I remember walking onto the beautiful campus of Point Loma Nazarene University for my first tournament. Hordes of students were scurrying every which way in their black suits, and I giggled wondering if they would look like ants to someone in the sky. I know I must’ve met a couple dozen new people that day as we walked around, but I don’t remember a single one. They just blended together with the rest of the competitors.
When you’re competing at a tournament full of these individuals is, it begs the question, how do you stand out?
As an alumni judge, I have gained an even greater understanding of the need for competitors to make themselves stand out. After sitting through a long debate round or watching eight speeches in a row, everything begins to blur and it can be difficult to remember who was who. That’s why I have compiled three key ways for you to ensure that you stand out as a competitor.
Know When The Round Starts
No, it’s not when postings go up.
Every round of the tournament starts when you step out of your car and walk on to the campus. What I mean by that is that you never know who your judges for any given round will be, and you want to make sure that the person you are outside of your debate room is leaving a good impression on anyone who may come into contact with you.
Of course, judges aren’t supposed to bring any bias into the room with them, but if you see someone being rude or unkind, you will probably develop a bias, even if it’s on a subconscious level.
I will never forget the time that I stormed into a bathroom with a friend right before a speech round, venting (not kindly) about the person I had just debated. We thought the bathroom was empty, but then a lady emerged from one of the stalls. She washed her hands and left, and my friend and I just stood there in embarrassed silence.
But then to make matters worse, when I walked into my speech room about 15 minutes later, there she was.
The lady who had just heard me gossiping about and putting down another competitor.
That was a very convicting, humbling learning moment.
However, on the flip side, if I see a competitor around campus who is joyful and kind, that will also stick with me on a conscious or subconscious level.
This is just a good rule of thumb for life… you never know who you might run into, so make sure you are never behaving in a way you would be ashamed for anyone to see - be it a judge, friend, parent or potential employer.
Develop A Trademark
One thing you might notice about the very top speakers and debaters is that they develop unique, personal trademarks. Sometimes, it isn’t even intentional.
A “trademark” can be anything that represents you as a person and speaker. This could be a catchphrase you always use when you enter a room, a unique hand gesture or facial expression, or a specific, bright color you implement into every outfit.
Try to find something that is uniquely you, so that when your judge is sitting in the judges’ lounge pouring over ballots, they can look back and think, “oh yeah, that was that one guy who was wearing the rubber ducky hat”. Okay, maybe that’s taking it a little too far… but you know what I mean. ;)
By far one of the best ways to make sure that people remember your speech or your debate round is to open up and be personable. Make your audience feel like they know you.
I don’t mean by smiling and being friendly, although that certainly helps. I mean sharing things about yourself and your life. This doesn’t have to be awkward or out of place if you can find personal anecdotes to helpfully illustrate your points.
Of course, moderation and discretion are necessary, so don’t make your judges uncomfortable by sharing deeply intimate personal details that have little or no relevance to what you are saying. Keep it simple and light. Share about the time your pet bird, Suzie escaped from her cage and you spent the whole day searching for her until she finally came back. Or recount the family camping trip where you fell in the mud and hadn’t brought a single change of clothes.
People feel like they know you when they know unique details about your life, and if they know you, they will remember you.
However, ultimately, what stands out about a person more often than not is their heart. If you have a heart of love for your judges, your fellow competitors and, most importantly, for Christ that emanates from you, that will be the most surefire way to make a mark on your audience so they will never forget you.