Tips for Approaching a National Championship

Some of you may or may not have been in this place before. Perhaps this is the first time you have qualified to a National Championship. I love learning from others… So I asked some dear friends if they had tips or feedback to help you prepare…

Cameron Rankin

Cameron Rankin was the 2015 NCFCA Thematic Champion, he had this to say, “First, practice crazy hard. Everyone at Nationals deserves to be there, including you. There’s a famous runner (which one I cannot remember…I think it was Steve Prefontaine) who had a poster on his wall. It read something like, “Right now, your competition is training harder than you are.” You’ve spent countless hours on your speeches and debate already, and now it’s time to kick into high gear and spend countless more hours in practice and research over the next few weeks. Debaters, leave no stone unturned, no question unanswered, no hole unfilled. Speechers, leave no word unclear, no illustration boring, no character confusing. Hone your presentations to be the best it can possibly be, pushing the boundaries of your abilities.

Second, realize ultimately how you got to Nationals. Yes, you worked hard. Yes, you chose to practice your speech instead of watching Season 2 of the Dick Van Dyke show (that was a rough decision…). Yes, you poured over your ballots finding ways to improve your speech. But in the end, without the gracious sovereignty of God, you are nowhere.

Titus 2:11-14 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Acknowledge God’s grace in your life, and let it motivate you to do your speech, your debate, or your interaction with fellow competitors to the glory of God. Don’t just “praise the Lord” with your words; let His grace tune your heart to sing His praise! Walk into Nationals with humility because whether you get first or last, that is only because God was gracious and merciful in allowing you to be where you are. If you are His child, then every direction your life goes carries the purpose of transforming you to the character of your God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28, Eph. 2:8-10). Let this Nationals do that.

Third, this is it!! This is what you’ve been working for since October (or April…like a week before the last Qualifier…). Grab this opportunity by the horns and have a blast with it. Hang out with people. Laugh with them, pray with them, learn what God has done and is doing in their lives. The relationships you’re building are some of the best you’ll ever have, so don’t miss out just because of the pressure of the stage you’re about to face.

Work hard, perform fearlessly, and leave the rest up to God.”

Maura Heiss

Maura has had all of her children attend a National Championship in the 11 years competing in Speech and Debate. She added this, “Pray for: humility, focus what is upon your YOU- don’t worry about what you can’t control. Keep yourself centered on the task but not on yourself in a selfish way. In prayer be thankful; it keeps the focus perfect.

Prep in preceding weeks to A Championship – Get at least one qualified person to hear speech or a group of of friends who have never heard the speech so that you can determine – understandability, pure sense of the speech’s thesis, and likeability. This is because the speech may become dull, over-rehearsed and off-putting, because of staleness. Run through characters to see if there is anything the speaker can pull out. Run through platform illustrations to see if anything needs to be updated or clarified. Do not add too much that will confuse the speech or yourself.”

Anna Johansen

Anna Johansen got 3rd place in her novice year Original Interp  in 2014 at the NCFCA National Championship. She went on to Iron Man in 2015, her senior year.

1. Mental Prep:
Prepare for disappointment. I’m not saying you should be pessimistic. You don’t have to be Puddleglum, “Fine mornings bring on wet afternoons,” and all that. But you should take the time to prepare for the real possibility that you won’t achieve all that you set out to do. The change from Regionals to Nationals can be a bit of a culture shock if you’re not ready for it.

2. Practical Prep
Don’t just practice. There are two
things that happen very easily between Regionals and Nationals: you get bored, and you get stagnant. You get bored because you’ve been giving this speech all season, and you know it backward and forward. You get stagnant because, hey, you’re going to Nationals—clearly the speech is good. So maybe you spend some time rehearsing your speeches, just to keep them fresh, and that’s great—but that’s not all you should do. Experiment. Try new things. Make changes. Get a group of friends together to hear their feedback. Say the speech in a British accent, or like you’re leading troops into battle, or like you’re dying. Bottom line: find some way to look at the speech through new eyes. There is always another way to do it, and maybe that way is better than the way you’ve been doing it all season.