Posted by Natalie
My old speech coach used to tell me that it wasn’t the fancy stuff that always helped you win, it was “hitting your free throws.” Essentially, hitting all the basic skills and not faltering when all of the pressure is placed on you.
You’ve gotten to nationals, so you’re definitely skilled. But what sets apart those who succeed from those who don’t is an amount of control in everything you do. You can’t let nerves get the better of you. You need to stay focused and controlled no matter what happens. I don’t care if you spill a water bottle in the judge’s lap when shaking their hand (happened to me), I don’t care if you lose your visual aids up until right before the round (also happened to me), I don’t care if you are running late to your round because the entire tournament is running behind (this too happened to me, many times), you are in control of yourself.
By this point you should be prepared, you should be polished, you should feel confident going in. But don’t let that confidence leave you because something goes wrong. Instead, focus on the speech or debate round in front of you, accomplish that, and leave the results up to the judge. You can’t control the circumstances around you, but you can control how you respond to them. So stay focused and hit those free throws.
Posted by Bryan
This may sound kind of opposite of the rest of our tips. We’ve told you to practice often, do research and reading, and even to put a lot of thought into your clothing choices. But at a certain point, both before and during the tournament, you need to take time for yourself to recharge. Stress is a funny thing; a little bit of it makes us superhuman, but a lot of it causes your brain and body to shut down. You don’t need to worry about the tournament too much because your body will take care of the adrenaline rush before rounds. Adding piles of stress on top of that runs the risk of your brain simply not working.
So, if at all possible, take some time to recharge after each day at the tournament. Watch some Youtube videos or a movie, read a book, hang out with friends, whatever lets you recharge. This is especially important if you are competing in multiple events. Relaxing will put you in a much better mental and physical state to do your absolute best in every round.
Posted by Bryan
I’ll admit, this is one I never learned in high school or college myself. I wish that I had because I probably would have been more successful at national championships if I had realized that it is just like any other tournament. The fact that you qualified to nationals means that you’re already one of the best debaters or speakers in the country. Trust in that. At least theoretically, you are about as good as any other competitor at the tournament.
My college coach used to say that the winner of a debate round is the person who thinks less. That’s true for speech too. That sounds counter intuitive, but it’s true. Forensics is all about preparation. If you are prepared, you really don’t have to think much in round, just repeat the same arguments or speech that you have been using for several tournaments. Our brains do funny things in high-pressure situations. Stress makes us make stupid decisions, over analyze scenarios, and generally makes us forget everything we already know. Don’t let your brain get too involved. Of course you need to think in order to win, but don’t reinvent the wheel now that you’ve qualified to nationals.
My debate career ended in the double-octafinals at the national championship against a competitor from Rice University that I should have beat pretty easily. Because I forgot this tip, I tried to win on a highly technical argument when all I needed to say was that his arguments didn’t respond to my case. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Trust your instincts, trust your preparation, because those are what got you to nationals.
Posted by Natalie
One of the strangest things for me when I transitioned to college was getting used to warm ups. Every morning, before the tournament started, we would get to the tournament early, find an empty room, gather around and do warm ups to wake up our mouths and bodies. This soon became one of my favorite things to do. When you get up early, your body isn’t ready to go right away and you need to take some time to let your it wake up.
In college, we would use rooms at the tournament. However, I don’t know if the buildings would be open early enough or if the tournament officials would want you wandering around before the tournament starts. So, I would recommend warming up in your hotel room (just keep the volume down to not bother your neighbors).
First, you will want to wake up 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier than you normally would to give your self time to warm up. Then, get ready for the day. Eat breakfast, get dressed, get all your stuff together. When you are all ready, do you warm ups. Start with some tongue twisters, do a couple of activities that will get your body moving, then practice your speech/speeches once (if you are only in debate, read through your affirmative or read through some evidence to get your mouth warmed up). Give yourself plenty of time so that you don’t feel rushed. On the car ride over, don’t sleep no matter how tempted you are. Instead, listed to your favorite pump up music. Stay energized and awake so you are ready to go.
Most of you won’t have events every round and won’t be in both speech and debate. In your off rounds, try to do things that will keep you awake. Don’t just sit in the hang out room and watch videos on your phone. When the time comes for you to perform again, spend the 15-30 minutes before getting warmed up again. The trick is to keep your adrenaline going so the early mornings don’t catch up to you until after the tournament is over and you are safely driving back home.
Posted by Natalie
If you are anything like me, most of your packing for a trip takes place in the 5 minutes before you are supposed to leave home. However, if you want to actually be prepared for a week away from home, you should probably get ready earlier.
This doesn’t mean you need to have your suitcase ready to go tomorrow. But maybe start packing clothes to get them all in one place. Also, then you will know what needs to be washed before you leave. Start making a detailed list of all the items you need and check them off as you put them in your suitcase.
