Here’s Why You Should Compete in Speech and Debate

Dear Homeschooled High Schooler:

Maybe you’re reading this because your Mom saw it and said you should. Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve considered competing in speech and debate, but haven’t ever taken the leap. Or maybe you’re reading this because competing in speech and debate has literally never crossed your mind. Whoever you are, I’d like to encourage you to consider competing in speech and debate this year.

Preparing to teach a debate class this fall has brought back a flood of memories from my time competing in speech and debate as a teenager. My fourteen-year-old self didn’t need a lot of convincing that competing in speech and debate was something I wanted to do, but looking back, I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. It was harder, more fun, and more formative than I ever imagined it would be. I’d like to give you a sneak-peak of what you’re getting yourself into if you compete in speech and debate – and why it is absolutely worth it – by sharing some of the things I learned during my time competing:

  1. Communication skills.

Getting up in front of people and speaking is intimidating. You don’t just feel like every eye in the room is on you, every eye in the room actually is on you. But I promise, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. After a while, it can be really fun! It also happens to be an incredible opportunity. When you compete in speech and debate, you have a captive audience for ten minutes (or five or seven, depending on the event in which you’re competing). You have the opportunity to share your ideas, persuade, and inspire people every time that you give a speech, and the more you get up in front of people to speak, the more equipped you are to persuade and inspire them the next time you give a speech.

  1. Research and critical thinking skills.

Competing in speech and debate taught me how to read a bill, how to track down information, how to read a congressional research report, and how to analyze an argument and a source’s credibility.

  1. Team work.

Team work is not something that comes naturally to me, so it’s funny that the speech and debate events that I look back on most fondly are the ones that involved collaboration with others. Duo interpretive speaking opened up potential to tell a story in a richer way than I could have told it on my own, but also challenged me to carefully communicate with my speech partner and accept her feedback when parts of the speech needed to change. Collaborating and pooling research with other extemporaneous speakers sharpened my understanding of the news stories we were following and gave each of us an opportunity to practice explaining the nuances in global politics that we discovered in our research. Debating with a partner enabled both of us to grow as debaters and communicators as we helped each other improve and learned to use our skills in a manner that complemented one another’s unique strengths.

  1. Appreciating constructive criticism.

Now before you say to yourself, “I don’t want to be criticized,” hear me out. This is probably the most valuable skill that I learned in speech and debate. Communication, research, and teamwork are all vital in college and in the workforce, but without the ability to take constructive criticism, these skills will only get you so far. It feels good to be told “Great job, you were amazing!” (I am certain you will be told that, or the equivalent, because it’s true! Stepping out of your comfort zone and giving a speech is a difficult thing to do.) But you can also expect to be told where you can improve. This isn’t always easy to take, but learning to accept constructive criticism and actually apply the feedback you receive will equip you to become a lifelong learner and will enable you to adapt your skills to any number of different settings.

  1. The value of words and argument.

Proverbs 25:11 says that “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver,” i.e., beautiful, refreshing, a delight to the eyes. Competing in speech and debate means using a lot of words. Learning to speak within an allotted time frame gives you a sense of the value of your words, as well as the danger of misusing them. Words are powerful things, and as followers of Christ, we are called to use them responsibly and in a manner that points others to him.

PATIENCE GRISWOLD IS A HOMESCHOOL GRADUATE, FORMER COMPETITOR IN THE NATIONAL CHRISTIAN FORENSICS AND COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION (NCFCA), AND A SENIOR AT BETHLEHEM COLLEGE & SEMINARY.

Copyright 2018, The Paper MÂCHÉ. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of The Paper MÂCHÉ, the quarterly member publication of the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MÂCHÉ). www.mache.org