In 2010, a Geometry teacher at Corner High School in Warrior, Alabama was interrogated by the Secret Service for discussing shooting the President as an analogy while teaching about angles. The teacher explained that if he was standing at one point, he could hit the President by shooting at a certain angle. Although this teacher was apparently taking the town name of “Warrior” too seriously, he certainly provided a new angle to teaching Geometry.
Thankfully, you probably won’t ever make an analogy that bad. As they say, a bad analogy is like sword-fighting bananas.
Or something like that.
I’m not going to comprehensively cover the topic of analogies, but I’d like to talk about what I call relevant analogies.
A relevant analogy is one that directly ties in to something within the debate round. For example, the judge “philosophy” (an awful term I wish would just die), an object in the debate round, or something that happened in-round.
The benefit: using relevant analogies helps you look present in the round and confident. It shows that you haven’t already pre-scripted all your arguments; you can actually adjust to your situation and use it to your advantage.
If you think this doesn’t have a big effect, trust me, it does. One judge told us he was the president of a college nearby, so I made an analogy about that college. He specifically mentioned it on the ballot and said it gave me bonus points.
Another judge at Nationals commented that my use of analogies and humor that were relevant to the round showed that I was “present” and dynamic.
Those are only two of the 4+ judges who mentioned it throughout that year alone! It makes a huge difference, folks.
Judge experience analogies
In my experience, these are the most powerful analogies, for a few reasons.
1. While some community judges can not easily see the skill difference in speakers, you can bypass that by making it obvious you’re better. Using analogies related to the judge is one of those obvious indicators of a good speaker, and most judges will automatically give you more points for it.
2. As opposed to any other analogy where the judge has to visualize what you are talking about, an analogy related to their life experiences is quite vivid and relatable. They immediately get what you’re talking about, as long as you use the analogy correctly.
3. It shows that you were paying attention when they talked about their judging “philosophy” (hate that word) at the beginning of the round.
Here is a post specific to getting the judge philosophy, but I’ll give you a couple of examples for how to use the philosophy once you have it.
If the judge tells you about an occupation, college degree, hobby, or interest of theirs, you can usually find a way to tie it into the round.
If your judge is a firefighter, you can make casual references to different parts of their job. None of these are especially genius or creative, they’re just kickstart examples.
“If you don’t implement this plan perfectly, it will fall apart. As a firefighter, you know that if you tie a knot for whatever purpose, you have to use the correct knot and tie it well, or else it could end in disaster. Unfortunately, the Affirmative team’s implementation is reckless.”
Not particularly brilliant, but you’ll be surprised how effective a simple analogy like this can be.
If your judge is a teacher, you can talk about numerous things, like curricula. (Yes, that’s the plural of curriculum).
“As a teacher, would you ever change your curriculum for teaching without thoroughly looking into the new one? Obviously not, it’s important to be certain that the curriculum is quality before using it for the important task of education. The Affirmative team is proposing to pass a 30+ page bill without reading it out loud, only a summary that they supply. This is basically a small scale Obamacare…”
Ha, so clever, I made a jab at Obamacare. I’m so smart because I can joke about things conservatives don’t like.
Pitfalls to avoid
Never make an analogy that you’re not 100% certain is accurate. If your judge is a doctor and you mess up your medical terms or say “I’m sure you’d agree with…” and they don’t, you’re in trouble.
Although example 2 is solid (possibly minus the Obamacare jab), example 1 is worded carefully to avoid saying something stupid. If I said “If you’re tying a knot to help someone down from a burning building…” I would probably lose the judge who would be thinking “A rope escape is like our last resort, that’s kind of unrealistic”.
There is no easier way to ruin your credibility and rapport with a judge than getting their job wrong.
An object in a debate round
The reason an analogy based on something present in the room is useful is because the judge can identify with it more than an abstract idea. Instead of imagining a scene that you describe, they can just look at it and immediately see the value of your analogy.
Although this is less likely to be noticed than the judge experience analogy, it certainly makes you more effective.
I had a case one year to reform an agency that was consistently failing to do its job. We had a statistic showing that it failed to enforce the law 41% of the time. You can make all kinds of analogies based off this, but we frequently used an analogy the judge could easily identify with:
“Throughout this round, you’re using a pen to write down the arguments we make. Now imagine if your pen didn’t work 4/10 of the time. Obviously you would replace it or fix it. This is an obvious choice when looking at this pen, and it’s fairly simple in the context of this agency.”
This analogy is impossible to disagree with, you can only dispute that this agency shouldn’t be treated like the pen. Furthermore, it simplifies the choice for the judge. Instead of having to think about a complex agency, they can just think “well, I would definitely replace that pen… so why not this agency?”
Pitfalls to avoid
The NCFCA has a rule against using props in a debate round and all but one speech event. The definition of a prop is a bit shaky, but I would say that something you are wearing would be considered a prop if you bring attention to it for an analogy. Talking about glasses and removing yours to show the judge would be a prop. Saying “nice tie” to your opponent is not going to get you in trouble. Just be careful. For the record, I used the pen analogy almost every affirmative round and never received a complaint (only positive comments on the ballot).
I’ve also pointed around the room if there was something I could use. I’d probably say it’s not a prop if you didn’t bring it in, but once again it’s a shaky ground. I think the general rule would be, “if the average human would not consider it a prop, you’re probably fine.”
An event from in-round
If something particularly interesting or memorable happens in a debate round, you can call upon that for a comparison or analogy.
I had a debate round in which the other team continually claimed we had not provided any examples as proof that our case was true. They simply wanted some anecdotes. The problem was, we did provide an example all the way back in our 1AC. In my final speech, the 2AR, I let out this bombastic statement (Simon is one of the opponents):
“You know, Simon is a little bit like Dory from Finding Nemo. [pause] He has short-term memory loss. [pause for laughs] Think about it, his main point was that we don’t have an example, when we’ve pointed him back numerous times to our first affirmative speech where it says *read example evidence*.”
Unfortunately, the other team was better and beat us anyway, but I know at least two of the judges loved the interjection of humor.
In a hypothetical scenario where the timing device kept randomly going off, you could tie that in to a significance/inherency argument.
“The affirmative team is claiming that [insert problem] is currently an issue. People have thought it was a problem in the past, and it’s always been proven to be fine. Their problem is like our timing device, it keeps causing false alarms!”
This never happened while I was debating, but now that I am writing about it I almost wish it had happened…
Pitfalls to avoid
I think the only pitfall here is if you say something meant to be funny and it doesn’t end up being funny to the judge and it gets awkward. I’ve had my fair share of that. (Although keep in mind, some judges think they’re not supposed to laugh or express emotions, so they force themselves to keep a straight face. Then they write that you were funny on the ballot and you just shake your head.)
This is a pretty long post, but I wanted to make sure that I fully covered each type of relevant analogy. You’re a trooper if you read through that all!
Relevant analogies rake in speaker points, and if you make 2-3 in one debate round the judge will surely notice.
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