Do you ever get those competition jitters? I always did when I competed, and it sometimes got me in a lot of trouble!
I remember one year during my first nationals tournament, I saw everyone rush to postings! I ran as fast as I could to postings, pushed myself through the crowd, and finally saw my name! Even though I barely had any time to get to my room, I saw who else was in my room so I could find out how hard my competition was! There were three super skilled competitors in my room, so that made me VERY scared.
After stressing about my competition, I started to run all the way across the college campus to get to my room. Pretty soon, it started pouring with rain, so I had to hold my jacket over my head to somehow protect my hair from getting soaked. As I ran, I recited my speech to myself over and over again because I was scared that I would somehow forget it! By the time I got to my room, I was winded from all the running in heels, sopping wet from the rain, and overwhelmed with nerves. As I continued to recite my speech to myself, I kept forgetting sections because I was distracted with my thoughts about the tough competition I had in my room.
Knowing I was already late to my room and that it was my turn to speak, I put on my dripping blazer, smoothed my hair as much as I could, and opened the door. Because I was so nervous, I forgot to introduce myself, and just immediately hopped into my speech. The judges looked confused and surprised, which of course psyched my out even more! That speech I gave was probably the worst speech I have ever given. I talked too fast and was still out of breath from all the running. I stumbled over my words and forgot numerous sections of my speech. I was three minutes short on time. I was so embarrassed that I just left the room when I was finished, barely even making eye contact as I shaked my judges’ hands. When I got out of the room, I burst into tears, so disappointed about how my last round of the tournament went. Because of that speech, I didn’t qualify to quarter-finals, and that broke my heart.
Have you ever had one of those rounds? Maybe you completely stress yourself out and you rush to your class! Maybe it rains or snows! Maybe you focus so much on the competition that you’re overwhelmed with nerves! Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ve had an awful round before. Although I cried my eyes out about it, I was able to learn a lot for it. I learned how to better prepare myself for future rounds and competition. Because of this, I want to share my 3 top tips on how to prepare before competition!
Tip #1: Don’t rush
One of the worst things you can do for your state of mind as you’re trying to get into competition mode is rushing yourself. When you rush to your room, rush your thoughts, and rush your practicing time, you are going to appear flustered to the judge. This can make you look unprofessional and unprepared. I know many friends who had their speech fully prepped and memorized, but because they rushed themselves, their speech sounded very sloppy and clumsy. It’s sad to see, because even though they perfected their speech, the small error they made in rushing themselves ruined their round. This has happened to me many times because I’m someone who always rushes. I not only rushed myself in speech and debate often, but I also do so in my everyday life. What I have to remind myself is to not overthink things as much. You see, the reason why we rush ourselves so much is because we are stressing over thinking our situation. We think of all the things could go wrong if don’t get to our room on time. We struggle in thinking of a plan B. Thus, we rush and stress and let our nerves overwhelm our logic. Ways that helped me rush less was preparing ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute to recite your speech. Instead of reciting your speech right before your round, take time between rounds or during lunch break to find a quiet place and go over your speech. Setting time aside to do this really helps. You may have to give up 15 minutes from talking to friends or playing a card game, but it so worth it in the long run. Also, another way to rush less is to pack a couple items in your backpack or debate case. I would always pack a pair of walking shoes so that I didn’t have to rush in my uncomfortable heels. I would also suggest packing a laptop charger (if you need to use the internet at the tournament) so you can charge your laptop every moment you get. Running out of battery is the worst feeling when you are prepping for an extemp round! Another item that is helpful to pack is a snack. Oftentimes, we are so busy at tournaments that we forget to eat. While we feel invincible, our bodies can become exhausted and shaky if we don’t replenish ourselves. Always having a snack, water, and tea available in your bag will help calm you down and keep yourself energize. The final way that I stressed less was understanding that I don’t always have to get to my room right away. The speaker order is flexible. If you are listed as speaker number 5 on postings, you don’t have to be speaker number 5 in real life. You can be speaker 1 or speaker 8! As long as you speak in the room, you are perfectly fine! Just walk to your room at a moderate pace and keep your brain learn and open so that you can be calm when you present.
Tip #2: Don’t focus on the competition
So often when I found my name on postings, I would look at my competitors and then stalk them on Speechranks.com to see how well they did at other tournaments. Although I thought this was a strategy to my success, it was actually a detriment to it. I would psych myself out and start worrying about who was a better speaker than I was. But what I would have to finally realize is that no matter who was in my room, I was going to speak the same. Whether I had really good or really bad competition in my room, I would still give my 100% best. Nothing would change that. However, in my mind, I thought that I had to prep myself and get myself all hyped up if I had a really skilled competitor in my same room. I thought that I had to do even better and give 110% of myself. But I later realized that this wasn’t possible because I can only give 100% and nothing more. My advice to you is to find your name on postings and as soon as you see your name and room number, look away. Don’t study who is in your same room. Don’t stalk them on speech ranks. Just tell yourself that no matter who you are speaking or debating against, you will give your 100% best every round. At the end of my speech and debate career, I finally started doing this, and it helped me stress less and speak more confidently. This was because instead of worrying before a round, I would actually be calm and collected.
Tip #3: Pray
This is the most important tip to implement. Nothing will make your day better than talking to God and having and open and honest conversation with Him. Tell God how stressed out you are. Share with Him your concerns about the next round. Ask Him for strength and for Him to put the words in your mouth so that you can glorify Him. God has a path and plan for you, and He knows exactly how your competition round should go. Maybe He wants you to do really well and place super high. Or maybe He wants you to make a new friend with someone who is shy and new to speech and debate. God knows exactly what’s best for you, and as long as you make time to talk to Him and ask Him for strength, He will help you have an amazing day. The rounds where I decided to pray alone or with friends before a round were some of my best rounds. Instead of reciting my speech again or organizing my debate box, I would take time to pray to God and it would help my round so much more.
Speech and debate tournaments are stressful enough! Don’t add any extra pressure to your day! I challenge you to implement these 3 tips so that you can have the best competition of your life!