The Simplest Way to Improve Your Win Rate

Sometimes, making the step from 3-3 to 4-2 takes hours of research, case tweaking, and practice. Other times, all it takes is a little discipline. I’m going to offer you a simple way to improve your win rate by 5-10% that’s so easy you barely need to practice it.

The Illusion of Eloquence

Intermediate debaters face the temptation to create a solid stream of words. That’s something a novice can’t do because of a lack of delivery practice, so it seems like a way to show off improvement. This delivery style emphasizes flowing, lengthy, interconnected sentences. While the speed may not be high, pauses are rare.

While this style of delivery can serve you in platform events, it is useless in debate because you have so much ground to cover in so little time. Suppose you’re a policy debater in a 1NR. You have to cover seven points in five minutes. Professional motivational speakers deliver less content in an hour. So you’ll confuse your judge if you deliver like this:

“Let’s talk about what exactly was the key to success for ancient Phoenicia. Now we have to take a broad look at history. We have to ask ourselves which came first: a strong navy, or a strong Phoenicia? And I think you’ll find – what I’m going to prove in the round here today – is that…”

Using flowy delivery feels eloquent, but you’re losing the judge because he never knows where you are on the flow and he’s not sure what to write down. His flow – with all its flaws – is how he will remember the round when he’s reviewing it in the judge’s lounge. So while he may give you a 5 in delivery, you’re unlikely to win the round.

Eloquence in Organization

So here’s the secret that will improve your win rate: control the judge’s pen. Decide in prep time exactly what you want the judge to write for each point you give. These are called tags: the names of your arguments. They are your best friends. Make them something the judge can write in about 4 seconds or less, like “Human Rights Paramount” or “No Impact.” Then, when speaking, commit to your tags 100%. Deliver them slightly slower and louder than normal. Feel free to repeat them. Watch the judge’s pen. If he looks confused about where you are on the flow or what to write, stop your fancy delivery for a moment – mid sentence is fine – and tell him.

“My opponent claims that Phoenicia rose to greatness without a navy. My response is Safe Trade – Safe Trade. The Phoenicians built warships that – oh, this is under my opponent’s second contention – controlled the trade lanes and ensured commercial growth across the Mediterranean. Without those ships keeping the trade lanes safe, there’s no way it would have grown so big.” 

Delivery is a tool to communicate your ideas to the judge and persuade him to embrace them. Thus, having polished delivery is important. But if it ever gets in the way of the judge’s ability to understand you – if you’re focusing on that instead of transferring your flow verbatim to the judge – your win rate will suffer. Work the tags and make every word of your sentences count.

Controlling the judge’s pen is not difficult. I’ve taught novices to do it at their very first tournament – and they’ve proceeded to thrash experienced debaters because the judge was actually writing their arguments down. Pen control is about making the conscious decision to be excellently organized and then following through. As soon as you’re ready to do better than you ever have before, give it a try.