped some important args. i thought the neg still won the day but the concessions inspired the other 2 moderate flow judges to vote aff.

    the corrective to this is to group arguments. it’s an effective organization tool for slow judges and if you’re not used to the speed of a slow round sometimes it’s make or break for a win. this is how a lot of the good ‘kansas slow spread’ style teams roll.

    great list tho and very good suggestions.


  4. Sue

    I just want to reiterate Scott’s request to not ask silly questions of your judges…Three questions debaters should NEVER ask because they sound ridiculously dumb asking them and, in the end, they really won’t change anything based on the answer:

    1. What’s your paradigm? What does that even mean and how am I supposed to explain my entire “debate paradigm” in 10 seconds – impossible…read judging philosophies online prior to rounds and if they do not have a judging philosophy online its a hint that they may not judge all that much, and probably do not have a “paradigm” on debate…

    2. Can you take speed? This is the MOST annoying question ever asked, yet I still hear people ask it, albeit in different forms. First of all, maybe you should be asking yourself if you can deliver if someone answers yes to this question – I’ve had a lot of debaters ask me this and then be VERY SLOW…Second, maybe you should be asking yourself if you can deliver AND be clear…many times the problem is not the judge’s capability but your own! Finally, asking the question seems condescending to those who like slower, persuasive debate. Maybe they COULD “take speed” but they choose not to. Don’t risk alienating your critics with this question!

    3. Will you vote on “X”? Again, maybe you should ask yourself if you can WIN this argument before asking a judge if they will vote on it. Second, judges are not necessarily going to disclose every bias and preconceived notion they have about debate just because you ask. If you have a strategy, its probably best to stick with it and do your best, not try to make sweeping changes based on a judge’s answer to this question just prior to a debate round AND if you do a good job on an argument, most judges will vote for you, even if they don’t “like” the argument itself.

    Just my $.02…


  5. Pingback: Great post on Adaptation over at 3NR « Its debatable…Speak Up!

Comments are closed.