Judges’ Top Pet Peeves, and How to Avoid Them (Part 1/2)


For today’s article, we consulted a diverse group of active judges from each event about what debater habits irritate them the most. Here are the results, along with how to modify your behavior and become every judge’s favorite debater!


Not annoying your judge is one of the most important things a debater can do. Judges give up their weekends and get up at the wee hours of the morning to listen to your rounds, often as volunteers, or for very little pay. Many of these folks have been sitting through endless rounds for years or decades, so you can imagine how tired they get of seeing the same foolishness day in and day out! Since they control your fate, making them happy is a great way to eke out more wins. Today, we’re going to talk about how to stay on your judges’ good side by cutting out some of your most aggravating habits. Follow these guidelines, and watch your win:loss ratio and speaker points soar.


The Habit: Inefficiency.


This refers to a lot of things. Most commonly, judges cited inefficiency in speeches (making the same argument over and over, reading a bunch of cards that all have the same warrant instead of diversifying, etc);  inefficiency in paperless and technology issues (taking forever to flash your evidence, not knowing how to use your own technology); and lateness to rounds/delays in getting the round started. All of these behaviors make the rounds take longer, putting the tournament behind (for which judges often take heat from tournament directors) and keeping everyone from having time to catch a breath between rounds.


The Fix: Strive to be timely and efficient.


Everyone’s time is valuable. Treat is as such—during your speeches and in the periods between them. This will go a long way towards keeping your judges in good spirits.



Respect everyone’s time.


The Habit: You ask “What’s your paradigm?”– But you don’t actually care.


This was probably the most common response from all judges, so pay attention!


Nothing makes a judge feel more disrespected than asking for their paradigm, and then doing the exact opposite. It’s seen as dismissive and illustrative of a limited understanding of debate.


The Fix: Adapt– or don’t ask.


Ideally, you should consult the wiki before the round to see if your judge has posted a paradigm. Many judges spend hours carefully constructing a document explaining exactly how they view debate and why. These are labors of love that are designed to lay bare their biases and expectations and guide you in debating in front of them in the best way possible. They’re basically a cheat sheet for being persuasive in front of this particular person, so there’s really no substitute for reading them.


If your judge hasn’t posted one, or you genuinely don’t have time to read it, you can ask. You can also ask any questions you might have that aren’t clarified in their paradigm (if they do have one). Most judges like this, and take it as a sign that you are engaged and care about being persuasive. Conversely, most judges dislike the open-ended “what’s your paradigm?” question, and prefer more specific prompts like “How do you evaluate [X]?”


The key, though, is adapting to what they say. If you know you’re going to run ASPEC regardless of whether or not your judge says they think it’s dumb, there’s really no point in asking. You’re only going to increase the extent to which they’re annoyed by your argument, because now they know that you know better.


Of course, there will always be some situations where you pull a judge who is horrible for you, and for whom you have a very difficult time adapting. If you choose to ignore their preferences in order to do your own thing, that can be justified in certain instances. However, you’d be better served by asking your judge targeted questions about how to make them more open to your arguments (for example, perhaps a judge who dislikes the K is more accepting of them when the link is explained as plan-specific– probe for this kind of information). Most judges understand that not every round is going to perfectly suit their preferences, but they don’t want to feel totally ignored. Seeking out explanation tweaks that can make things more accessible to them will go a long way. On the other hand, asking them general questions and then totally disregarding what they say is a surefire way to lose the debate and get bad speaker points to boot.


The Habit: Speed makes you sloppy.


You want to go as fast as possible, but you’re not very good at it. You end up slurring your words, being unintelligible, and making a mess out of the debate. Your judge is distracted from your arguments by their difficulty understanding you. Maybe they’re yelling “clear!” over and over, to no avail. This is high on the list of common complaints.


The Fix: Drills, drills, drills… and slow down if you need to.


