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A recent hot topic on the CEDA-L has been speed, and whether
speed is good or bad. My response was that speed itself is not
the issue, instead the critical element is comprehensibility.
After drawing a distinction between SPEAKING drills and SPEED
drills, a number of people wrote to me off the list asking for
suggestions on various drills. I decided that the response
should be posted to NDT-L as well.
The material in this posting comes mainly from a lecture on
delivery by Cate Palczewski and Aaron Hawbaker at the 1991
National High School Institute at Northwestern University,
supplemented by a couple additional drills that I have found
useful. Sorry in advance for the length of the posting.
A general comment about the drills -- all speaking drills are
over-corrections. If a student has a particular speaking
problem, they work to solve it by over-correcting. This list
provides some examples of various drills.
1) Breathing problems -- this includes not taking enough breathes
(running out of air at the end of a sentence or the end of a
card) and breathing wrong (huge gasps of air, actually a symptom
of not taking enough breathes): A) Breath at natural pause points
in the evidence -- have the debater take a small breath at each
punctuation mark -- commas, periods, semi-colons, colons, etc, B)
Breath at natural pause points in the speech -- say the tag, take
a breath, read the cite, take a breath, read the card (breathing
at punctuation marks), then take a breath after the card before
going to the next tag, then repeat the process, C) Breathing from
the diaphram -- most debaters when talking fast breath from the
throat rather than from the diaphram -- they thus don't get
enough breath to last more than a partial sentence or two. How
do you correct this? Have the debater hold a chair chest high in
front of them, with their arms as straight as possible (no
resting the chair on anything, or against one's chest, etc.).
Have them read a brief that is resting on the seat of the chair -
- they should be breathing from the diaphram during this process.
Now have them put down the chair and have them re-read the brief
in their normal way -- they will likely be breathing improperly.
Have them do the chair drill until they start to notice the
physical difference in their breathing process, D) Posture --
slumping over and reading a table off of a desktop, or sitting
down while they are talking, or other posture errors cause a lot
of breathing from the throat problems. Have them stand up
straight and put the briefs on a podium.
2) Enunciation problems -- 1) Enunciation drills -- have the
debater slowly read a card, hitting all of the hard consonants
(g, t, k, p, b, d, etc) and enunciating each and every syllable.
Then, slowly have them build up to speed while they continue to
over-enunciate and continue to clearly hit all of the hard
consonants, 2) Pencil drill -- have the debater read a card while
they have a pencil in their mouth, 3) Tongue Twisters -- have the
debater read tongue twisters at high speed.
3) Pitch problems -- often the pitch of a debater's voice will go
much higher than their normal pitch when they talk fast. Pitch
problems are another symptom of improper breathing, so use the
same chair drill that you use for breathing problems to work to
4) Mush words -- 1) abade drill -- have a debater say abade (ah
baa dee) over and over and over, steadily increasing speed, and
continuing to have clean and clear breaks between the syllables
and between the words, 2) Open the mouth -- have the debater open
their mouth to an exaggerated degree when they read something at
a conversational rate (they will think this is silly looking and
that it feels silly). Now have them do the same at a faster rate
of delivery -- when people are flowing and judging, they won't
notice the exaggerated articulation effort.
5) Not fluid -- lots of unnatural or unnecessary pauses and
stumbles -- 1) Get a rhythm -- try to get the debater to learn a
natural rhythm that will keep them at a constant speed -- one
technique is to read to music that has a clear and constant beat
(the Talking Heads work well for this drill), or clap your hands
or tap a pencil on the desk while they are talking, slowly
increasing the beat as they progress through the speech, 2)
Internal metronome -- obviously they can't read to music in a
debate round, so try to create an internal rhythm mechanism
unique to that debater -- some debaters lightly tap their foot,
some use a finger to follow the words they are reading, some
gently rock back and forth or forward and backward, 3) Read ahead
-- have the debater practice reading ahead a couple words of
where their mouth is -- often stumbles and pauses are caused by
suddently encountering new or unexpected words, thus, if they see
the words a partial second before they speak them, fewer pauses
will result, 4) Ignore stuttering and stumbles -- a lot of
debaters will *back up* and try to correctly pronounce a word, or
will try to stop a stutter and correctly say a word. That gets
them out of their rhythm, forces them to almost stop speaking for
a second, and then re-start again. Instead, try to have them
just keep going when they make an error (at a fast rate of
speaking, few judges will notice if someone mis-pronounces a word
or two) -- it's like a record that is stuck in the same groove --
hit the arm and get it to a new groove, don't stop the record and
merely start over at the same place.
6) Monotone or Singsong delivery -- 1) Get a brief and mark the
*good* debate words, the ones that require emphasis. Have the
debaters read the brief, altering their pitch or emphasis when
they get to those words. Try NOT to have them alter their
volume, as by the end of the speech they will be shouting, and
they will also be using valuable breathing. Also, try NOT to
have them slow down for emphasis -- like braking a car and then
re-accelerating, slowing down then forces re-acceleration in a
speech, wasting time and breath, 2) Personality -- most debaters
seem to divorce their own unique personality from fast speaking.
Have them read the card or brief slowly, and in their normal mode
of speaking (like it was a conversation rather than reading
evidence) -- hints of their personality should come through. Now
have them build up the speed, maintaining that personality
influence along the way.