Look at the weather. Know if you will need to pack a light jacket or an umbrella. Think through all the activities you will be doing outside of competing. Will you be swimming at your hotel? Will you be going out after the day’s competition? How much casual clothing will you need. How many pairs of shoes do you need to pack?
Start planning everything out now so that you can have a smooth and stress free day of travel.
Posted by Bryan
No, we don’t mean to drag your little siblings along with you or, if you don’t have one, kidnap one off the street. If you happen to have a little sibling who is a good timer, it can be helpful for them to time your rounds so you get consistent hand signals. But that’s not what I’m talking about. You should have your own timepiece with you at the podium when you are giving speeches in debate. Tournament timers usually only give hand signals at every minute and for the last thirty seconds, but there is a big difference between having 4:01 left and 4:45. If you’re anything like me, you tend to get wrapped up in your speech and lose track of the time. When you can’t see the time down to the second or miss a hand signal, you lose track of the time for longer, costing you valuable seconds that you could use elsewhere in your speech. That’s if the timer gives hand signals at all. I can’t tell you how many times the timer would forget to give me time signals and the speech ended when I thought I had at least a minute left.
Debate is a game of seconds. You will almost always have more arguments to get through than time. You need to move efficiently and know how much time to spend on each piece of evidence or position in order to get everything in that you need to. The best way to do that is keep a timepiece with you and look at it frequently during your speech.
Note: if you are told by a judge or a tournament official not to do this, listen to them. We did it when we competed but that was over six years ago so things may of changed. Also, don’t use your cell phone as a timer. That can look sketchy. Instead, buy a cheap kitchen timer or a stopwatch.
Posted by Bryan
Debate is my jam, so here’s another one for you debaters out there.
When Natalie and I are coming up with these posts, we kind of ask ourselves “what advice did we ignore in high school?” This is definitely one of them. It is important to stay caught up on the news, but there’s always a time tradeoff between researching and getting to know your own arguments. If you’re looking in your folders and you notice you have 47 pages against free trade with China, do you really need to research more against that aff? Probably not. In an average debate round, you’ll use a dozen or so cards at most. Most likely, you have a lot of really good cards that apply to a number of cases and you don’t even realize it. About a week before the tournament, you should stop spending a lot of time on researching and instead just read the cards that you already have. Even if you’ve read them before, read them again. You will notice new nuances, new ways to use them, and probably news strategies against cases. Also, if you know what you have in your box forwards and backwards, you can cobble together a strategy against a case you’ve never heard of before.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t stay up on the news. China is a topic that can change almost daily, especially with Trump in the office. But there’s a difference between skimming headlines and researching. The round is usually won by the person who knows their evidence better than the other team; make sure that is you.
Posted by Natalie
By this point, you already know that you need to dress up for tournaments. After all, it is literally a rule you are required to follow. But sometimes just throwing on a thrift store suit and calling it good isn’t enough.
In our textbook, 101: An Introduction to Team Policy Debate, we talk about rhetorical strategies, including developing ethos through dress:
“An audience will be more likely to be persuaded by you if they think you are credible…We all wish that looks didn’t matter, but unfortunately people judge a person after only a few seconds of seeing them and how you dress can be their first impression of you.”
So first and foremost, make sure your suits fit. A suit that is too big or too tight can make you look younger and inexperienced. Here is guide for you guys out there. Even an inexpensive thrift store suit can look great if it fits well. Here is a guide for girls that is also pretty good. If your suit doesn’t fit properly, getting it tailored is a option and you can most likely find one that is not terribly expensive.
Even if you can’t tailor your suit, there are other steps you can take to look professional. Be aware of color. Pick shirts and ties that are complimentary and not bright or clashing. Wear jewelry that adds to a look but doesn’t stand out too much. Wear shoes that compliment your suit. Also, make sure your clothes aren’t wrinkled. If you don’t have an iron, steam your clothes in the shower for a bit.
Make sure your hair looks presentable. Get a haircut if you need one and do your hair in the morning (whatever that process means to you).
Establishing credibility is one of the most important steps you can take and how you dress can do that before you even open your mouth. Looking your best isn’t shallow, it is a rhetorical strategy that makes others listen to you and makes you more confident.
Posted by Natalie
Your body is a machine and it works best when running at full capacity. If you are not getting enough rest, your body will not function at peak performance. So even though it might be tempting to stay up late researching or practicing, you need your sleep.
The average teenager need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Your bodies are still developing and so they need more time to recuperate and absorb everything you did that day. You shouldn’t try and get more than the recommended amount of sleep, but your memory will be stronger and your brain will be sharper if you get enough sleep. Once you get to the tournament, the ideal amount of sleep probably won’t be possible, but adrenaline can’t do its job if you already have a sleep deficit coming into nationals.