If you are sure you want to speak quickly, you simply must do lots of speaking drills. Read your cases over and over. Put a pen in your mouth. Shoot not just for blazing speed, but also clarity. Have your partner or teammates listen to you and stop you any time you’re even a little unclear.


Also, consider slowing down. The ability to spew out a zillion arguments in order to “see what sticks” can be useful sometimes, but it’s no substitute for making clean, well-articulated, understandable arguments. Some of the best debaters in recent memory were not all that fast. Don’t sweat it if you need to slow down in order to sound good.



Use speed wisely.


The Habit: Disorganization.


Judges really, really hate it when they have to listen to a speech that is just a mishmash of arguments with no useable order. Many debaters fail to understand the importance of truly clean, sign-posted organization until they experience a debate from the other side of the ballot. When you are judging, speeches that are just stream-of-consciousness blabbering about various issues are a nightmare. They distract from the content of the debate because the judge is scrambling to determine what argument of your opponent’s you are trying to answer (if they can even figure out what you’re trying to say in the first place). They force the judge to either do work for you (by cross-applying points to issues you might not have intended and didn’t directly do the work to deserve) or for your opponent (by disregarding argumentation that might be relevant). Either way, it is going to make them cranky.


The Fix: Make organization and sign-posting a priority.


Pick an order, communicate it to your judge, and stick to it. You can follow the order of your opponents’ last speech, of your last speech, or set your own roadmap. The key is making sure your judge fully understands where you are going, and then following through with that order. When you move between flows, you should verbally sign-post (“now on to the disad…”) and allow a second or two for your judge to move along with you. Remember the importance of “pen time”: giving the human responsible for flowing the debate some time to physically lift their pen (or mouse) and move to a different sheet of paper (or excel sheet).


Do not make the mistake of thinking it’s ok if you make a mess of the flow, as long as you cover. Although you might slide by debating this way sometimes, you’re much more likely to make mistakes. Even if you don’t, there’s the very real possibility that your judge will miss something amidst all of the confusion. If this happens, it is 100% your fault. Take the steps necessary to correct it. This might mean dedicating a little prep time to deciding how to organize your speech in a way that is coherent and efficient.


In general, a good organizational pattern will clearly lay out what the speech will cover, in the order it will be dealt with. This order should be intuitive and provide ample time to discuss everything necessary. If you’re giving an overview, include that in your order and instruct your judge where you would like it to be flowed. Don’t give underviews (they’re always just pointless rehash of what you just said, and they’re difficult to flow), and don’t say “I’m just going to go down the flow” or “I’m going to skip around a lot.” These are phrases that trigger exasperation in almost every judge.


The Habit: “They dropped that!”– But they didn’t.


This was another major complaint from almost everyone surveyed. If you are going to claim that your opponent dropped an argument, you had better be correct!


Claiming drops that don’t exist is annoying for a number of reasons. First, if your judge is flowing, they already know if the argument was dropped. That means pointing it out is a little redundant to begin with. However, if the argument really was dropped, it’s not necessarily bad to call attention to it. If it wasn’t, though, it’s nothing but a waste of time. Worse, it makes you look like—at best—you’re doing a poor job of flowing and/or don’t understand what is happening in the debate. At worst, you look like you’re deliberately lying about the round. Either way, your credibility is severely undermined.


The Fix: Only point out drops that clearly do exist.


Save the phrase “This was dropped!” for situations in which the argument really was completely conceded. If your opponent said anything that could even remotely be construed as responsive, just answer that argument. If you can, point out why it doesn’t actually apply to your point.  This will save you time and avoid making you look incompetent.


girl studying

Make sure that what you’re claiming matches up with what’s on the flow.



Eliminate these behaviors from your debates, and you’re sure to stay in the good graces of your judges. We’ll be posting the second half of the list tomorrow, so don’t forget to check back!


See Judge’s Pet Peeves Part 2!


Tell us in the comments: what’s your debate pet peeve?


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2 Responses to Judges’ Top Pet Peeves, and How to Avoid Them (Part 1/2)

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