Adjusting to Online Debate

Raffi Piliero | Jul 28, 2021
3 min read

The Opinions Expressed In This Blog Post Are Solely Those of the Author And Not Necessarily Those Of DebateDrills

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, so have online tournaments. While we’re all accustomed to live, in-person tournaments, online debate has become the norm, with every major invitational and regional tournament being held online. Yet, despite having debated online for some time, people are still getting used to the new format. This article will focus on some things you can do to help smooth the adjustment, both in terms of your enjoyment of tournaments and also for competitive success.

First, recognize that clarity is more important than ever. Debaters tend to go faster than they’re capable of, even with in-person tournaments. This creates difficulty flowing and results in missed arguments, even if judges pretend otherwise. However, this problem is especially acute for online debate, where audio disruptions, lag, and other issues may emerge. The problem is compounded because it’s more challenging to look to the judge for visual cues (and verbal cues might not get heard). Judges who have been frequently judging online likely all have stories of someone dropping off a call, lagging, or otherwise having Internet issues. Yet, even with perfect connectivity, otherwise clear debaters can still have moments where they lack clarity due to the limitations of online debate.

The solution? Honest self-assessment of how fast you can go while maintaining clarity. For most debaters, they should slow down. If you’re not sure, double check it yourself – give a rebuttal redo and record it, and then flow it – if you have difficulty keeping up, that’s a sign that you should slow down. Even for the clearest debaters, slowing down a notch would be much appreciated by judges in this online world.

Second, make an effort to develop a good tournament routine. While many of the aspects of tournament travel are grueling and, fortunately, unnecessary (such as flying, checking into hotels, etc.), you don’t want to get too comfortable by virtue of being at home. Wake up well in advance of your rounds, do speaking drills, and focus in between rounds. Without the discipline of your coaches there in person to make you focus, it’s easy to just goof off in between rounds, but you should try to remain locked in during the weekend.

Third, watch out for Zoom fatigue. Even with in-person tournaments, debaters often complain about staring at a screen all day and feeling more exhausted than ever by the end of the day. Yet, with online debate, you lose the opportunity for a break from the screen with face-to-face conversations with friends or coaches in between rounds – it’s likely that you’ll be looking at the computer all day. Try to force yourself to take at least some breaks.

Additionally, optimize your set-up. Studies have suggested that keeping your computer at least 16 inches away from your eyes can reduce strain, and help avoid producing those headache that we all know too well from the strain of early online tournaments.

While we are all unfortunately too accustomed to online, Zoom debate at this point, there can still be things worth keeping in mind to make the experience more bearable.

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