Students Aren’t The Only Ones Who Learn Things at a Speech and Debate Tournament by: Cassandra Hornby

We cannot teach our young people to communicate effectively unless we ourselves communicate. 

Not all of us judge 14 rounds at our first ever tournament like someone I know, but if you are an adult at a Speech and Debate Tournament, chances are you will be roped into at least one round to judge. Why? Who can say “no” to the unbelievably sweet staff who beg so politely? 🙂 Okay really, in all seriousness, the tournament will screech to a halt if there are not enough judges to rank and critique the speakers, so in the event that you find yourself staring at a ballot here is my two cents on the indispensable role of a judge…

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Essential Tournament Prep: Judging Debate by: Brenda Storz

Our friends, at New England Debate, posed a great question… it’s geared toward judges…

Are you ready? We’ve all spent months helping equip our debaters for competition. We’ve asked: Do they have fitting tournament attire, a way to organize their evidence, a timepiece and flowpad? Have they written their case well, developed enough negative research, and practiced enough debate rounds? We’ve focused on making sure they are prepared — or at least as prepared as they can be. As parents, we usually worry about ourselves last, but are we prepared?

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Help! I don’t know how to judge an Interp speech!

I am actually privy to this sentiment fairly often.  Parents mostly know what they like best when they watch interps.  They might even know why they liked it best over some other interp. But they want to know how to say that articulately to the students on the ballot.  The point of this post is NOT to tell you what should rank higher than something else but to help you identify the bits and pieces that are part of any interp…bits and pieces that you can talk about from your own perspective on your ballots, giving students bits and pieces they can actually work on after the tournament. I was recently in a club meeting where the leader asked the students to share the most helpful comment they had received on a ballot.  The students struggled to find one.  I want students to have LOTS of helpful, useable things.  Things they can take to club and say, “can someone show me how to ___________?” Or “can someone help me change ___________?”  I want things filling in those blanks for our kids!

So here goes….How DO you look at an interp speech?

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Tips on Ballot Writing and Giving Feedback – FREE download

I know judges sometimes struggle with what to write on Speech and Debate ballots. It’s hard to express your feelings on paper. Over the years, I’ve seen thousands of ballots and they are usually a blessing (for the most part) and a source for students to refer back to. I mean, let’s be honest, some kids keep their ballots for years after competing. However, once in a while there are some comments that would be better not to write, and it usually involves a pre-disposed bias. So I challenge judges to really think before you write…

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Constructive Comments for Judges

If you have judged just one Speech and Debate tournament or even one round, you know how difficult it can be to find the right words... To encourage, to help, and to give good feedback. Typically, the student also wants to know why you also gave them the rank you did. If you find yourself at a loss for words... Here are some helpful phrases and critiques from Lasting Impact!

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Good Ballots, Bad Ballots, and What We Make of Them

We write a lot of them as parents (or alumni).  Competitors get an envelope of them after every speech and debate tournament.  And sometimes we have more to say about the ballots than we take away from the ballots!  What are these ballots, and how can both judges and competitors use the ballots to best effect during the competition season?

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Judges and Cell Phones

I was recently at a speech and debate tournament- almost 300 competitors, three days of competition, students from across the country gathered together to give their best. During each day of the competition I heard of situations involving  judges with cell phones. How could this be? During judge training judges are clearly asked to silence cell phones, not to text, or to take phone calls. Perhaps it is early in the competition season, and judges need to get back in the groove?! However, I thought I would give a friendly reminder that judges…

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Thank you for judging!


This totally may seem like an obvious post. But I will still write it… If nothing else to remind my fellow judges.

1. Turn off cell phones. Check, double check.Turning it to vibrate is not good enough. Do not be that distracting person.

2. Be attentive. There is nothing more disheartening to my speech friends when adult judges look bored. Please give them the respect you would want if you were speaking to a group of people. If you can sit towards front and center, that is helpful. It’s fine to take notes, but try to keep eyes up to speaker as much as possible.

3. Check the competitor names on your ballot to make sure that you have no conflict of interest. Depending on what organization you are judging for, conflicts could include your daughter’s best friend, someone you just had over for dinner, etc. Students can give speeches out of listed order, being familiar with your list of kids will be helpful. I like to take the names of the kids and write each of their names on their individual ballot to familiarize myself with the names. This is also a good self check to see if a name I initially missed is in my room.

4. Make sure all judges are present prior to beginning the round. Typically, there are 3 judges, but some debate rounds will have fewer.

5. You may ask a Communications Staff Member or hall monitor to check with tournament staff if you have questions.

6. Use time before the round begins to read rules. Knowing what you are about to see can give you a heads up.

7. Audience members may come and go. Try not to let that be a distraction.

8. Set aside personal bias and expertise and judge based on ballot criteria.

9. Be responsive! It’s ok to laugh, smile, even enjoy yourself! However; do not interrupt or question speakers about the content of their speech at any time.

10. Please use ink pen (not pencil) to fill out your ballot evaluation and rank sections.

11. Write initial impressions & key notes on ballots after each speaker. Remember your feedback is extremely valuable! Please be sure to give your opinion, as well as what the student could do to improve.

12. Stay in room until all competitors listed on the ballot have delivered their speech. Remember students may have multiple speeches they compete in. I personally, like the extra time to fill out more of my ballot between speakers. If it seems like you are waiting too long, you could locate the Comm. Staff or hall monitor to let them know.

13. Return to the Judge’s Hospitality area immediately after the last speaker to fully complete ballot with rankings and additional comments. This will help you locate where you will be turning in your ballot! If you forget… They will find you.

14. Record YOUR ranking (1 – 8) on the tabulation sheet.  Remember- this is your opinion. If you have any penalties,  a staff member will help you..

15. Please do not confer with other judges or students about your individual rank and comments, during or after the round. Your opinion is your own. Do not convince other judges, parents, or students how you feel about one’s speech. Remember until the tournament is over, your thoughts should be kept to yourself. Students will get all the feedback at the end of the tournament.

These Speech Tournaments could not take place with place without the judges. You are much appreciated! Thank you for judging!