Speech Quality Over Speaking Quantity

Matthew Klacik | 3/27/24

Congressional Debate is one of many events in Forensics, offering students the opportunity to learn about the workings of our nation's government and political system. By fostering an environment of healthy competition, participants are able to share their opinions on various topics, learn important skills like argumentation, logical reasoning, and persuasive formatting to deliver their case in an effective manner.

With Congress being so individualized it can be difficult to succeed within this event. Sure, the basics may be easy to understand, but to actually succeed it takes much more then general knowledge of speech writing and question answering. Jack Beery stated in his own Equality in Forensics article “...ask any individual that does not participate in congress as their primary event. They may refer to it as a beginners event,” due to it's simplistic nature of participation. While this may be true, to succeed in Congress it takes so much more than simply showing up.

Congress is an imitation of the legislative process: a bill is introduced, debated over, and voted on. Students will write and submit legislation to NSDA for consideration of the docket. Then, they must research the topics, prepare their arguments, and write their speeches. They then must debate these topics in-round and eventually vote, just as our Congress does today. But what has changed where this is no longer the case?

The in-round processes of Congressional Debate include so much more than just debating the bill. Competitors must propose a docket order, elect Presiding Officers (PO’s), and decide how the day is going to look in terms of schedule. As well as set the precedent for the overall debate. With so many people in a round it can be difficult to deliver not only a new perspective but new information on a given topic. This is where the more intricate motions come into play. The chamber is given the authority to progress the debate with motions such as tabling, but they are rarely used as the Chamber now prioritizes every individual speaking on every topic.

The Western Ohio Committee ruled that for the Congress National Qualifier no piece of legislation may take more than one-third the time of the session. This was established to ensure that the debate continued to flow. With policies such as precedence and recency, giving each Competitor the ability to speak on every topic is mostly a waste of time, especially once most arguments become rehashed or only include minor additions to the overall argument. By setting a maximum time limit for legislation, the Senate at the Western Ohio Congress National Qualifiers was able to move through six of the eight pieces of legislation, compared to the anticipated two or three. This is because only about half of the Chamber was able to speak on each topic before moving on. 

Contrary to what many be argued within rounds at the state and local levels, doing this does not harm the later-half of the Chamber. By moving on, these competitors who have not gotten the opportunity to speak now have priority to speak first on the next topic. Still ensuring that all competitors have an equal chance to speak on a given topic.

It is the expectation within Congress that competitors come prepared to the round with speeches on the potential topics. However, competitors failing to prepare and instead utilizing time in-round to get ready, has led to a decrease in participation levels and quality of debate. Failing to prepare results in decreased questioning, slower rounds, and attempts to push pieces of legislation despite large amounts of rehash.

I have personally seen countless times this terrible situation where competitors push to keep a piece legislation in-debate because another competitor only had a speech prepared for that bill. It is not the duty of the Chamber to ensure each person will speak an equal number of times, but rather it is their duty to ensure each person gets the equal opportunity to speak on a variety of bills.

Ensuring each competitor gets to speak on each topic means extending the debate on a topic trying to ensure a competitor can give their speech, ignoring the need for a vote. This is detrimental to the flow of debate and is not only a major reason why so many competitors are beginning to leave Congress but also why some even view it as boring. Staying on one topic for too long ruins the purpose of having multiple pieces of legislation, destroying the purpose of motions. Securing that each competitor has the opportunity to speak ensures that the Chamber cycles through legislation, moves the debate forward and continues to deliver new arguments within speeches. 

It is important for the Chamber to ensure each person is given equal opportunity to give a speech, but utilizing that opportunity is up to the competitor. The Chamber should not be held liable for a competitor coming unprepared. This harms everyone by slowing the debate, decreasing participation levels and overall ruining the ability to enjoy the event.

By having complexity in the debate, such as through amendments, motions, and various questioning periods for certain speakers, it increases the ability of the Chamber to effectively participate and engage within the round.

The final issue within the event is the inconsistencies in expectations and knowledge of policy across states. The NSDA has a clear guide on how Congressional Debate should look in-practice, and how competitors are to act within the round. Each state also has their own policies, whether emphasizing the NSDA rules, or slightly altering them for the sake of a more simplistic debate. Either way, with the interpretation of these rules differs from state-to-state and from district-to-district; it creates major variance within the competition, making it more difficult to effectively compete in a different circuit.

Creating a consistent standard is important to the effectiveness of the debate, as it ensures all competitors have the equal chance to succeed within the round. The lack of clear expectation for behavior and execution of rules gives competitors from the same district as a judge the advantage, as the judge has a set expectation of behavior and knowledge. Upholding consistency across the state, and across the national-circuit ensures fair opportunities for all competitors. 

It is time we as Congress competitors stand-up for the event, revert back to the origins of preferring the actual debate and preparation, and set clear expectations of behavior and knowledge across the nation because the focus should be speech quality, not speaking quantity.