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Post Info TOPIC: Lesson #8: Speaking Drills

Lesson #8: Speaking Drills


You get better through practice. Your speaking skills are like any other skill - they need to be trained and practiced and refined. Do regular drills. Get together and do them with your teammates. Make little contests out of them and HAVE FUN!

This material comes from a lecture on delivery by Cate Palczewski and Aaron Hawbaker at the 1991 National High School Institute at Northwestern University, added to and refined by Arnie Madsen. It is sort of aimed at coaches, but each debater can do this on their own.

A general comment about the drills -- all speaking drills are over- corrections. If a student has a particular speaking problem, they work to solve it by over-correcting. This list provides some examples of various drills to solve specific problems.

1) Breathing problems -- this includes not taking enough breathes (running out of air at the end of a sentence or the end of a card) and breathing wrong (huge gasps of air, actually a symptom of not taking enough breathes):

Breath at natural pause points in the evidence -- have the debater take a small breath at each punctuation mark -- commas, periods, semi-colons, colons, etc, Breath at natural pause points in the speech -- say the tag, take a breath, read the cite, take a breath, read the card (breathing at punctuation marks), then take a breath after the card before going to the next tag, then repeat the process, Breathing from the diaphragm -- most debaters when talking fast breath from the throat rather than from the diaphragm -- they thus don't get enough breath to last more than a partial sentence or two. How do you correct this? Have the debater hold a chair chest high in front of them, with their arms as straight as possible (no resting the chair on anything, or against one's chest, etc.). Have them read a brief that is laying on the seat of the chair - - they should be breathing from the diaphragm during this process. Now have them put down the chair and have them re-read the brief in their normal way -- they will likely be breathing improperly. Have them do the chair drill until they start to notice the physical difference in their breathing process, Posture -- slumping over and reading a brief off of a desktop, or sitting down while they are talking, or other posture errors cause a lot of breathing from the throat problems. Have them stand up straight and put the briefs on a podium.

2) Enunciation problems

Enunciation drills -- have the debater slowly read a card, hitting all of the hard consonants (g, t, k, p, b, d, etc) and enunciating each and every syllable. Then, slowly have them build up to speed while they continue to over-enunciate and continue to clearly hit all of the hard consonants,

Pencil drill -- have the debater read a card while they have a pencil in their mouth,

Tongue Twisters -- have the debater read tongue twisters at high speed.

3) Pitch problems -- often the pitch of a debater's voice will go much higher than their normal pitch when they talk fast. Pitch problems are another symptom of improper breathing, so use the same chair drill that you use for breathing problems to work to correct this.

4) Mush Mouth - articulation is unclear

abade drill -- have a debater say abade (ah baa dee) over and over and over, steadily increasing speed, and continuing to have clean and clear breaks between the syllables and between the words, Open the mouth -- have the debater open their mouth to an exaggerated degree when they read something at a conversational rate (they will think this is silly looking and that it feels silly). Now have them do the same at a faster rate of delivery -- when people are flowing and judging, they won't notice the exaggerated articulation effort.

5) Choppy speech -- lots of unnatural or unnecessary pauses and stumbles

Get a rhythm -- try to get the debater to learn a natural rhythm that will keep them at a constant speed -- one technique is to read to music that has a clear and constant beat, or clap your hands or tap a pencil on the desk while they are talking, slowly increasing the beat as they progress through the speech, Internal metronome -- obviously they can't read to music in a debate round, so try to create an internal rhythm mechanism unique to that debater -- some debaters lightly tap their foot, some use a finger to follow the words they are reading, some gently rock back and forth or forward and backward, Read ahead -- have the debater practice reading a couple words ahead of where their mouth is -- often stumbles and pauses are caused by suddenly encountering new or unexpected words, thus, if they see the words a partial second before they speak them, fewer pauses will result, Ignore stuttering and stumbles -- a lot of debaters will *back up* and try to correctly pronounce a word, or will try to stop a stutter and correctly say a word. That gets them out of their rhythm, forces them to almost stop speaking for a second, and then re-start again. Instead, try to have them just keep going when they make an error (at a fast rate of speaking, few judges will notice if someone mispronounces a word or two) -- it's like a record that is stuck in the same groove -- hit the arm and get it to a new groove, don't stop the record and merely start over at the same place.

