Do you want to be top speaker at the toc? part 1

A few have emailed/posted questions about prep for the toc. Loyal 3nr readers know most every question about how to win the TOC was answered step by step in my pulitzer prize winning series (here, here, here, ). One thing that was not addressed in great detail there was how to become the top speaker at the TOC and so this series will address this.

First I want to examine the main ways the TOC is different from most high school tournaments.


1. On average, the debates are much tougher. Since you have to do well at other tournaments to qualify to the TOC, a lot of the weaker teams you usually debate will not be there. To use myself as an example, my sophomore year of high school I cleared at every national tournament I attended but only managed to go 1-6 at the TOC. We were usually clearing in the bottom of the bracket, having just won a break round vs a mediocre opponent. At the TOC we entered a world of pain as basically every debate was against the kind of team that was knocking us out of the elims at these tournaments. We also prepared very poorly as the winning advice I linked to above was not readily available at the time. Point being- your debates will be tougher than usual. This means you will have to be more prepared, and probably more importantly, you will have to really bring your A game/try a lot harder. At a regular tournament you may lose to a top 5 baker team in the doubles and feel good and go relax with your friends. At the TOC that is your round 1 draw, and after losing you half to pick yourself up and get ready to win 5 of the next 6.


2. There is more down time in between prelim debates. This is because things are a little more relaxed schedule wise, and because there are always at least a few decisions that take a long time, thus delaying the start of the next round for everyone. If you want to be top speaker at the TOC you need to take advantage of this time to prepare for your upcoming debates. An extra 20-30 minutes in between all your other rounds adds up to hours of extra prep for your crucial round 7. I will go into detail later on about what I think you should be doing with this time, but you should also figure out with your own team what your game plan is- who is going to scout/get cites, who is going to be cutting cards etc.


3. The judging pool will be much more heavily tilted toward college judges/debaters than the average high school tournament- this is because there is no competing college tournament that weekend and high schools usually save a little of the budget to bring out some extra help for the TOC. This means you need to think about your strike sheet and read a lot of judge philosophies. (one related note is that lots of high school coaches who usually judge a lot/full commitments will reduce their judging load to free up more time for coaching)


Those 3 things will be overarching concerns that I will come back to throughout this series. For the rest of this article, I would like to establish a speaking drill training program and give you some examples to work with. In order to do this you have to do a few things:


1. You have to find your smooth rate of delivery (SRD)- The SRD is not the fastest you can go, its not the clearest you can be. Your SRD is the rate at which you can speak in a smooth uninterrupted fashion- no double breathing, no stuttering, and a judge should be able to understand every word. For me, when I was in high school my SRD worked out to be about 80% of the top speed when I was just trying to read as fast as possible. As I worked at it in college it got higher. But working on improving your SRD requires you to practice that actual way of speaking, which is something most people do not do. Most people do the standard speaking drills- pen, as fast as possible, backwards etc. This is what most debate labs do when they do speed drills for 20 minutes or so. Few people really practice the way they want to actually be speaking when in a debate. This is an ok system, but far from optimal- you want to practice game conditions. So you need to find your SRD and more importantly be comfortable with it so that you can easily do it in debates. What I mean by that is people often speak very differently from debate to debate- they go faster or slower, louder, spit more etc. You don’t want to do that, you want to give your best at all times.


How to find your SRD

Lets assume you have no one to practice with (if you do it should be obvious how to make these steps simpler). What you need to do is record yourself reading for about 10 minutes. Start out just reading as fast as you possibly can. About every 30 seconds, try and slow yourself down 5%. For a lot of people its hard to conceptualize what I mean when I say slow down 5% since the difference is only like 15 words if you are speaking 300 words per minute. So it will take a little practice, but for that 10 minutes slow down every 30 seconds a small amount.


Now you are going to listen to that recording and try and be as honest with yourself as possible- at what speed did you sound the best? By that I mean clarity, lack of stuttering, breathing well etc. It may be as low as 60%- it doesnt matter. Trust me when I say you will debate a lot better and get better points at your SRD then you will going faster than it- if you cant understand yourself, how do you expect anyone else to? And by understand I mean you should be able to clearly hear every word and differentiate it.


