Warming Up for a Tournament? Try This Drill.

It’s the morning of a tournament. You’re nervous, you’re jittery, and you’re thinking: “Oh no, my speaks are going to suffer in this first round.” They don’t have to! Good speaking is a process of being dynamic with delivery, and beyond tips to fight the nerves, anyone can improve their delivery with the right kind of practice.

Here’s a drill to up your speaker points.

I call this the Dynamic Snake Drill.

The speaker delivers a scripted case. The coach (or parent or debate partner) picks a speaking element (let’s say passion) and holds up any number of fingers, increasing or decreasing by 1 every few sentences. At a 5, the speaker is conversational. At 10, he is at his highest level of frantic passion – pushing the limits of what is possible. At a 1, he is completely casual; “just so you know …” A 1 means he doesn’t care about the subject matter at all.

Numbers higher than 8 or lower than 3 are not typically useful in debate. Let the debaters know that they’re not practicing a realistic speech; they’re stretching their ability so they can flow easily between 3 and 8. Polar numbers should be extreme to the point of comedic.

Practice this over any element of delivery.

Here are some recommended elements to practice with dynamic:

  • Passion

  • Speed

  • Volume

  • Pitch

  • Articulation

  • Murmur (breathiness of the voice, this element contrasts with brassiness)

Try the drill with numbers that represent any of these categories. If you’re not satisfied by how extreme the speaker is, stop the drill and restart from 5. Demonstration can be helpful, especially with something like a 1 in speed, or about 20 words per minute. It’s hard to speak that slowly! Advanced debaters should be able to follow a coach even if he doesn’t change by just 1 – for example, if he jumps from 3 to 9. 

This drill works wonders toward developing an entertaining, dynamic speaking style. It also helps debaters mentally separate different aspects of their delivery: speaking faster doesn’t have to mean adding passion and volume, for example.

Over the course of the season, nothing will maximize your speaking like practicing impromptu every single day. But be sure to whip out this drill in club meetings and before tournaments: it’s one of the best warm-up techniques you can have.