I have been judging and coaching speech and debate for about a year and a half now. Although I miss competing, I absolutely love helping students develop and hone in on their forensic skills. After judging various debate rounds and coaching students in different speech events, I’ve learned a lot as a coach that I really wish I knew as a student. Now that I’m judging, I see different habits and techniques from students that are either really great, or really detrimental to their rankings. These new things I notice as a judge are things I never noticed as a student. However, if I understood the importance of these habits and characteristics as a student, I believe I would’ve gone much further because I would’ve been able to appeal to the judge more.
That’s why I’m writing this informative article for you, so that you can learn the characteristics and skills that judges rank high on. With that being said, here are the top 3 things I wish I knew as a student that I now know as judge:
#1 – Less is more
When I was a competitor, I always thought I had to have an abundance of articles, an array of intelligent-sounding words, and lots of personal examples. Although these are very important aspects to include in speeches and cases, less is more to a judge for a couple of reasons:
It’s very hard to write down notes as the competitor speaks.
The more content a competitor includes, the more notes the judge has to take. When the judge is more focused on taking notes rather than listening to a speech, it can become less enjoyable for the judge and can make him lose interest. You want your judge to enjoy your speech, not stress out about it.
It’s very hard to follow along if there are too many examples
For me as a judge, if a competitor has too many examples, I sometimes feel as though they aren’t able to explain in depth about each one. The competitor may graze the surface of the example, but if they don’t go further into the complexity of the study/story/statistic, it’s hard to me to make the logical connection to what the impact is. I would much rather hear a student share two examples throughout his whole speech and go in-depth into each one, rather than share five examples with only three sentences of explanation each.
#2 – Talk slower rather than faster
Anyone who knew me as a competitor would know that I speak very fast. I got so excited to speak, that when I finally did, I would sound like an energizer bunny, rambling and ranting about a random speech topic. Although I covered a lot of information and did pretty well, on all my ballots I would constantly get the comment: “Please speak a bit slower.” Looking back, I tried to speak slower, but it rarely changed the overall pace of my speech. However, as a judge, I now fully appreciate when a competitor speaks slower. I feel like I’m able to follow along better and can truly enjoy the speech rather than just rush along like the competitor is. You see, when you rush your speech and speak with a fast pace, you are rushing the judge. This will keep them from fulling enjoying your presentation, rhetoric, and nonverbal communication such as body language. When you speak fast, the judge is mainly focusing on your words rather than all the other important aspects of you speech. Speaking slower enables the judge to not only focus on what you say, but also on your thoughtful pauses, your speaker’s triangle, and your hand gestures. Also, when you talk slower, you are able to stress out less. I know that when I talk fast, I feel energized and excited. However, this excitement can turn into a fast heart-rate and shallow breathing, which can lead the judge to believe that you are nervous. But by talking slower, you give your brain time to process what you’re saying, as well as focus on your hand-gestures and walking. Essentially, talking slower helps you and your judge.
#3 – Relate it back to the judge
I always love when the competitors challenge me and inspire me to do something. Whether it’s a call to action in a persuasive speech, a compelling personal story in a Mars Hill Impromptu speech, or a moral lesson in an interp piece— no matter what it is, I feel so involved when a competitor includes me in a speech or debate case. Whenever a competitor calls me to support an organization or change my opinion about a certain topic, I feel as though they actually care about educating me, not just about getting a trophy. You see, when you as the speaker create that connection with the judge, the judge will remember you. The judge will remember the conviction you made him feel, and that will definitely affect your ballot in a positive way. There are many students I coach and judge that forget that the judge really is the most important person in the round. The round isn’t just about the competitor… it is also very much about the judge.
I hope these three insights helped you learn more about the judge’s point of view. If I knew the importance of these three things as a competitor, I would’ve been much more confident in my abilities as a speaker and debater.
God bless and good luck in your competition season!
Although you can still get awesome coaching from Isabelle through Lasting Impact!, she recently branched out and started her own coaching services…