Q&A: What do you notice most as a judge outside of arguments?

Q: What do you notice most as a judge outside of arguments?


The first thing a judge notices about you is how you set up for the debate.

Organization is important in all aspects of debate, but especially when you set up materials for each round. You want your materials to help you, not hinder you during the round. Set up the desks, chairs, or other seating so that you and your partner can easily confer while seated. Don’t be afraid to move over an extra desk or chair if you need more surface area for evidence. Keep your most used articles and cards in a separate binder or folder from your other evidence. Have your in-case evidence printed separately and ready to give to your opponents if they requested it. All of these preparations will help your debating be polished and show your care for what you do. A judge knows your serious if you take the time to set up your materials well.

Another part of preparation and presentation is professional dress. Your coach probably will instruct you on dress code for tournaments. For that reason I won’t detail the “his and hers” of high school debate wear. I do, however, want to note why appearance matters. How you dress is one of the first things the judge will notice. Whether you like it or not, it matters to how you are perceived. It is also widely accepted that wearing business casual and professional clothing affects how you carry yourself and how you speak. You are more likely to act professional when dressed like a professional. Don’t let how you dress undermine how you debate. Matching with your partner can help present a “teamwork” image. You want to avoid distracting clothing and accessories, so avoid loud ties and jewelry. Ultimately, debate is not about showing off your personality or fashion sense, so don’t let your clothing steal the show.

Second half strategy also sets great teams apart from good teams. When the Summary and Final Focus are coherent and connected and do the work of telling the judge what is important, it stands out. Anyone can talk about important issues in the round. To do so persuasively and effectively shape the judge’s decision takes pre-planned strategy. I discuss this in the Beyond Resolved chapters on Framework, the Second Half, Summary, and Final Focus.

Finally, always be aware of your surroundings. You should assume that anyone who is not a debater is a judge. Be professional in demeanor and speech at all times. I once was waiting to judge a round and had a team walk by while they were bad-mouthing another team. Well, the next round I judged the team that walked by. While a judge will judge the debate, it is hard not to remove that bad first impression from coloring your perception of the team.

Take your presentation and your argumentation seriously and the judge will take you seriously.


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