Speech and Debate Success: Knowing your audience 

Unfortunately most middle and high school students don’t understand the importance of knowing their audience when giving a speech.  Students on speech and debate teams across the country fall into the bad habit of speaking the same way about the same topics to virtually all audiences.  Sure, in a perfect world we could all speak the same to everyone and get our message across, but in the real world our strategy must be different.  Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t explain the interworking’s of the human body to doctors and seventh graders the same, would you? No.  The message can be the same, but the way that message gets across is totally different unless the speaker is able to analyze the situation at hand.  



In the context of speech and debate tournaments, understanding your audience is paramount. Judges at local, regional, and (surprisingly) state tournaments often have little to no experience ever judging a competitive round, so debaters must go into the tournament with such a mentality.  If they know that their judges are unaware of the interworking’s of debate and have done barely any research on the topic, they cannot expect to win if they treat all rounds the same.  Students should take the following steps if they want to be successful in any speech or debate competition they may compete in.



Students should create speeches and cases with simple terms.  There is no need to use complicated terminology to impress the judge.  Oftentimes, this actually backfires as judges become either confused by the unfamiliar terms or offended by the students use of unnecessarily difficult word choice.  Either way, overly complicated terminology puts students in a lose-lose situation.  Students should always ask about judging preferences before starting a round.  This gives students a way to determine the level of experience a judge may have before they start the round.  Gaining this knowledge is key to success as students can successfully adapt their cases and speeches to persuade the judge in their favor.  Students should “read” their judges mid round.  “Reading” a judge simply means carefully watching the judges reactions and mannerisms during your speeches.  This does two things.  First, it forces students to maintain strong eye contact, a plus for any competitive speaker.  Second, it allows debaters to adapt to their judges personality during the round.  Although this is an advanced level strategy, reading and adapting to judges is a must for competitive speakers.  Following these steps will take any competitive speaker to the next level.


Written by Sultan S., Speech and Debate Novastar Prep Coach


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