How do to it: Self-explanatory. You read your case out loud, and see if it fits into the allotted speech time.
Why you should do it: So you know your case is timed correctly and you’re comfortable reading it, obviously.
When you should do it: Any time you’re preparing to run a new case, until you’re confident that you’ll make time and that you sound awesome. Then do a few more basic run-throughs leading up to every tournament.
Protip:Ideally, you want any scripted speech (such as a 1AC) to be timed so that by default you are filling your speech time, but NOT reading as fast as you possibly can. This gives you a little wiggle room when you find yourself in a round where the circumstances demand you read one or two extra cards (say, as a pre-empt to the one-off argument you know is coming). The other benefit to this approach is it gives your judge some time to get used to listening to your voice, before you dive into top speeds.
Pen In Your Mouth Drill:
How to do it: Hold a pen vertically in your mouth, between your teeth, while you read through cards.
Why you should do it: The pen creates an obstacle, forcing your tongue to work harder and you to over-articulate. This is good for developing the kind of exaggerated face/mouth/tongue movements that produce greater speech clarity.
When you should do it: Whenever, but especially if you frequently hear judges yell “clear!” or tell you that you have “mush mouth.”
Protip: This drill will only actually help you if you commit to it. Sloppily mushing through your reading with a pen in your mouth is useless. The key is to really work those facial muscles and focus on articulation. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you start to feel like your face looks really stupid.
"And And And" Drill:
How to do it: Read through your cards, inserting the word “and” between every word. So, the sentence “The cat climbs the tree” would become “The and cat and climbs and the and tree and.”
Why you should do it: This one has three main benefits.
1. The first is it stops you from trying to comprehend what you’re reading and lets you focus instead on just saying words. This kind of disengaging helps most people speak faster. (You should have already read and understood all of your cards beforehand. If you didn’t, you have bigger problems than rate of delivery.)
2. This drill also encourages you to keep your speech clipped, rather than blurring the end of one word into the next. Again, this improves clarity.
3. Finally, repeating the same word helps you find a natural rhythm, which speeds you up and helps you avoid stumbling over awkward phrases.
When you should do it: Any time. Do this one extra often if you’re someone who trips over your words or has trouble “finding your groove.”
Protip: Some debaters like to keep themselves in a rhythm by relying on a physical metronome, such as tapping their leg with a finger or doing the infamous “chop the air” debater gesture. During this drill is a good time to experiment with that. Just make sure you’re not doing something distracting, like pounding on the table or clicking your pen.
How to do it: Read through your cards backwards, starting at the end of the card and continuing backwards until you reach the tag. (This means reading the words in reverse order, not literally trying to phonetically pronounce the words backwards).
Why you should do it: This is another drill that helps you practice the technique of reading instead of thinking. The words go directly into your eyes and out your mouth, instead of taking the extra time to knock around in your thoughts. If you don’t already do this, you’ll be surprised by how much faster it’ll make you.
When you should do it: Whenever, but especially when you’re trying to get used to reading new cards, or if you’re working on ramping up your speed.
Protip: If you’re never done this before, you’re going to really, really suck at it at first. Don’t be alarmed. You’ll get better.
One Breath Drill:
How to do it: Take a deep, deep breath. Then, read as far through a card as you can without taking another breath. Keep trying to push yourself to read more and more between breaths.
Why you should do it: Breathing is surprisingly time-consuming. If you can cut down how often you need to do it, you’ll get through a lot more text.
When you should do it: If you aren’t very fast, or don’t want to speed-read but do want to fit in more content, stretching out your breaths will make a huge difference.
Protip: Focus on drawing deep breaths into your abdomen, instead of gasping or panting. Double-breathing works for some debaters, but it doesn’t help at all if your breaths are shallow. With every breath, you want to bring as much oxygen into your body as you can.
The Best Drills
to Improve Speed, Clarity, & Delivery Style
Speaking drills are an important component of preparing for your debates. This guide will introduce you to some of the best drills for improving your speed and overall delivery style, and explain exactly how each one will help you grow as a debater.
I'll be referencing speed as a goal, but make no mistake: these drills are helpful even if you don’t want to speak quickly. No matter what rate of delivery you choose, speaking drills can improve your clarity and articulation and reduce “dead time” in your speech, ensuring maximum efficiency.
So, everyone should be regularly doing drills. But how? Let’s get started!
A version of this guide, prepared by the same author, originally appeared on Debate Central.
Give each of these speed drills a try, and watch your speaker points soar. You’ll make better use of your speech time, be easier to flow, and generally sound better. So no excuses; go do your speaking drills!