What does it take to make a great debater?
This is a question I am often asked by debater and coach alike. There are a lot of things that define a great debater versus a good debater, but a best practice of all great debaters I have met is that they adapt to changes well and they adopt the best practices of other debaters.
Public Forum is an evolving event. When I attended my first nationals in 2006, the concept of Framework was almost non-existent. Many years later, Framework is a necessary piece of Public Forum debate. Always be alert to how the debate is changing overall and aware of what strategy is being used in your league and nationally.
You also want to adapt to each debate round. This means you take a moment to think critically about your opponent and your judge. Adapting your style of debate to your audience and opponent will lead to better persuasion. No debate round is the same. Great debaters know this and approach each round with an awareness of what that round will hold.
One of the most critical decisions I made my novice year of debate was to spend an entire tournament watching varsity Public Forum rounds. I was competing in Extemp and had the time. This was the best choice I made that tournament. By watching the rounds I realized for the first time what Public Forum could look like. The delivery, organization, and presentation of the debaters was markedly different from the top novice debaters I had seen. By watching, I saw what I wanted to become. Whether you watch live rounds, recorded rounds, or even your team’s own practice rounds, make it a habit of watching debates with attention to practices you can adopt. You may find a delivery style you like or an argument you want to research. Eyes and ears open is the best policy when you watch rounds.
By watching great debaters you can identify what practices you can adopt and improve you debating. You can also observe what doesn’t work and avoid making those same mistakes. It is hard to improve if you do not have a concrete goal in mind. Watch the best to see what your end goal is when you practice and perfect your own debating.
No matter what skill level you are, adapt and adopt to become a better debater. Even the best debaters do not become complacent with their skills.