7) Too quiet -- more common with high school students and
novices, but some people are hard to hear because their volume is
too low. The drill is simply to have them practice reading at
the top of their voice.
8) Too loud -- generally caused by improper breathing, thus, use
the drills above. The other remedy is to simply have them
practice reading at a whisper, and then to find the happy medium.
9) Lazy Reading -- often debaters will get lazy when reading
evidence, skipping over a lot of words. 1) Have them read a
brief where they INTENTIONALLY skip every other word, or every
third word. This forces them to pay attention to what they are
reading. However, this may reinforce in their mind the idea that
they can legitimately skip over words, 2) Have they insert the
word *a* between every word in the brief. The tag line, the
impact is nuclear war, thus becomes translated into the a impact
a is a nuclear a war a, 3) Have them read the brief in Pig Latin
(if you can stand listening to Pig Latin for that long).
1) A lot of delivery problems are caused by lack of familiarity
with what they are reading. This implies a couple of things. A)
Get your debaters in the habit of reading through their briefs
before they file them -- the more familiar they are with their
evidence, the more fluid their speaking should be, B) Do drills
with material that the debaters have no interest in. For
example, have them read Plato or Aristotle at warp drive, or have
them read the classified page of the newspaper. If they could
care less about baseball, have them read the baseball page of the
newspaper as a drill. This causes them to focus on their
technique in speaking, rather than on the specific content of
2) Have them start every speech relatively slow and then work up
to speed. This does a couple of things. 1) They will tend not
to overshoot their own capabilities. A lot of times debaters
will start at a faster rate than they can maintain over the
course of a speech. Building up to their maximum rate means they
are more likely to maintain that rate, 2) This allows the judge
and the opponents a few seconds to get used to the debater's
particular speaking style before a critical card or argument
comes flying by.
3) Have your debaters *warm up* before a round -- have them read
briefs in the van between the motel and the tournament so that
they are warmed up and ready to speak, or have them take a brief
to the restroom or outside immediately before the start of every
4) Avoid milk and dairy products -- Cori Dauber has claimed for
years that milk and other dairy products coat the vocal cords,
prevent talking at maximum speed, and cause more stumbles and
vocal slips. Thus, drink water and ice tea and so on before,
during, and between debates. I have noticed that some people
have similar problems if they drink stuff with too much sugar --
have them switch to plain water or diet soft drinks instead
during the day.
5) Stop and go speeches -- have them give a practice speech, and
immediately stop them whenever a problem occurs, making them
start over from the beginning. Then, at the next problem make
them stop and start over again. This will get real old, real
quick, and cause them to start incorporating the suggestions.
6) Tape your debaters -- a lot of people use audio tape, but I
have found that video tape is even better -- that way the
debaters not only HEAR their annoying habits, they also SEE their
7) Practice, practice, practice -- not only warm up every day at
a tournament, but get them in the habit of practicing at least 5-
10 minutes every day. Have them practice giving speeches without
cards as well as reading cards (a lot fewer cards are read in
rebuttals, for example, than in constructives).
Drills are for EVERYONE. Novices need them to get used to
speaking in the debate situation. People with high school
experience need them to get rid of their bad high school habits.
Experienced debaters that often get speaker awards need them to
keep in shape and move up on the speaker award list. As Cecilia
Graves says, speaking drills are like preparing for a marathon --
you don't just practice once or twice and then run a marathon.
You have to train every day, even after you win a marathon,
because there is always another race to run, another opponent to
I hope these help. If anyone on the list has other drills that
are useful, let me know.
(O) (319) 273-7200
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Megers sound nice but it'd have to be a hostile takeover in place, both officially and unofficially. The official hierarchy's come in the form of presidents of the organization and the like. The unofficial power structure comes both in the form of the coaches of the "top teams", and those individuals who happen to have a lot of clout in the community; (it's rather difficult to quantify this but I do believe it exists). Why I think this is a barrier: From the official standpoint, I don't believe individuals in power want to abdicate that power. They've accepted responsibilities of their office and have established political networks that they operate through in order to accomplish objectives. In a nutshell, they're comfy. From the unofficial power structure I see a couple of hinderances. Initially the pecking order would be disrupted. I'm not sure that the merger wouldn't create an initial heightening of competition which might be unhealthy. Coaches, assistants, and debaters would still recognize that "Oh, you were an NDT'r" and "Oh, you were a CEDA person" for quite a while after a merger. I'm not sure what the impact of that would be, however. Furthermore, I think there is something of a political structure in the way tournaments are scheduled. All of a sudden some schools which have traditionally hosted tournaments might find themselves being displaced, or being in competition with schools from the merger. I think this may be a barrier to integration because I don't think some individuals would want to give up their traditional role. operates on an open system. I think this would be a heated issue which would be argued about for quite a while. Then there's the judging system (strikes and MP, etc) and the judging pool (CEDA having a more diverse selection and NDT torunaments being more selective). I don't know that the "other activity" would want to expose themselves to a new selection of judges which - in the opinion of some - would "taint" the pool they have culled. Furthermore, the speech times are different (but I think that is the least of the differences). Lastly, I'm not really on top of this (I only stay in touch with my old partner who goes to Dartmouth and a friend at George Washington so my NDT 'network' is somewhat limited) but I think the regions in NDT hold a lot more meaning than they do in CEDA (as far as political support, tournament selection, and traveling).
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