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…

As a judge, it’s our ballot that keeps the tournament functioning, so please judge a round! No one can be ranked unless someone listens to a room of speeches and gives a one student 1st, one 2nd, and so on. No debate team can advance unless someone votes affirmative or negative. Sitting behind the table, however, is only half the battle since it is your feedback which shapes a person, each critique a chisel mark to sculpt a student who can communicate truth with integrity and grace. 

Now, what on earth should I actually say? 

Try one compliment and one critique. Did the student craft his or her speech with compelling content? Were you persuaded or informed? Did the student speak conversationally or formally? Which do you prefer? Did the student do one thing well that could be better still? Did you feel a little lost or confused? Were you thoroughly hooked? Tell them. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so I highly recommend you use the left side of your ballot. It’s a quick reference guide to what makes a good speech which I find quite handy. If I still can’t think of something constructive to write, trying to briefly explain my reason(s) for the rank I’m giving often brings to light something the speaker can improve. 

Also, before a speech round I take a blank sheet of paper and I jot down the main things I want to see in a top speaker. For instance this is the list I wrote before judging a Biblical Presentation room at the recent Tournament I was at.

  • Use of cloth
  • Depth of impact
  • Facial expressions
  • Flow/transitions
  • Rich characters
  • Vivid scenes/blocking
  • Creative

I used the list to remind myself what I think a good BP should contain. 

Now for a bonus tip! Try typing your notes as you listen instead of waiting until the end. Wait, please, hold on! I can hear the protests in my head already. “I can’t type fast enough. I can’t type and concentrate on the speaker. I’ll be looking down too much, etc.” Although typing during a speech may not be for everyone, remember that this could be an opportunity to stretch and grow yourself. The students are not the only ones who can learn at a tournament. Learning to type some notes while I listened, greatly reduced the time it took me to submit my ballots which can earn one brownie points with the ballot team. 😉

All that to say: the next time you stare at the ballot on your screen (or paper;), remember that you have the opportunity to impact a young person, to be one of the chisels shaping his or her communication skills! Your role is incredibly important. At the same time, remember that no matter what you write on your ballot, no matter how you rank your speaker, and no matter how you vote in a debate round, this is only a drop in the bucket of our lives; so don’t overthink it. 

Make the effort and trust God to take care of the results. 

Bio- After competing for two years, Cassandra Hornby became an alumna on whom her league has indelibly left its mark. As such, she’s been back to judge during at least one tournament every year since she graduated. The community is still just as wonderful, and God is still shaping excellent communicators!