Tiny kids in big suits screaming at me about the importance of America’s relationship with Taiwan, sassy Indian girls cracking wise about the Bush Administration, and lanky white boys with supervillain hairdos aggressively asserting their love for America can only mean one thing:
I judged Congress a few weeks ago.
Congressional debate occupies a unique space in the world of speech and debate; it simulates a strange version of Congressional discourse in order to achieve a balance of speech and debate, often accomplishing neither. Congress was my first love in S&D---I can still remember vigorously denouncing the socialism of Canadian healthcare and grossly misinterpreting studies on biodiesel subsidies. I’ve been out of the game for a long time, however. I coach students online, at a distance, and have done so with a pretty solid track record of success, but there’s something very different about stepping into the breach yourself.
Judging at Berkeley was an enlightening experience. I witnessed a lot of good and a whole lot of bad---and I thought it would be valuable, as someone who has been in this game for a depressingly long amount of time, to offer some perspective.
So without further ado, here are Armand’s Congress tips:
1. End Strong: I cannot tell you how many amazing, powerful speeches I saw that ended awkwardly and abruptly. Debaters are so eager to cram in so many arguments that they don’t allow themselves enough runway to make the landing. Speeches are like airplane trips: it doesn’t matter how smooth the journey was if you mess up the landing.
2. A little passion goes a long way: Folks, let’s be real: judging Congress IS BORING. It doesn’t matter how amazing or exciting the chamber is---no human being can listen to three hours of Congressional debate without losing a piece of their soul. It’s your job, as a competitor, to engage and excite me---and no matter how sharp your critique of American infrastructure funding schemes is, if you don’t care, why should I?
3. Claim, claim, claim: So I’m going to give away a little bit of an Armand Trade Secret™ here: Every argument should be structured.
a. Tagline: A punchy, emotional soundbite that summarizes your argument
b. Claim: An explanation of your argument---What is your argument?
c. Warrant: Proof of your argument---Why should I believe your argument?
d. Impact: The emotional, vivid consequence of your argument---Why should I care about your argument?
The problem with most speeches that I saw was that they often straight up ignored the claim portion. This isn’t always a bad thing---sometimes your tagline is very obvious and needs no further explanation. However, this is rarely the case.
For instance, if your tagline is “This bill will collapse the economy” your next sentence should not begin with “A study by.”
Why? Because by doing so you are never making the argument. You are providing the judge with evidence and hoping they figure it out. That is your job, not theirs. Even if you do eventually make the argument, you have left the judge confused for far too long---and they will mentally associate that feeling of confusion and uncertainty with you.
4. STRUCTURE: Speeches have structure. Speeches have structure. Speeches have structure.
There is nothing more frustrating than hearing a long, unstructured rant. If you want to annoy the hell out of your judge, there is nothing better to do than just issue a stream of consciousness ramble---I guarantee you it will make that 3 minute speech feel like 3 hours. You structure your essays in school for a freakin’ reason.
SPEECHES HAVE STRUCTURE.
5. Comedic Timing: Students spend too much time thinking about clever jokes and too little time thinking about how to deliver them. A joke that I chuckle at 20 seconds later is not an effective joke. Pause before your punchline. Pause after your punchline. Look up comedic timing; look up comedians. Humor has a rhythm, a pace, and a tone.
6. SLOW THE HECK DOWN: I love CX. I love LD. THIS IS NOT CX. THIS IS NOT LD. Look at one of Obama’s speeches---almost painfully slow, isn’t it? Persuasive speeches use pauses. They take their time. Trust me, no judge is tracking how many people you were able to refute or how many arguments you crammed into your speech.
7. DON’T AMEND THE BILL: Come on. This is such a rookie move---it’s barely forgivable for a freshman at his or her first tournament. It is a capital offense in semifinals of the Berkeley tournament. You are smarter than this. No one will vote yes. Everyone will hate you.
Let’s do better, together.
Questions? Feel free to tweet at me @ArmandDoma or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.