6) Monotone or Singsong delivery

Get a brief and mark the *good* debate words, the ones that require emphasis. Have the debaters read the brief, altering their pitch or emphasis when they get to those words. Try NOT to have them alter their volume, as by the end of the speech they will be shouting, and they will also be wasting valuable breathing. Also, try NOT to have them slow down for emphasis -- like braking a car and then re-accelerating, slowing down then forces re-acceleration in a speech, wasting time and breath, Personality -- most debaters seem to divorce their own unique personality from fast speaking. Have them read the card or brief slowly, and in their normal mode of speaking (like it was a conversation rather than reading evidence) -- hints of their personality should come through. Now have them build up the speed, maintaining that personality influence along the way.

7) Too quiet -- more common with high school students and novices, but some people are hard to hear because their volume is too low. The drill is simply to have them practice reading at the top of their voice.

8) Too loud -- generally caused by improper breathing, thus, use the drills above. The other remedy is to simply have them practice reading at a whisper, and then to find the happy medium.

Other hints:

A lot of delivery problems are caused by lack of familiarity with what they are reading. This implies a couple of things.

Get your debaters in the habit of reading through their briefs before they file them -- the more familiar they are with their evidence, the more fluid their speaking should be, Do drills with material that the debaters have no interest in. For example, have them read Plato or Aristotle at warp drive, or have them read the classified page of the newspaper. If they could care less about baseball, have them read the baseball page of the newspaper as a drill. This causes them to focus on their technique in speaking, rather than on the specific content of their material. Have them start every speech relatively slow and then work up to speed. This does a couple of things.

They will tend not to overshoot their own capabilities. A lot of times debaters will start at a faster rate than they can maintain over the course of a speech. Building up to their maximum rate means they are more likely to maintain that rate, This allows the judge and the opponents a few seconds to get used to the debater's particular speaking style before a critical card or argument comes flying by. Have your debaters *warm up* before a round -- have them read briefs in the van between the motel and the tournament so that they are warmed up and ready to speak, or have them take a brief to the restroom or outside immediately before the start of every debate. Avoid milk and dairy products -- Cori Dauber has claimed for years that milk and other dairy products coat the vocal cords, prevent talking at maximum speed, and cause more stumbles and vocal slips. Thus, drink water and ice tea and so on before, during, and between debates. I have noticed that some people have similar problems if they drink stuff with too much sugar -- have them switch to plain water or diet soft drinks instead during the day. Stop and go speeches -- have them give a practice speech, and immediately stop them whenever a problem occurs, making them start over from the beginning. Then, at the next problem make them stop and start over again. This will get real old, real quick, and cause them to start incorporating the suggestions. Tape your debaters -- a lot of people use audio tape, but I have found that video tape is even better -- that way the debaters not only HEAR their annoying habits, they also SEE their annoying habits. Practice, practice, practice -- not only warm up every day at a tournament, but get them in the habit of practicing at least 5-10 minutes every day. Have them practice giving speeches without cards as well as reading cards (a lot fewer cards are read in rebuttals, for example, than in constructives). Drills are for EVERYONE. Novices need them to get used to speaking in the debate situation. People with high school experience need them to get rid of their bad high school habits. Experienced debaters that often get speaker awards need them to keep in shape and move up on the speaker award list. As Cecilia Graves says, speaking drills are like preparing for a marathon -- you don't just practice once or twice and then run a marathon. You have to train every day, even after you won a marathon, because there is always another race to run, another opponent to defeat.



Mr. Everette, I'm not sure if this was actually the assignment that you wished for Andrew and myself to do, but this was the only one that we haven't done yet. So I hope you are pleased to hear I read the entire post and made Andrew talk with a pencil in his mouth! :D

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