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Spreading Clarity

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After the first tournament of my second year of debate last weekend, pretty much every judge told me I needed to work on clarity. This week I've been trying different spreading drills and trying to be clearer, but I find the only times I'm 100% clear is when I'm going way, way too slow. What are some good drills/things I can do to try to boost up my clarity?

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Stacatto style. Say each word in a speech document as quickly as you can but with a pause in between each word. For instance, "The. United. States. Federal. Government. Should." And so on.


There's also over enunciation of each word. "Th-ee You-Niiiighteed Staatess". It's a bit difficult to describe in writing...

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Are you sure?


Lots of times debaters "sound" faster when they're unclear, but they only get out the same number of words that they'd get out otherwise.


I love this post Maury made a few years ago.


Speed is a natural product of speaking clearly. I strongly believe the only way to become a better speaker is by reading evidence in your normal voice, with normal but CLEAR articulation, and normal rhythm. Double breathing, stuttering, being incomprehensible - all of this is a product of "trying to go fast". If you speak as your normally would, and slowly try to speak quicker, you will notice your speaker points skyrocketing quickly. You should never sacrifice normal speaking patterns for speed.


In pragmatic terms, I suggest a simple drill: read a piece of evidence the way you would read a speech to a crowd. Then read it again, trying to shave off 10% of your time. Repeat until you feel you are where you want to be, speed wise. The trick is that you should instantly stop and repeat if you stutter, skip, or in any other way muddle the content of the card. Taking the time to make sure your evidence is crystal clear now will pay off in dividends later. The clearer you are, and the better you can speak a piece of evidence into being, the more speed will come naturally. As the quality of your voice improves, the quantity of your words/minute will improve naturally.


There is no point in doing the pen drill. There is no point in trying to get through a card quickly if you must distort your voice to do so. There is a reason Stephen Weil top spoke at the NDT: if you could write fast enough, you could flow every word he says. You should push yourself in that direction first and foremost, and the best way to do that is to slow yourself down.


You should also remember that the difference between conversational speed and "spreading" is much smaller than you would think. Time it yourself, but you really aren't getting out much more per minute. Speed is thoughts communicated per second: the amount of words it takes you to get there is secondary.


to recap:

1. read cards with inflection, the way you would in a public speech, then reread that evidence at a slightly quicker pace. Repeat until you're the best speaker on the planet.

2. clarity > speed, working on clarity solves stuttering

3. Stephen Weil = awesome - be like him.

Follow its advice and you'll do well.

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Overenunciate. (this is part of what Phantom is getting to). Eventually this gets to be more normal.


Slow down for tags. Super critical.


Pause before a tag....or something that should be on the flow (ie argument titles--if only for clarity so the judge gets out another piece of paper).....if possible.


There is a certain way debaters pop certain words....learn to do this if possible.


It might help to letter or number your speech.....so you cue the next argument. If you forget where you are....debaters just say "next".....which can help.....but you REALLY want to number or letter so you cue judges in.


Remember to breath in normal spots....this helps.


Ask the judge for immediate feedback...if I need to be clearer...feel free to yell clear.....or if I'm going to fast.


Two things to avoid:

1. Sounding like you are hyperventilating. This is incredibly distracting....and not very good for communication.

2. Breathing in the wrong spots (see also #1). These are often related in practice.


Never ever forget the follow three short principles--which are the same thing just stated differently:

1. Debating is about communication. Judges aren't super human. Slowing down to ensure that you are heard....is farrrrr more important to winning than blistering through some piece of evidence. Intelligence & thinking on your feet......beats speed. If you are clear & moderately fast....you should be pretty decent.


2. In terms of this last point. Ross Smith, one of the top winningest coaches in the activity from Wake Forrest University...before he died about 3 or so years ago made this point. It cannot be emphasized. I will state it a slightly different way.....if you sped through an argument and the judge didn't get the argument down....it is as if the argument didn't happen in the debate. You have wasted your time.


3. After all, the judge looks at their flow at the end of the debate to determine what is said and not....what is dropped and not. The flow & the judge actually hearing and understanding your argument is the ultimate filter for the debate. He/she makes the decision based on what he/she heard and got down.


Yes, these are difficult principles to remember in the heat of battle. But the dividends you will receive from being smart & clear....versus apparently "fast" but not making arguments that get on the flow, heard, or understood--are incredible.


I apologize.....this is my citation of Ross Smith from the lecture at the Berkeley institute in 2009, before his passing:

1. 30 Ways to Increase Your Speaker Points:



2. Judge Adaptation Lecture:



"You need to adapt to judging. You need to adapt to the fact that judging and debate are different. Judging is different than debate."


This is from the second lecture. I think he develops this thesis throughout--or at least develops it throughout the early part of the lecture.


The wisdom that Ross Smith unleashes is quite profound...and helpful.....even in its seeming simplicity.


I haven't watched these videoes since the summer they were published....but if you get 3 things from them--and actually implement the changes in your debating....its probably worth your time.

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Thanks for posting the videos to the Ross Smith lectures! I'll be sure to share this with my team ASAP. As a coaching staff, we're always looking for ways to get them to communicate efficiently and effectively. Too bad we won't be able to use this in Kansas with the exception of DCI and any tourneys we might go to in the 2nd semester.

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