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Finding Your Message

Have you ever gotten half-way through the competition season and felt exhausted, emotionally drained, and tired of doing the same routine over and over again? Have you ever had that moment in which you realize how much of your time and energy you sacrifice just so that you can pay a lot of money to dress-up in a suit and get judged by other people all so that you can walk across a stage and get handed a piece of metal? Given that competitors spend so much time perfecting their speeches and researching for debate, it is reasonable to assume that they have a compelling motivation that drives them. However, it is surprising to find that everyone has a different motivation for competing in forensics. For example, many people might be motivated by success, or perhaps they have a desire to learn the skills that the activity generates. While these are certainly fine things to strive for, I would argue that they should never be someone’s primary motivation.

This is because these ambitions distract from where the heart of speech and debate should be. The crux or essence of speech and debate is communication. Specifically, it is about sharing a message that God has placed on your heart, in the hope of communicating God’s truth to your audience. This idea applies more to speech than debate, as speech allows the competitors to choose their own topic, whereas debaters are given a resolution to discuss. Nevertheless, both speech and debate are mechanisms for finding and communicating God’s truth. Therefore, focusing on communicating your message and not on other external factors is paramount. In general, there are three tips that can help one keep the right frame of mind:

1. Pick the topic before the event

At the beginning of the year, before anyone has started to write their speeches or research for their cases, there is a tendency to make a list of events that one wants to compete in and then figure out a topic weeks later. Although this is only natural, I would advocate reversing this process: choose the topic before the speech event. Earnestly pray and ask God what he has put on your heart to talk about, then figure out which event is the most conducive to that message. The reasoning is that more often than not, competitors choose to do a speech because it looks fun or because it is a really popular event. However, when the time comes to write a speech and compete with it, the inspiration is lost because the focus was placed on doing a specific speech instead of on the message it was supposed to communicate. In my experience, the the only adequate motivation for competing is sharing a message that I sincerely believe in. This is because other factors like my performance and success will fluctuate. There have been many occasions where I have felt as if I was stagnant and could not possibly do better. However, having the right frame of mind helped me focus more on the quality of the speech and made my efforts worthwhile. In the end, choosing a topic before competing in an event is helpful for keeping a healthy motivation.

2. Combine passion and uniqueness

When searching for speech topics, there is a natural tendency to automatically jump to what one is passionate about and then choose from that category. However, often times, we are not aware that we are passionate about certain topics until we gather more information about them. Thus, I would suggest not just looking at what topics you are currently passionate about, but search for topics that are unique. By unique, I mean that they are something that is not very well-known, even something that you are not familiar with. Sometimes, the best pieces come from random books you have never even heard of, or from a concept you have never thought about before. What I am getting at here is the idea that you should not just pursue topics that you are already passionate about. Instead, you should ask yourself about something that is unique, that applies to a wide range of people, and that you feel passionate about. The worst outcome of this is that you learn something new. The best outcome is that you have a message that is unique, engaging, and one that you feel passionate about.

3. Don’t focus on your competition

If you are like me, the knowledge of who you are competing against in a round makes you focus on strategizing instead of performing your speech. Generally speaking, I am a fiercely competitive person and the speech and debate activity tends to attract other like-minded individuals. However, it is very dangerous to get caught-up in who you are competing against and let that drive your motivation for competition. This distracts you from focusing on what really matters, which is communicating your message, not who you are competing against. Therefore, I find it helpful to ignore the other names on postings. When I walk into a speech or debate round, the focus should be on what I have prepared and on sharing that with the audience, not on the other competitors. To be sure, there is a lot of value in watching other people and learning from their expertise. However, when you are in a round, the focus should be on your message.

In the end, there is no particular method that automatically keeps you focused on the right motivations 100 percent of the time. It is simply an active and conscious effort to stay true to the spirit of speech and debate and not let fleeting attractions distract you from benefitting from this activity. Looking back, I can find infinite ways in which I could have made my performance better and many other reasons of how I could have been more successful. But it is the sense of passionately sharing a message with others that makes the journey worthwhile.

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