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


After asking a wide range of frequent judges in each event, we have uncovered some of the most common debate judge pet peeves. Yesterday, we discussed the first half of the responses, and how to avoid making these classic mistakes. Today, we present the second half of the list.


Here are more things to avoid if you want to stay on the good side of the kind folks who adjudicate your rounds, and how to replace these habits with better ones. Follow these tips, as well as yesterday’s, and you’re sure to be an absolute delight to judge!


The Habit: Buzzword bingo.


This is when you don’t explain anything about your argument, but instead just throw around a bunch of jargon and obscure language. Kritik debaters can often be the most guilty of this, because of the amount of complex terminology involved. Too many buzzwords are annoying because they aren’t a substitute for real analysis, but many debaters treat them that way.


The Fix: Analysis and explanation. Do the work!


Make sure everything you’re saying has a claim, warrant, and impact. Arguments like “[buzzword] is a link, that’s [card cite]” are often meaningless. Explain what you’re saying. Do the work.


Throughout the debate, you should be asking yourself if someone who had zero background in your literature would have any idea what you were talking about. If the answer is no, you might be playing buzzword bingo. Go more in-depth with your explanation. Assume your judge has no prior knowledge, even if you know that they do. Judges don’t want to do work for you.


If you’re worried that you won’t have time, you’re wrong. You should be integrating an overall “story” for the debate (which includes explaining major terminology) into your arguments on the line-by-line. You do not have to add a “this is what I’m talking about” section to your speech. If you’re doing a good job, it will already be built in.



You must engage your evidence beyond just extending buzzwords!


The Habit: Disclosure shenanigans.


This goes both ways. Refusing to disclose without a good reason annoys a good number of judges. On the other hand, demanding an unreasonable amount of information from your opponents is also irksome.


The Fix: Be courteous and reasonable during pre-round disclosure.


In general, it’s good practice to follow the norms of your individual circuit. Some places all but demand total disclosure, others rarely include disclosure at all. If you’re worried about stepping on toes, do what others are doing. “When in Rome,” after all.


Matching your opponents’ level of disclosure is also suggested by some.


Whether or not to disclose is a personal decision, but many surveyed judges said they think disclosure creates better debates by increasing preparation and thus clash. If you are going to disclose, using the wiki is generally appreciated. If you aren’t going to disclose or are breaking new, explain that courteously.


No matter what, remain friendly and civil, and don’t act demanding or entitled. And never deliberately lie! Bad behavior during disclosure can severely damage your reputation with judges and fellow competitors.


The Habit: Two ships passing in the night.


This happens when your arguments never really engage your opponents’. Maybe you’re extending your case, maybe you’re even answering individual parts of your opponents’ strategy, but you’re not doing anything to compare your claims to those of your opponents. The round, as a result, lacks any meaningful clash.


Judges absolutely despise these rounds, because deciding them is so difficult. If both sides are doing a decent job of supporting their arguments in the round, but never bother to compare them to those of their opponents, it can become nearly impossible to determine who won. After all, both sides are “winning” a bunch of stuff, and no one has laid out a system for deciding what is most important. This makes the judge feel like he or she is forced to intervene, which is always uncomfortable and unpleasant.


The Fix: Assume you aren’t winning everything; set up methods for resolving tension.


This is the single most significant thing you can do to start immediately winning more debates.


Instead of only worrying about winning your arguments, or focusing only on line-by-line coverage, acknowledge and accept that you aren’t going to win every single point. Trying to is futile, and almost always results in shallow clash. Instead, group arguments and make comparisons. Why are your arguments better? Maybe your evidence post-dates, is from a more reliable source, is comparative, or is more probable based on factors uncovered by the rest of the debate.


A good way to start doing this is to read your opponents’ evidence. Lots of people read evidence that is tremendously power-tagged. Finding these instances and exploiting them is the easiest possible way to do direct comparison of claims. But don’t forget to go deeper!


You are always going to be behind on certain parts of the flow. If you think you’re behind on one individual point, explain why it is less important than other components of the debate. For example, maybe your impacts have less magnitude, but should nevertheless be evaluated as primary because yours address the root causes of conflict (such as “environmental destruction is the root cause of resource wars”).


Instead of scrambling to put out small fires throughout the flow, develop a vision for the round as a whole that puts you on top.



Don’t be a ship passing your opponent in the night, never crossing paths.


The Habit: Being a jerk.


This one should be self-explanatory, but it was mentioned by a huge number of judges. Being a jerk means being rude or unnecessarily hostile towards your opponents, your partner, or anyone else you interact with. Too many debaters confuse being aggressive and abrasive with confidence. Don’t make this mistake; being a jerk only undermines your credibility.


The Fix: Be assertive, but pleasant.


The best debaters are those who can be funny, engaging, and kind, without seeming timid. They demand attention and success because of the quality of their performance, not because of their anger or aggression. You can make jokes, even be a little snarky in some situations, but don’t forget to treat every single person you encounter with respect. Act like you want these people to like you (guess what: you do!)


Not only will being thought of as a decent person help your competitive success (no one wants to vote for a total jerk), it will also enrich your life. You might not realize it yet, but the people you meet through debate are some of the smartest, most interesting, and awesome people you will ever get to know, and chances are good they will eventually become your best friends. Start treating them that way now.


The Habit: Lacking background knowledge and understanding of the topic.


Your judges are usually intelligent people who place a high value on knowledge and critical thinking. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t show up to watch debates. So, they tend to find it very tiresome when it’s clear that you have no idea what you’re talking about, and haven’t made an effort to learn.


No one expects you to be an expert on everything, but it is reasonable to assume you will have a working knowledge of the key concepts within the current resolution.


The Fix: Do your research and keep your mind open.


First and foremost, you have to do research beyond just cutting cards. We have discussed the enormous importance of this in the past. Read this article for tips on how to conduct the kind of research that creates deep understanding. This will help you avoid the simple factual errors that cause judges to roll their eyes and question your comprehension.


Second, recognize that one of the biggest benefits of debate is expanding your mind to include new perspectives. Try not to cling to your existing ideological/political biases, and instead be open to genuine engagement with ideas that might contradict your own. Doing this will make you a better debater overall, and will prevent your speeches from getting boxed in with boilerplate ideological talking points.



Do the background research ahead of time for increased credibility.



Are you guilty of some of these? If so, make every effort to stop. Since your judges have the final say in your competitive success, it just makes sense to avoid annoying them. More than that, they’re just good advice!


Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this series for even more debate tips from judges.


Tell us in the comments: what are your debate pet peeves?

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