Speech and Debate Go Hand in Hand

I hear it all the time… “I’m an Interper!” or “I only do Debate.” or “I’m a speech-only kid.” There is a reason Speech and Debate go hand and hand. Some people think it is to have more variety or options for the competitors. However now you have the opportunity to learn the skills, both Speech and Debate provide,  skills that are life long and extremely valuable.

Interpers are learning the skill of acting… A skill we do every day! What? Yes, you may not realize it, but every day we act. You may have to deal with disappointment when someone eats the last cookie, you may express anger when someone pulls their car in front of yours, you may show excitement when your little brother draws you a picture. Each of these situations arise daily when you express yourself with perhaps a little more or less drama than necessary.


I believe every debater, whether they realize it or not, is learning the art of acting or interpretation, as well.  The better at acting the better you will be at debating too. Let me explain.  If you talk to a lawyer, they probably don’t always represent people or ideas they believe in. Competitive debate is the same- you debate both sides of the argument. You have to ACT like you believe in something you may not agree with, therefore you are acting! Therefore the stronger actor you are, the more you can convince your judge or audience. Now, I understand you need the arguments and research that so many great debaters have, but I think some debaters don’t realize the benefits of acting. By participating in an interpretive speech you are learning perhaps to get out of your comfort zone and to express yourself differently than you would in a traditional speech or debate. These are skills that you will use and should learn!

NCFCA Alumni Jack Bechtel competed in Speech and Debate (LD and TP) for 6 years, qualifying to Nationals in both Interp and Debate. He says, “Competing in Interp significantly aided in improving my debate skills. Perhaps the most important benefit of competing in Interp, was doing Interp. It helped me to more effectively connect and bond with my audience and debate judges on a deeper emotional level, something many debaters tend to neglect. This emotional connection plays an important role in building the pathos of the debate round and can be the difference between a win and a loss. I found this especially true in rounds where argumentation and logic of both seemed evenly matched. In many cases, the emotional rapport I had established with the judges supplied a slight edge needed to win an otherwise close ballot.”

Kristi says:  Learning to interp also enhances your expressiveness and vocal variety which makes you much more interesting to listen to!


It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t argue the other side of the coin! I believe interpers would also gain valuable insight and skills by debating! Debate students learn some pretty phenomenal skills. On the top of my list, for the case of this debate, would be the skill of thinking on your feet. I think I will call that improvisation. The ability to master improvisation comes in virtually every debate round. Guess what? Not every Interp speech goes as planned… Often times a speaker will have to improvise (especially in Duo) in their speech. One room may have a loud air conditioner, so you might have to be louder. You or your partner may forget a line and you need to move on like nothing happened. You see, even in life we have to adjust or improvise to the situation.

NCFCA Alumni Mitchell Whittenall,  qualified to the National Championship in both Speech and Debate in years past. He earned 2nd place in 2015 for Humorous Interpretation and 2016 for Biblical Presentation. “I considered myself more of an Interper, however I believe that debate aided my interpretations of literature because it taught me more about vocal variation and rhythmic patterns. Not only that but debate taught me how to better think on my feet which helped if I ever lost my spot in an interp.”

Kristi says:  Debaters learn to analyze and impact small details.  This skill greatly informs character development for your interps as well!

By learning both Speech and Debate TOGETHER, you will be able to apply what you learn quickly and effectively. I hear it all the time from my Debate-only friends, “I wish I had tried Interp.” The same is true from my Interp pals, “I should have done Debate.” The high school years pass by quickly, don’t let opportunities pass you by. If you are going to be at a Speech and Debate Tournament, why not try to learn another skill?! These abilities will only propel you into your future!

David Sher wrote an article for Forbes magazine in 2014, and said, “Here is the truth about students who compete in speech and debate. They’ve spent hundreds of hours perfecting their speaking skills. Many have done intensive research to write their speeches. All have endured the pressure that competition brings, and have performed well intellectually under such pressure. They’ve made connections and friendships with other high performing peers. All of these behaviors are excellent predictors of success on any leadership team.”

In my family, most people tend to think of us as Interpers. However, it has been a requirement that everyone of our children tries each of the skills offered at a Speech and Debate tournament. Some have enjoyed Debate, others can take it or leave it. But I believe there is value in participating in both Speech and Debate, together! It has been a positive experience and it only has enhanced their overall education.