Fast-talking is tough to sell to people who believe that
debate should be primarily about communication skills. A lot of us are willing
to concede much of what speed critics fear; we say something like “Well, fast
debate won’t make you eloquent, but boy will it improve your critical thinking
skills.” I think that answer is right, but I also think it concedes too much.
Whether speed in fact diminishes one’s ability to speak
eloquently when the occasion calls for it is an empirical question which a
diligent researcher could no doubt answer. I don’t have information to
definitively answer the question, but I do suspect that in fact speed can, at
least sometimes, improve students
public speaking abilities. There are a few reasons why.
1. Speed trains you
to think faster.
Many people seem to be poor extemporaneous speakers because
they simply can’t think of content quickly enough to fill their speaking time
smoothly. The debater’s problem is usually the opposite of course. With only
the slightest effort to avoid actually voicing thoughts too rapidly, I actually
think that fast debate helps you to formulate content more rapidly and
therefore speak at slower speeds with more polish.
2. Speed promotes
Sometimes speed can be a crutch for people who lack word
economy, but I think more often it forces the debaters to learn concision to
answer the spread when on the wrong end of the Aff/Neg time skew. Concise,
pithy sentence constructions tend to be more easily understood and express
ideas more precisely. That training translates into better public speaking.
3. Speed promotes
posture and breath support.
You wouldn’t know it to look at debaters who plant their
faces into the table every time they speak, but training to speak faster
generally involves improving posture, breathing technique, and muscular
endurance. To be comprehensible at speed you need to have decent volume, which
requires projection. To avoid fatigue you need muscular endurance, an objective
of most speed drills. To enunciate clearly you need to train the muscles in
your face and neck to form words clearly. In the same way that singers can
improve their public speaking technique, so can debaters who speak quickly.
So, I’m not convinced that speed undermines student’s persuasive
communication skills; that certainly hasn’t been my observation. But maybe I’m
dead wrong. What do you think?