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Competing in Speech & Debate? Here's Five Crucial Tips.

Having competed in my fair share of tournaments from a young age, I can say that speech and debate competitions provide a platform for young individuals to hone their communication, critical thinking, and persuasive skills. Whether you're a seasoned debater or just starting out, it's crucial to develop effective strategies that will help you succeed in this demanding and intellectually stimulating environment. Here at LeadYouth, we will explore five crucial tips to enhance your performance and make your mark in the world of speech and debate.

Tip #1: Master the art of research.

A strong foundation of knowledge is essential for delivering compelling speeches and constructing persuasive arguments. Invest time in comprehensive research to gather accurate and up-to-date information on the topic at hand. Utilize credible sources such as academic journals, books, reputable websites, and expert interviews. Remember, the quality of your evidence can make or break your argument, so prioritize accuracy and reliability.

Several credible news sources to get you started are:

  1. Reuters (

  2. Associated Press (

  3. BBC News (

  4. The New York Times (

  5. The Washington Post (

  6. The Guardian (

  7. Al Jazeera (

  8. National Public Radio (NPR) (

  9. Bloomberg (

  10. The Wall Street Journal (

  11. CNN (

  12. PBS NewsHour (

  13. Politico (

  14. Associated Press (AP) (

Remember to always cite your sources during a round, especially if you directly quote them. In debate, someone may ask for your source on a piece of evidence, so be prepared to present it to the judges as proof.

Tip #2: Practice with other people.

No matter how talented you are, practice is the key to success in speech and debate. Regularly rehearse your speeches, rebuttals, and arguments to refine your delivery and boost your confidence. Practice in front of a mirror or record yourself to analyze your body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Additionally, seek feedback from your peers and coaches to identify areas for improvement. The more you practice, the more comfortable and polished you will become.

The worst nightmare for many speakers and debaters is freezing on the spot during a round. If this happens, do not address it by saying statements like "Sorry" or "Can I start over?" It is likely that judges may even forget your slip-up entirely if you continue right on.

Tip #3: Sharpen your rebuttal skills.

Debates often involve intense back-and-forth exchanges, and being skilled in the art of rebuttal can give you a competitive edge. Listen attentively to your opponent's arguments and identify their weak points. Instead of attacking their character, focus on dismantling their logic and evidence. Structure your rebuttals effectively, highlighting flaws in their reasoning and presenting counterarguments with clarity and confidence. A well-crafted rebuttal can sway judges and weaken your opponent's position.

Remember, debates are judged not only on content, but also decorum. No matter what type of debate you compete in, always address your opponent and judges professionally to avoid any conflicts. The judges critique your speaker points, even if you don't think they notice.

Tip #4: Learn from the strong speakers' performances.

One of my personal favorite things to do during a speech competition is to watch other speakers. Not only are they entertaining, but they can also give you insight into how you can potentially improve your own performance. Try taking mental notes on their body language, mannerisms, and anything they could work on. Just like a good writer must also be a good editor, you must learn how to constructively critique someone else too.

After the tournament, you might consider using inspiration to polish your own performance. This does not mean to copy someone else's style and charisma, which is difficult and immoral to do, but rather to see how you can hone your own strengths in a different way.

Tip #5: Network and have fun!

No matter how we do in a tournament, us speakers and debaters don't take ourselves too seriously. At the end of the day, we're all here to celebrate the beauty of rhetoric and freedom of speech. Go travel the city you're in, visit landmarks, and make new friends with people you might not have met otherwise. It's entirely possible to compete with someone and not feel "competitive."

On a related note, talk with your new connections to discover new opportunities for yourself, such as other tournaments, events, and awards. You might just be pleasantly surprised where they'll take you.


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