The sound of a debater trying to ask the “judging philosophy” question.
It seems that almost every debater I’ve come across has managed to make the question confusing and robotic.
So, let’s talk about how to ask for and use the judging philosophy.
What not to do
We can agree, I’m sure, that the judge philosophy question is in order to gain some background information on your judge.
Can I propose that it is important not to confuse the judge in the process of asking this question?
Community judges do not know what their “judging philosophy” is. The dictionary defines philosophy as “a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.” But community judges are new to debate, they almost certainly do not have a “judging philosophy”. That usually comes with experience.
Many times community judges answer the question just fine, but that’s because they are smart and figure out what you mean by the question. Why make them figure it out?
There’s a better way
Instead of asking a vague question, ask the judge for exactly what you want. You probably want to know how much they’ve judged, what they want to see from you, and what their occupation is.
So ask that!
This is how I would ask the question for community judges: “Before we begin, I’m sure both teams would appreciate it if you told us a little bit about yourself, such as your occupation, if you have judging experience, and what we can do to make this round easier to judge.”
I’m giving them a list of three things I want, but only suggesting, not requiring any of them. Probably 80% of judges gave me an answer to all three.
Make sure you listen attentively and write down what they are saying. I would hold a sticky note pad in my hand and write on it while maintaining eye contact. This is not just for show (nothing should be), it’s so that you remember this crucial information.
Out of respect, it’s a good idea to stand up while listening. If you and your partner stand up and the other team doesn’t, they look bad.
If they are a parent judge who is very experienced, I might adjust the wording accordingly while still requesting those three things. I usually left it the same for regular parent judges, because the phrasing does not assume the judge is inexperienced.
As for alumni, you want to ask the question in such a way that strokes their ego (without being weird). Make it clear that you realize they’re experienced and will have their own ideas about how debate should be done.
The bottom line is—be adaptable. Don’t always say the same thing if you can improve the question in a specific round.
If the other question asks the question the way I mentioned in the introduction, you can ask a followup question. What’s great about this technique is that it reestablishes your control over the round, you make the other team look like they missed something, and you get the information you need.
If the judge just tells the other team their judging experience and nothing else, you could say something along the lines of: “Sorry, if I may, could you briefly tell us about your occupation or other interest, and what we can do to make this round easier for you to judge?”
Using the judge philosophy
A lot of debaters forget why they are supposed to ask for the “judging philosophy”. They just ask it robotically, ignore the response, and never think about it again.
What that judge tells you is extremely important. Persuading a stranger is very difficult because you have no idea what they’re interested in or whether they will agree with you from the very beginning. You don’t know what type of personality they have, so you can’t tailor your arguments to them. (I plan to also provide a post on judge personalities!)
What I would do is take the sticky note that I wrote their response on, and put it in front of me on the table. When my partner was speaking or I had some downtime, (as if there is such a thing in debate), I would write up some judge-specific rhetoric on a sticky note and put it on either my next speech or my last speech to remind myself to use it.
Most often, it took the form of an analogy specific to their occupation or interests. You should become a pro at making mom analogies, because you’ll get a lot of mom judges. Being flexible and able to make an analogy related to the judge’s occupation is important.
In fact, I wrote a post with a couple of examples of using the judge’s occupation for an analogy, so you can go read that.
Another thing you can do is use what they told you about making the round easier for them to judge. If they told you they like clarity, you can refer to your arguments as “clear and specific.” You can use statements such as “let’s be clear”, or “the arguments have become a bit disorganized and muddy, so I want to reorganize and boil them down.”
Sometimes you can be more specific. If they say “I want evidence to back up your main points”, you can say: “At the beginning of this round, you told us you want evidence to back up each point. We have provided 15 specific quotes, while the negative team has provided 6, some of which were written by bloggers.”
What’s great about this technique is that you invoke the consistency principle. Reminding the judge that they told you they want evidence will make them subconsciously think, “wow, that’s true, I want evidence. Oh look, this team has more evidence!” It automatically makes them likely to vote for you.
I watched a debater in an out-round turn to each judge, one at a time, and mention something they said they wanted, and how their team fulfilled those requests. He won, of course. It was impressive. His memory made him memorable.
The last way you can use the judging philosophy is by identifying the judge’s personality type—stay tuned for a post on that topic.
I’m sure you can come up with some more creative ways, these are just some of the techniques I used.
The judge philosophy is extremely important, and it is usually poorly executed by debaters. Stand out by asking questions that get useful answers, and using those answers to your advantage in a debate round.