As the “most audience accessible debate”, Public Forum often gets assigned whatever judge is left in the judge’s room. This could range from the seasoned debate coach to the parent who was signed up to judge and is begrudgingly drinking a cup of coffee to stay awake. While the challenge of judge adaptation is not unique to PF, PF has the widest spectrum of judges. Therefore, it is important to develop the ability to win over whatever judge is in front of you. This requires adapting your style and content to his or her characteristics. Your debating should not radically change from one round to the next, but persuasive tactics should change given your audience.
After developing topical knowledge and argumentative skills, learning judge adaptation is the next “polishing” step. First be comfortable with PF before trying to adapt your debating to the judge. With some rounds under your belt, you can draw on that experience to understand PF judging. After some debates, you’ll probably have some questions about judging, one of which may be:
How do judges, well, judge?
Asking this question will help you become a better debater. If we can know what judges look for, we can shape our debates to provide that experience. As described in the chapter on Framework in Beyond Resolved, PF does not give the judge a clear rubric for the round. This lack of direction became clear when I began judging and had to develop my own criteria. As a debater I assumed the judge understood and was educated on what to look for. As a judge, I saw the lack of general knowledge of PF on that side of the table. I also knew that my judging was informed by my experiences debating. Though I consider my judging style balanced, I know that there are many great judges who assess the round differently, yet balanced as well. There is no one “right” was to judge PF, and for that reason, debaters should prepare to create a universally appealing style of debate while being conscious of individual judging styles.
In Beyond Resolved I break down the 8 types of judges by characteristic, necessary adaptations, and cautionary notes. I have dedicated a section to debating for the Community Judge, the most difficult adaptation for most Public Forum debaters. With 20 pages of analysis total, Beyond Resolved provides the most comprehensive look at Judge Adaptation that I have found to date. Check it out for yourself here!