Now that you have your SRD you need to get comfortable with it. So what I want you to do is start reading for a 10 minute block, and I want you to start reading as fast as possible and then after about 15 seconds I want you to quickly transition into your SRD. Read that way for a few minutes, then slow down even more to about 30-40%. Read that way for about 15-20 seconds, and then accelerate to your SRD. The point of this drill is that you want your SRD to become 2nd nature- you shouldn’t have to think about it. Most people get up and just read as fast as they can, so even when they know their SRD their tendency is to slowly accelerate out of it. Or they slow down to make a point, and then have trouble transitioning back to their SRD.


The combined task of finding your SRD and getting comfortable finding it quickly will not be easy. If you dont have someone to listen to you, it will take a lot of recording yourself and then listening back to it (which obviously doubles the time it takes, unless you get good at listening while you are speaking). This can be very frustrating/discouraging. Maybe you have debate friends on the internet- get them to listen and give you feedback if you don’t have a coach/partner who can do so. The point is- if you want to get top speaker awards you have to be either super talented at speaking, or you have to put in the work.


2. Now you have your SRD. It’s time to establish a baseline. For your baseline test I have uploaded the TNW 1AC I read on the college Europe topic at GSU. I didn’t include 3 cards that as far as I remember took me a little over a minute to read so this should be cut down from the 9 mn college version to an 8 minute version*. The reason I chose this 1AC was because this was what really drilled into me the concept of the SRD. I realized after much huffing and puffing that I basically got through the same amount of cards when I went a little faster but lost some clarity than when I just went with my SRD. Once I figured that out my points took a sever uptick.

Prolif 1AC


What I want you to do is read through this once, and then time yourself reading it at your SRD. Then at the end of 3 weeks of practice you will read it again and see if you have improved your time (which if you don’t cheat, you will have greatly).


Now, for the next 5 days I have devised a little practice schedule (this is in addition to finding your SRD/doing the test).


The way this will be broken down is into skills days and game days. On skills days you will work on the sort of “regular” speaking drills that people usually do. On game days you will be practicing your SRD. Each day consists of 30 minutes of speaking, the bare minimum you should be doing. For each 30 minutes, you should break it into 10 minute blocks where you are speaking for the whole 10 minutes. This is so that you get used to speaking for longer than the longest speech/don’t run out of breath.


Day 1- Skills

Three 10 minute blocks

1. As fast as possible (AFAP)

2. Over-annunciate/backwards split (5-5)


Day 2- game

1. Practice finding your SRD (described above, start faster, slow into it, start slow, accel into it)

2. Theory- read theory blocks for 10 minutes at SRD

3. Blocks- read 2AC or 2NC blocks on arguments you expect to debate for 10 mns. Note the time it takes you to read each block to assist in planning your speech time later

Day 3- skills


2. Breathing focus- work on eliminating bad breathing habits (double breaths, screeching), breathing at good places (ends of tags, ends of sentences, not in random places) and try and work on reading more with each breath so you take less of them (many people breath too frequently often because they speak to loud or are so animated they have to breath more)



Day 4- Game

1. Finding SRD practice

2. Blocks

3. Do the above breathing exercise but using your SRD


Day 5 Skills


2. Analytics- something like a rebuttal redo where you aren’t just reading, but practicing making up arguments off the top of your head. Take 2NC theory blocks and instead of reading the argument go down the list and make a response argument (see past 3nr speaker point posts for other examples








*To stem of the tide of “kirshon” questions-obviously the plan isn’t in there cause I couldn’t find it, the contentions had names etc. Also the quals were read.

4 thoughts on “Do you want to be top speaker at the toc? part 1

  1. Nick

    What gets to be the huge problem with double breathing that isn't apparent in single breathing? Aren't the breaths similarly unpleasant to hear?

  2. OneLyfe

    Ok so here's my shtick w/the whole double breathing sounds awful thing – the act of taking 2 sequential breaths is not intrinsically unpleasant, it's when *any* breath interrupts ur normal flow of speaking. Stephen Weil double breathes but does so pretty fluidly where it isn't like "word breath breath word".

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