Online Opportunities – More than just “better than nothing!!”

​Are Online Tournaments even worth it? Is speech and debate as we know it over? What about my friends? I won’t be able to see them in person for ages! If you’re asking these questions, Eric Meinerding is empathetic to your concerns. He lived, breathed, and ate speech and debate in high school. Immersion might even be an understatement. Here is his take on the new world of speech and debate…

The reality of our world consists of a digital age. More of life takes place through social media, apps, email, texting, and snapchat than ever before. And this was true long before schools and business closed and people stayed indoors on zoom calls. The past few months simply made our digital evolutions as a society prominently obvious across industrial and cultural sectors. But just because recent times have made the reality of a digital age more prominent, does not mean this is a recent development. Movies, a bedrock of culture and entertainment, are a purely digital product. Aside from maybe going to a movie theater, there is no “in person” element to watching the newest Marvel film. Similarly, news broadcasting is almost entirely digital, and even those of us who still enjoy a physical newspaper aren’t experiencing the news first hand. Its being presented through a secondary means of communication. Digital communication matters. Knowing how to communicate through online environments is an invaluable skill now and tomorrow. Online speech and debate tournaments are a unique and convenient opportunity to develop those abilities.

​As the world of competitive forensics moves online, the larger speech and debate community is scrambling to find their next move. Is speech and debate as we know it over? Are online tournaments even worth it? What about my friends? I won’t be able to see them in person for ages! If you’re asking these questions, I am empathetic to your concerns. I lived, breathed, and ate speech and debate in high school. Immersion might even be an understatement. My social life and academic life almost entirely revolved around going to speech and debate tournaments. The prospect of losing that makes me hurt for current competitors even now. But, from what I have experienced first hand through Lasting Impact! gives me hope for the future and moving forward! As God closes one door he opens another. We humans are quite good at adapting to adversity and discovering creative solutions to live our lives. Growing accustom to a speech and debate experience that primarily operates through video (I am not advocating for debating in your pajamas) may be one such adaptation.

​To answer the question of whether or not online speech and debate can be as fun, rewarding, and educational as in person debate one first must consider what “in person” forensics consist of. Public speaking is a vibrant and multifaceted art form. There are a wide variety of skills and variables to master in order to consistently present rhetoric which stands apart. Yet, at a fundamental level, public speaking’s most critical elements are the words spoken and how they are spoken. Consider many of the most famous speeches of history. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, MLK’s I have a dream, Reagan’s challenger disaster, Jesus’s sermon on the mount. Not much is known or remembered the body language of the speakers when presenting their message, nor even their tone or volume in certain instances. But what resonates throughout the pages of history is the content and rhetoric. What they spoke, and the words they choose to speak that message. In essence this is what competitive speech and debate has always been about. What message are you conveying, and what words are you choosing to communicate that message? And may the best communicator win.

​Online debate and speaking opportunities replicate those primary factors seamlessly and in a way that frankly, may be more directly applicable to careers in the future of our world than even traditional forensics. Think back to any action or adventure movie you’ve seen where one character is having an argument with a bunch of faces on screens. Generally they are debating whether or not to deploy a hero into action, use an experimental weapon, or surrender to an enemy. They are arguing over vastly important, world changing matters, and all without actually being in person. While that may be a trope from movies, the real world doesn’t stray too far from these fictional depictions. Watch any news broadcast. Every single news broadcast is online speech and debate in action. They are presenting data and arguments to an audience they can’t see, without full access to a wide range of body language or other subtler rhetorical tricks, yet they still convey their content in an eloquent manner. Some news stations feature segments where guest experts call in through video conferencing and discuss the issues of the day. Again, online debate in action. Every movie you’ve ever seen is an example of an online interpretive speech. And if you have ever listened to the podcast you’ve participated in one of the fastest growing entertainment models of our time, all purely based on the content and the words chosen to speak that content. Podcasts are digital platforms. Movies are digital interps. News is digital debate. Online speech and debate isn’t “better than nothing” it is exactly what the entire world does every single day, every day.

​Digital forensics stand as one of the greatest available opportunities for high school students to directly apply their communication skills in the most real world environment available to them: the arena of the internet. With so much of the day to day American life consisting of movies, news, social media, podcasts and the like, its critical that our leaders of tomorrow master the new art of digital communication. And online tournaments are the perfect supplement to traditional tournaments to guide students in the process of becoming proficient technological speakers.

The online tournament format Lasting Impact! has- is cutting edge!! I’ve been doing forensics for about 10 years and I’ve had my fair share of online debates in high school (but that was debating in my pajamas), and the college circuit uses online debating all the time. I’ve been a part of plenty of digital tabrooms, and zoom calls are my daily norm. The interface Lasting Impact! has created combined the best elements of anything I’ve seen and added their own flare to it as well. Registering to judge was simple, entering the video debate room was effortless (no email connecting me with another person), and filling out my digital ballot was easier than writing on a paper one! And the quality of the debates were excellent as well. The arguments and rhetoric on display were polished and refined. Just what you’d expect from a competitive debate tournament. Overall, I loved the experience and am so excited that this is a resource for students moving forward! Ready or not, the world of online speech and debate is here!

A Note from Heather – Lasting Impact! is planning more online speech and debate tournaments!! Not only that, we wrote our state of the art tournament software, so that YOU can administer a tournament! That’s right, club leaders, tournament directors, even leagues can use our tournament system. You can run a practice tournament, regular tournament, round robin, compete against a sister club, or even hold a one day Limited Prep Tournament. We are excited to offer students and families the ability to connect and compete. Full details coming soon! For more information, contact heather@lastingimpact.info

Leave a Reply