Judge Adaptation and Tips

Judges have various backgrounds. Some have no experience at all, while others are former TOC champions. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to debate in front of all of them and cater to what they want to hear. Often, adapting to a judge can be just as important as your arguments. The following are some basic guidelines for judge adaptation.

Your Demeanor. Your demeanor should be calm, cool and collected. If you look nervous, the judge will think you are unprepared and your arguments will seem less convincing. Act like you own the joint, and you will be fine. Confidence is just as much a part of debate as the arguments themselves. Of course, be careful not to cross the thin line between confidence and arrogance. You should also look like an honest person. While you may think that is a strange thing to say, you never really believe people who have shifty eyes or smirk like they are getting away with something.

Your Dress. While many debate teams have different dress policies, it is always good to look professional. Even if your coach does not require you to wear a tie and jacket, you should at least be wearing clean, unwrinkled clothing. Guys should stray away from baggy pants and girls should avoid wearing skirts that come above the knee. You should make sure that you are well groomed and look like you’ve bathed. No one wants to be in a small room with someone who is not wearing deodorant!

Your Delivery. Always give the judge what they want. Before every round, ask the judge how they feel about speed. If they are comfortable with speed, then go ahead and speak fast. If not, then you should slow it down. Speaking quickly, however, may not always be to your advantage. Just because a judge says that they can “handle” speed, that doesn’t always mean that they want you to go fast. You should be attentive to body language and ask clarifying questions if necessary. If you prepare a long case that requires spreading, you should carry a shortened version as well just in case you run into a judge that cannot handle or does not like speed.

The Environment. If you have ever been to a debate tournament before, you know that you could be debating anywhere from a closet to an auditorium. So it is necessary to change your behavior according to the features of the room. Speak louder if the room is bigger and softer if the room is smaller. Be mindful of things like noisy air conditioners, loud crowds in the hallway, etc that might influence how loud you should speak. Always arrange the room so that it works for you, but make sure you are making the judge the focal point of the room. You are speaking to her, not the audience or your partner. Make sure you can see the judge at all times-even when the other team is speaking.

Etiquette. Every judge hates mean debaters. Do not be rude to your opponent. You are much more persuasive if you are professional and courteous. If your opponent says something during his speech that you disagree with, don’t make a face or throw your hands in the air. You will have a chance to rebut them in your next speech, so don’t distract the judge during your opponent’s speech. If you are negative, do not start packing your things during the affirmative’s last speech for any reason. It is rude and makes it seem like you are no longer paying attention.

Different Regions. Different regions of the United States feel differently about debate. If you are traveling, you’ll want to keep these distinctions in mind. Texas and California are known for being progressive. You’ll see most of the new trends in debate in these places, and the judges here will typically be more open to new and different things. Texas does differ by region, however. The major metropolitan areas like Dallas, Austin, and Houston will be very progressive while smaller towns will be more traditional. Other parts of the country, especially the Northeast, are very traditional.

Always Weigh. Regardless of who your judge is, they want you to make the decision for them. By the end of the round you should have picked the most important arguments and be able to succinctly explain why you won the debate. Help the judge decide that you won; they will appreciate it. Even if you feel like you are oversimplifying things, that’s ok. It’s better to oversimplify than leave people in the dark.

Avoid Being Too Technical. Just because your case can be super technical, doesn’t mean it has to be. Put your arguments in English. As a judge, one of the most annoying things to watch is a debater who thinks that throwing around debate terms and using fancy phrases strengthens an argument. In reality, all this does is make the round confusing and void of clash. Go read your case to someone who doesn’t really know how to debate, and if they don’t understand it, then dumb it down.

Be Ethical. Don’t lie about dropped arguments, make things up, or put words into the mouth of your opponent. Don’t clip cards or fabricate evidence. Judges know when you are doing this and most take it very seriously.

Have Several Cases. For the most part, judges fall into three categories: Mama judges, coaches, and college debaters.

A “mama judge” is someone who has no idea how to debate or what it is. While they aren’t necessarily mothers, they are usually someone who has come along just to help out and got pulled into judging because the tournament needed someone to pick up a ballot. These people will be confused by technical arguments, will hate you if you are mean, and tend to vote based solely on how persuasive you are. You should have a completely different case for these kinds of judges. It should be simple, void of technical terms and intricate philosophy, and very straight forward.

Coaches know what they are doing, obviously. They will understand technical arguments but will hate it if you are mean. They want clean debates and no shenanigans.

College students can be spotted from a mile away. They are usually wearing hoodies, carrying a cup of coffee, and look like they would rather be anywhere else than judging at a tournament. These people want the same things as coaches, except for that they also want you to be funny. College students are used to faster paced, more difficult debates. Since they have been listening to high school debate all day long, they are bored. If you entertain them, they will probably vote for you.

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