By: Pete Falk, Northeastern University 2016
On APDA, “winning the room” means getting the judge and other people watching the round to think you are winning, or support you, whether or not you are actually winning the arguments in the round. This usually only applies in elimination rounds when other debaters and teammates watch. Having the ability to “control” a room means that you are able to play into the crowd- and use it to convince the judges that you are on the right side.
This may seem obvious, but you should stand up straight, speak loudly and clearly. It’s ironic for me to advise someone to stand up straight given my poor posture, but it affects how the room perceives your arguments. When you stand up straight you appear to be in control, which gives you more authority in the round. If you are hunched over, or seem unsure of what you are saying the panel and audience might interpret that as a flaw in your argumentation. Generally, outround panels can differentiate between style and substance, however in close rounds presentation can tip the scales.
There are certain aspects of Parliamentary debate that allow for dramatic moments and swings of momentum. One of these are Points of Information, which allow the opposing team to interrupt the other team’s speech with a question, if the other team chooses to accept it. Points of information (POIs) are key to controlling the momentum of a round. A well-timed POI or a strong answer to a POI can change the course of a round, and dynamic of the room. Always rise for POIs, because there is little downside but high potential payoff. A good tactic for avoiding being taken off-guard with a POI is to allow it during the period between off-case and on-case, where you are likely to be more composed and better able to answer the question. Harvard 2006 Finals has some great examples of POI momentum shifters, for example at around 9 minutes as well at 10:50. Watch the video here. Short, simple POIs that catch the speaker off-guard are often effective at exposing a weakness in opposing argumentation.
Out-rounds, which are elimination rounds that occur after in-rounds, often come with an audience. Since teams vary in size, you may end up in a situation where the other team has an audience with a deafening pounding (term for pounding on the desk when a speaker makes a good point), and you don’t have anyone. A good way of dealing with this is reminding the panel, usually varsity debaters or retired ‘dino’ debaters that they judge based on arguments, not audience participation. Furthermore, it can be useful to use humor to dissolve the situation, by making fun of the large crowd, it seems like less of an advantage.
Judges and Style
Sometimes you have a ‘campus judge’, a judge who doesn’t have much or any APDA experience, and is only there for the free pizza. If you are lucky, they’ve done some high school debate. However, there will be rounds where your judge has never seen debate before and is there as a favor to a friend, especially as a novice. Signs of this include not flowing, asking how long speech times are, and a deer in the headlights look when the PM asks if “Rocky Clocky” is being used.
Less experienced judges are notorious for nonsensical or arbitrary decisions, but you can adapt. First off, avoid jargon. If your judge is unfamiliar with debate then using specific terminology will confuse him. Be clear and direct. Make sure you explain exactly what you are going to do in your speech. Do your best, and forget the rest.
There are not separate divisions for novice and varsity debaters, but don’t ever be intimidated by varsity debaters. Rounds with great debaters lead to great debate, and are good learning experiences. However, it can be difficult to have control over the room when your opponent is well known. The best thing to do is to stay calm, and treat it just like any other round. Confidence is key in rounds against debaters with better reputations.