An unfortunate reality of modern debate is that a lot of debaters focus primarily on speed at the cost of clarity and efficiency. Speed is equated with technical proficiency, with debaters presuming that being “tech” necessitates being as fast as possible.
It is certainly true that speed can be useful. And, there are ways to use speed effectively (working on clarity, not being inefficient due to excessive speed, etc.) However, the purpose of this blog series is to discuss an alternative – superior word economy. For debaters who struggle with going faster, there’s a way to still be tech – word economy can help one cover more ground without necessarily speaking more quickly.
What is word economy? I’m referring to speaking more efficiently, not necessarily more quickly. Good word economy is about minimizing verbal pauses (such as “ums” or “uhs”) and avoiding inefficient sentence constructions. For example, instead of saying “The way that we think the Affirmative is able to solve our impacts is X” you might say something like “The Aff solves.”
This will be a multi-part series where multiple word economy drills are outlined. The first drill is the “stop/start” drill.
Many debaters with poor word economy are unaware it’s even happening – as they’re speaking quickly in the speech, they aren’t noticing the ways that they’re being efficient. It’s only upon listening to recordings or having someone point out the errors that they become more conscious of their inefficiencies. This is the motivating factor behind the stop/start drill, which aims to make debaters become more cognizant of the ways in which they’re being inefficient.
What is the stop/start drill? It’s simple – whenever you stumble or say something inefficient, you have to start over. You keep going until you can make it through a portion of the speech with high levels of efficiency. This involves two people, with one person speaking and the other person checking to stop them if they stumble. The difficulty of the drill can also be easily modified, depending on the skill and experience of the debaters. For novices or young debaters, perhaps the goal is to only speak for 15 seconds without an inefficient moment. For a more experienced debater, the goal might be to complete an entire 1AR. Fun and creative variants of the drill can involve throwing paper or spraying with a water gun to foster efficiency. I have fond memories of camp in high school with my now-colleague, Lucas Clarke, where we would order wings and spend hours throwing paper at each other doing the stop/start drill.
To improve over time, you should also be diligent about tracking progress. Note how far you were able to get in a speech without stumbling and try to beat that time the next speech you give (on something different) While your improvements in one speech won’t magically make you efficient in a future speech, over time you’ll find yourself being more aware of when you stumble and will build good habits.