The style of speaking that I advocate on this website is very conversational and personal. It avoids aloofness, it prioritizes making sure your judge likes you and understands exactly what you’re saying.
One of the keys to pulling off this style is actually connecting with your judge.
You not only want the judge to like you, you want to like the judge.
Importance of connection
Sometimes you can convince the judge to vote just because you seem right and say something emphatically. I’ve seen speakers who aren’t particularly good or impressive win because they repeat something loudly several times with confidence.
That style is bound to be inconsistent, though. Some judges will buy it, some won’t. It often results in your fellow debaters getting frustrated, too!
Done properly, you can have such a connection with the judge that they trust you more than anyone else to provide them with information. And if they trust what you say, you have extreme leverage that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
If a stranger were to come up to you and tell you that your friend is wrong about something, you’ll be more cautious about accepting this information. If a close friend tells you that another friend is wrong, you’re a lot more likely to just allow the information to come in unfiltered.
Be the friend.
How to connect
1. Establish a good first impression.
I talked about first impressions in the post about being professional. If you haven’t read that, click here to read it first.
The main part about having a good first impression is being well groomed, and being the first to smile at the judge as he/she walks into the room.
Give the kind of warm smile you’d give to a long lost friend!
2. Show interest in them.
Although you’re not supposed to talk to the judge before and after the round, your chance is when you ask the judging philosophy.
I also have a post about that, click here to read that!
If you’ve already read that, you know how to ask the question in such a way that you show interest.
3. Use effective eye contact.
Eye contact shouldn’t only be reserved for your speech. If your judge looks over at your table while your opponent is speaking, smile at them and then continue writing.
This communicates a few things:
- You seem nice, obviously.
- You seem confident. You’re busy, but have time for some eye contact.
- It shows that you’re not lost in thought and aloof.
- It makes the judge feel like you’re their friend. If they keep looking at you instead of the person speaking, they’re either creepy, or trust you more than your opponent.
Eye contact while speaking is a given, so I’ll move on.
4. Establish respect for your judge.
I know that sometimes your judges seem really hard to like. Maybe they have an abrasive personality, or they’ve been acting creepy.
If you’re a female and feel uncomfortable with your judge’s interactions with you, prioritize comfort over connection with your judge. I don’t want to advocate giving creeps what they want. (Same goes for a guy and a female judge, although this is more rare).
However, in pretty much any other circumstance, you need to learn to respect and like your judge. Even if they’re weird.
Much like the ads you see on websites, there is one “weird trick” that will get you to like your judge more. Unlike those ads, it’s actually legit.
The trick is to imagine your judge with angel wings.
I know it sounds really odd and eccentric and maybe a little hippy. But I found that it actually works.
One of the first times I tried this, the judge started nodding along with my entire 2AR, and even embarrassed himself by saying an audible “yes” to one of my arguments. This was a parent, and he approached me at tournaments afterwards to discuss the resolution and such. It seems that he felt a connection with me because I felt a connection with him.
That’s not the only judge that acted like this. Another judge that I tried connecting with like this reported to her daughter that she was “really impressed” with my speaking and voted for us in a very difficult negative round.
Why does this work?
I can’t take credit for this trick, I read about it in a book about charisma. There are several different types of charisma, and this method helps with “good will” charisma. Basically, the judge feels like you’re a warm person who cares for them. And if done properly, this is not deceptive. You actually do care about them!
Honestly. I liked my judges. I wished I could talk to them after the round and just chat about stuff. Because they sensed that, they lent me more trust and kindness. Especially in the form of 30 speaker points 😉
Imagining a judge with angel wings helps your mind perceive them as a nice, positive presence in the round.
If they look rough and angry, the angel wings make them look beaten and needing help, rather than mad.
Essentially, it makes you care for them because you start to come up with explanations for why they are the way they are.
I want to emphasize that this isn’t some kind of manipulative trick. It actually makes you genuinely care for the person. If done properly, you’re being charismatic. Charisma is not something you’re born with, it’s learned either consciously or subconsciously.
5. Use speech experience.
I see a lot of competitors who did speech for a couple of years and did quite well, but are having trouble speaking in debate.
Part of it, of course, is that a speech requires less critical thinking and makes people less nervous than debate.
But even on their affirmative case, when they know exactly what to say, there’s just something wrong. They seem like a robot. Then they go to their speech, perform beautifully, and walk the stage during awards for speech but not for debate.
What’s wrong? Why are they good at speech but not debate?
I can’t say a sweeping statement for everyone, but I think a big difference is often their connection with the judges. Speeches are often about personal topics or more relatable topics, while debate seems formal and… stuffy.
It doesn’t have to be that way at all.
My best debate rounds were the ones where I acted like I did during a persuasive speech.
I won persuasive the year before I became a good debate speaker. The next year, I started to debate more like I did persuasive. That’s when I started winning speaks.
If you don’t currently do speech, I’d encourage you to do a few platforms and put more effort into impromptu (which you probably already do because it seems everyone does). Doing three speech events gives you three times the opportunities to practice speaking than just doing debate does. You can accelerate your growth by doing this.
If you have established rapport and a good connection with your judge, you can “get away with” things other debaters can’t. You can call out the other team for doing something abusive, or tell the judge directly why you think the case you’re arguing against is ridiculous.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “how do you say that without looking like a jerk”?
Well, if you’re “friends” with the judge, and you say it kindly and with a smile, you’ll pull it off. It’s as simple as that.
I said some pretty direct things in the last year I debated, and never once got a comment on my ballot saying I was rude. That’s despite me being a dark haired, tall guy who could easily play the villain in some kind of mafia movie. 🙂
Bottom line—connect with your judge.
For more helpful tips like this, subscribe to my email list below!