Cultivating the Debater’s Soul by: Isaiah McPeak

For those of you who don’t know him, Isaiah’s passion is teaching students to think deeply and something (like me) he spends a lot of time thinking about!! After somewhat of a hiatus, Isaiah is looking forward to seeing both old and new friends in Chicago this August…

I’m really excited to help a new group of students stretch themselves and think about debate like never before. If you are thinking about sending your student to camp, or if you haven’t worked with me before, here are three things you should know:

1. Coaching > Teaching

Too often I see debate training like this: telling a bunch of students who are at Points A, B, or C, what CDEFGHIJKL are like and then expecting students to figure out how to be perfect. Instead, the job of coach is to identify where each student really is (at Point A, B, or C, for example) and help that student take the furthest next step available.

For each and every student that’s different. So you may find yourself nudged one direction (flow your responses, not their points) and another student nudged the opposite direction (listen better by finding the “hot” word that connected with the audience), based on my perception of where you are right now.

And my favorite part about coaching: we’re all in this together. We are all learning. Just as the students at camp will advance in their skills, so I too will learn something from you at camp that I take back to my workplace. Unlike a teacher, I have no pass/fail grading rubric for you. Instead, we’re all on a journey and can be kind to others who are at different places than we are, walk with them for a minute, and celebrate when we each take the next step on our own path.

2. Exercises > Lectures

I believe that debate is skill-based, not understanding-based. Just like business, we often get caught up in the search for the perfect idea instead of recognizing that execution itself is often the best strategy. Since debate is more caught than taught, do not plan on sitting in your seat filling out some complete notebook as I divulge knowledge from 15+ years of debate, the classics, and business communication.

I actually despise the word “lecture” when it comes to debate camps—I don’t want to do that to you except to fill extremely critical knowledge gaps that you may need closed in order to progress your skill. Debate is like soccer, not philosophy. Plan on constantly being asked to demonstrate, one-up, and—in the form of the classical rhetoric masters—imitate.

As a result, there’s no specific amount of information we must “get through.” Instead, we want to “get it”—actually feel new skills in our bodies. When we feel success, a new neural pathway is formed and skills are cemented in your brain so that they can be used again and again!

3. Real Life > Debate Lingo

When I was a high school and college debater, I’d get out of debate theory traps with a simple standard: real life. If you can’t explain how this theory would work in a real life setting—at the dinner table, in Congress, in a business meeting—then it’s garbage.

My goal is to constantly help us imagine ourselves in these real settings and recognize that what we’re learning applies to the whole of life (please click that “skill-based” text above to see that every business is looking for what I’d say about 30% of people achieve in their debate careers).

So press me: “how would this work in a meeting?” “how does this look in a college setting?” Demand to understand how to transfer each debate skill into real life.

Many former debaters mistakenly demand that real life should come to them: “these people would understand me if they had the debate background that I do.” And it’s the failure of much of debate coaching in that it starts us out learning a different language and then people like me spend years figuring out how the stock issues, parametrics, FIAT, and even condo-counterplans apply in the real world. But that isn’t real communication! Instead of demanding certain forums and formats to be heard, or a level of what we think of as being smart, as communicators we align with Aristotle so that we can activate our audiences, whoever they are. It is our job to love the audience enough to teach them and help them understand what we are trying to say.

So, expect to be encouraged to ditch your case scripts and instead, adapt every round; learn to compose your own cases instead of purchasing them, and challenge yourself to reveal your hand early in a debate in order to gain trust with your audience.

Remember that we’re ultimately concerned with thinking deeply and living and speaking truth…our whole life long.

Hope to see you in Chicago!

There is still time to sign up for the Chicagoland Camp. For more info CLICK HERE.