They say curiosity killed the cat.
Thankfully, your judge isn’t a cat. So curiosity won’t kill them. Isn’t that nice?
If you’re able to keep your judge curious about what you’re going to say next, you will keep them engaged. Everyone knows an engaging speaker is a good one.
That’s why so many professional speakers tell stories—they want to invoke curiosity in their audience.
Ways to invoke curiosity
The first, and most obvious way to do this, is with stories.
Although we like to use statistics and big picture arguments in debate, sometimes an anecdote is more effective. If you want to learn more and see the scientific reasoning behind using stories, read this article and this article.
The second way is with a compelling voice. You’ve always been told not to use a monotone voice in speeches, and that’s great advice.
But it goes beyond just making the speech interesting. You can invoke curiosity with the tone of your voice. When reading through a piece of evidence or stating a fact that is particularly interesting, try bringing your pitch up a notch. Don’t do it for long phrases, just a couple words at a time—and only on the important words.
My third tip, however, is the one that you probably haven’t thought of before. Specific phrases can create curiosity. Here are a few.
- What’s interesting about this is…
- But why is that? Well…
- Do you want to know a secret about…
- You may be a bit confused at this point, but allow me to explain with an analogy…
- You’d be surprised that…
- This is the argument that convinced me not to use this case as my affirmative… (this is only for neg obviously)
- But there’s one piece of the puzzle missing…
- Do you want to know [insert something here]? (Example: Do you want to know why?)
- You might have already guessed it in your head… (Alternatively, “let’s see if you already guessed it”)
I could come up with much, much more, but I think you get the point. Phrases like this, with a bit of added intonation, makes judges lean forward in their seats.
Speaking of intonation, here’s a handy-dandy clip I recorded to illustrate.
Add on other tips I’ve given such as emphasis by positioning, and you’ll have the judge engaged in your speech like never before.
My fourth tip is to confuse the judge purposefully.
I sometimes make a surprising, shocking, or confusing statement that is often “contrary to popular belief”, in order to keep the judge focused. (By the way, I just used the same technique on you. You better watch out!)
The simplest way of doing this is agreeing to an argument the other team made, pausing, and then adding a twist. “The negative team said [x], and you know what? I absolutely agree. That’s true. In fact, I’m glad they made this argument. Because it actually proves that our case is needed… [move on to tie it in somehow]”.
This is especially useful if they contradicted themselves (which neg teams do surprisingly often).
The other way to do this is with a surprising tag. In a round about a fairly mild case, dropping a tag like “nuclear war” will probably perk the judge’s ears up. Just remember that whenever you do something surprising like that, explain why you did it. Acknowledge that the judge is probably surprised, then smooth it over.
“You can write down my next disadvantage as nuclear war. I’m sure you’re wondering how nuclear war ties in to the affirmative’s seemingly harmless case. Here’s how…”
My fifth and final tip is something I got from another website: be the teacher in the debate round.
Here’s a link to the post I got it from. Thanks, Daniel Gaskell!
People are naturally curious and want to learn, especially if you have something interesting to teach them. If you act the role of a teacher in the round (without being condescending), you’ll invoke that curiosity in the judge.
If you’ve ever seen a video by the popular YouTube science guy Vsauce, you know how powerful curiosity can be. (Also, take note of how wild he is with his intonation and face expressions—it keeps people listening.)
Invoking curiosity is one of the best ways to keep a judge engaged. If you’re able to successfully use several of these tips in one speech, you’ll be well on your way to getting a 5 on persuasiveness and a 5 on delivery/conduct.