Speech Line Up… Going Last

It seems like every year there are speech and debate students that need to be re-educated. For whatever reason students think there is a magic system for the order of their appearance in a competition room. I hope through this article you will see there is no reason to go hiding in the bathroom until the end of the round…

When we first started speech and debate, I was given the same information I am giving you… There is nothing special about going last in the room. In fact, I think I have pretty solid evidence that last doesn’t always result in a victory. That certainly wasn’t the case for AJ Neumann, back in 2016 when he went first in every single round for his Biblical Presentation, at every single tournament, including finals at Nationals and won. He did not play the game of, what position should I go in??? He simply, saw postings, went to his room, and he went. I could give you examples over and over again of National Champions who did the same.

Speech Coach and judge, Kristi Eskelund, says, “I guess I’m a decisive person, so when I am sitting and waiting for a speaker – especially that last one in a room, I usually start working on my ballots.  My first step in ballots is  a rough ranking; then I can work on my comments – to explain what really impressed me about a speech so much that I ranked it high or what things I specifically saw that needed work.  Ballots start with a big picture for me (overall rankings) and then move to the smaller individual picture (specific feedback for each speaker.) If I wait 15-20 minutes for a speaker, I’ve usually worked through that big picture already and have moved on to the more individual focus.  So, when a last speaker arrives, it’s often hard for me to let go of the big picture I’ve laid out!  It’s difficult for me to un-decide and choose a new first or second place.  It’s MUCH easier just to put a late arrival among the lower ranks.  This, of course is not universally true.  If that last speaker is truly sensational, I’ll see it.  But once I’ve sat for a while sorting out what I think, I don’t want to start over in that process.  A student who comes after a long wait has my decisiveness to overcome in addition to whatever competition has preceded.  He or she will have to break through a framework I’ve already determined because the extra time allowed me to determine it

Another problem I’ve had with waiting for a late speaker is needing to get to the restroom.  Judges are told not to leave the room.  If I’ve had my cup of coffee and been sitting for over an hour, the struggle is real!  The more uncomfortable I am, the harder it is to listen to the speech and enjoy it!  Frankly, I’m just wondering when it will end so I can get out of there!

One more:  Once I was chatting with a community judge as we waited for the last speaker.  He was very excited to be a part of the tournament for the first time, and he was especially looking forward to judging the debate round that came next.  He was interested in the resolution and curious to see what kids knew/thought about it.  However, after waiting nearly half an hour for our last speaker, it became apparent that he was not going to be able to complete his speech ballot in time to get a debate ballot.  The very thing he was looking forward to was lost because a speaker chose not to manage time well.  I was frustrated for him!  And to be honest, it made me a little crabby with that speaker before she even arrived….”

Thinking about your judges, can offer a whole new perspective at a tournament. Have you ever really thought about what it would be like to be a judge? You should try it sometime!

Quit the excuses… It’s time to stop making up these excuses and go!

“I need to practice.” Honestly, the time to practice is before you get to the Speech and Debate Tournament. The “one more time” right before you go into the room, probably won’t make much of a difference. But keeping your judges waiting might…

“I’m nervous.” Ok- I get it. This can be nerve wracking. But when the round begins, that’s the time to go. Waiting can sometimes be harder, take a deep breath and do the best you can.

“I want to support my friend.” There is nothing more frustrating, as a judge, to wait for a competitor who you know, only has one speech. The time to support your friends is after you give your speech.

“I’m waiting for someone to watch.” Again, grandpa and grandma may be coming, but they don’t have to watch you in the round. If there are no other competitors waiting… you may need to go. And if you are waiting for all your friends to come fill the room. Judges see past that too!

“My piece is more impactful if I do it at the end of a round.” There is no perfect time to be moved. Judges may be worn out at the end of the round, especially if it is late.

There are very few reasons why you might go later in the round…

  1. Other Speeches- Clearly, if you have other speeches you might have a particular order in which you prefer to go. I once knew a student who would get so hot and sweaty doing his Interp, therefore he definitely wanted to wait on performing his Interp, until his other speeches were done. Believe me, the competitor I was writing about- he needed time to clean up and cool off.
  2. You just ran a mile across campus, in the rain, to get to the room. Take a deep breath, drink some water, prepare yourself, and go. There is no reason to feel rushed.
  3. If another competitor has multiple speeches, they will usually ask to go first.

A couple things to think about…

  1. Duo Partners- One thing I hear from competitors, is they like to do all their other speeches first and then meet up in the Duo room. That is fine, however it can leave the judges waiting until all the competitors finish their other rooms, and then there is a line up. It’s awesome if some Duos would do their Duo first, to not keep the judges waiting.
  2. When your room has fewer competitors. Look at the postings. Realize, if you are in a room with only four competitors, that room may finish more quick than a room with eight. Therefore you may want to head there before the round is just about the finish, because theoretically that room should not take the full amount of time.

Seasoned competitors should know better than to think going last matters. Here is what Gloria Heiss had to say, ““Why Me!? Why MEEEE!!!!!??” is just one of the thoughts that overwhelms you when you have to go first in a room. We all know that if you go first you are sure to be ranked lower than if you were to go in the middle or even last in the room. But is that really true? Of course NOT! Do you know what really matters when you go into that room? It’s not the order you go in but the confidence you have going in. First, second, fourth, or dead last the most important variable to your success in your confidence…dare I say swagger? So, forget all that hot air about “oh can I go last?” and just GO because those judges can’t wait to see your speech. Put them out of their misery and show them the best speech ever, no matter what order it goes in.”

So the next time judges are looking for a competitor… be ready! You Got This!