- Bronwyn Doebbeling
What’s up everyone, I am back almost a year later with another how-to.
Since I was a little freshman, just starting out in my first-ever DI, I had heard over and over and over again:
“Intros really don’t matter too much if your piece is good”
As a coach, I just keep hearing that! I gotta say, nothing gets me quite as riled up as this statement.
Guys, an intro is certainly no one’s favorite part to perform in their piece. But WOW, I can promise you with my whole heart it makes a difference. You can have the best cut piece, the most cohesive storyline, best diction, sharpest character choices, be clean af and dressed to the nines, and if your intro sucks, your piece is gonna rank dead in the middle of the round, because no one gets it.
I was stunned when I started working with 3P and I heard my coach (Juan De La Cruz) tell me that the former DI National Champion, Izabella Czejdo, won the final round the moment she delivered her intro. Check it out--NSDA ‘16.
Personally speaking, I felt the same way about winning the 2019 Harvard final round. The intro was the reason my piece spoke to people, it was the reason judges got my message, and it is the reason interp speech is just as important as any debate event.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
(Disclaimer: for no other reason than not wanting to use anyone else’s work without permission, I am going to dissect one of my old former intros--the 2019 DI mentioned above. This structure will work best for DI, DUO, and POI but you are welcome to adapt this to whatever you see fit)
Now there is no one-size-fits-all of intro writing. But every really good intro seems to have a few common threads. And there are a couple rules of thumb you can use to avoid cliches.
Here is the intro I ended up with, and how I built it:
(1) French historian Phillipe Aries explains that people in the Middle Ages would use the event of death to celebrate life; to express grief unrestrained and communally share it rather than keeping it private. However, in the 18th century, people began hiding death and funerals, making it a private mourning event. (2) This shift in culture paved the way for how now we view one’s death as a summation of who they are as a person. (3) At the height of the Opioid Crisis, our fixation on the morbidity of addiction and overdose defines those struggling not as people, but as addicts. (4) Until we stop defining people by how they died, we will never learn to fight for people struggling to live. (5) This is for my friend. Your memory does not deserve to be qualified by your disease. (6) Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful by Stephanie Wittels
Medical journal, study, really cool statistics (but it has to be super unique or VERY impactful otherwise it’s hard to relate to), interesting philosophical theory, etc. This is something that captures the *essence* of your argument, it explains in VAGUE AND UNRELATED terms what is going on.
SHORT short short sentence tying this concept to what the situation is now.
Explicit statement about the issue at hand. This is NOT an argument, merely a statement.
Now is when you get to place the ultimatum. Explain what needs to change, and what will happen if nothing does.
Tag your piece if you want to. Now is when you can say your personal connection. This was the moment I lived for, that reminded me every single round why I was giving this speech.
Title and author :)
Let’s end with DON’Ts
Please, please, please do not summarize your piece for a judge. We are watching your piece, we know who your character is, and if it’s cut right, we should understand their circumstances. You get like 30 total seconds to explain your argument. Do you really want to devote 15 of those to recapping what your audience should already know?
Ex: When Stephanie was given a chance to talk at her brother’s funeral she finally opened up on what it meant to have a brother addicted to opiates…
If you’ve seen the piece, you should already know all this. You already know the speaker is Steph, you already know she’s at her brother’s funeral, and you’ll find out its about opiates.
Try not to rely too much on statistics. I’ve done it before, but after a judge hears five intros with obscenely heartbreaking statistics, they start to lose their effect. The reason we do interp is so we can argue a point with appeals to emotion and ethics.
Ex. According to the CDC, From 1999–2018, almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid
This number is SO hard to conceptualize. Try and picture it. People are going to have difficulty feeling for a number they can’t even picture, let alone relate to
Don’t start off too personal. I love pieces that are focused on the speaker’s life and story, but it is so important that your topic is universal and must be addressed by everyone, or very few people will see your story as something they need to immediately take action about.
Ex. In 2014, the government of my home state, Indiana refused to give out clean needles to Scott County after nearly 200 people died of needle-related HIV. Like so many others, I was taught that “addict” was a curse word, and at the height of the Opioid Crisis, this victim-blaming mentality is the problem…
This is the start to an intro I actually had. As my coach put it, “your intro is like a DI in itself” I replaced this story with a “tag” at the end for a much more concise way to tell my passion for the argument.
Intros should never be something that is “just okay” or “should be fine” to go into a tournament with. If you do not have a good argument, you don’t have a solid, well-developed piece.
You don’t even have to follow my structure. Take a piece you really like and break down their intro into broad categories. Use those categories to build an argument. There is a reason why English teachers give you the whole “claim-evidence-reasoning” structure, and it’s because it WORKS. Find something that works for you, and live for your intro every round.
Now, not to plug myself or anything, but anyone reading this gets a free 30-minute consultation with me, and I would be more than happy to look over your intro and at least get you started in the right direction. Please don’t hesitate to reach out through my page. It’s time we got our stuff together and started making sure we are really using our platform to the best of our ability.