Organization in and out of debate rounds is something that should be constantly changing to suite your needs. We can’t all be geniuses that can speak without any notes, although I know a few of you do exist. But for the rest of us mere mortals, developing a structured organization for our individual needs is critical to delivering a good speech. Here are a few tips for building your notes system:
Cater to your level of experience
How much experience you have with public speaking affects how you will write your notes. Many beginners start out by writing every word they need. While this is a fine way to start debating, it can quickly hinder you for a number of reasons:
- It seems too rehearsed. Writing out an entire speech reduces eye contact, and is much less persuasive overall.
- It takes too long. There are so many things you need to be keeping track of in a round that writing out every single word your opponent is speaking means you don’t have time to do other things like writing out your own responses.
- It prevents you from thinking on your feet. When we are speaking from a piece of paper and not from our thoughts it limits the amount of editing that can occur on the fly.
As you get more experienced, try writing fewer and fewer words. Focus on writing down the structure of your speech and the key ideas of each point rather than the exact explanation.
One of the ways to write less is to abbreviate words or use symbols. Create a series of shortcuts for yourself that you can understand while you’re reading off of your page.
Compensate for your weaknesses
Notetaking is a great way to improve some of your weaker skills. Here are some common debate issues and ways to fix them with your notes:
My speech is always disorganized
Try creating a skeleton of your speech and stick to it. First, tell your judges what is going to happen in your speech and in what order (signposting). Then stick to that structure. If you write out some notes in that structure, try to stick to it as best as possible. Sometimes it’s tempting to jump all over your notes as your brain does. Instead, try to stick to your prepared structure.
Judges don’t understand my arguments
Try explicitly writing out the structure of your argument in prep. Begin by dumping your ideas on a piece of scrap paper, then sort them into a logical order that is easy to follow. Look at our articles on LEET or Logical Links for assistance on structured arguments.
I miss big ideas that the other side said
Try restructuring your flow. Flow just means how you take notes in round. Make the effort to write down key ideas and arguments that the other side is saying rather than just listening to their speech. If you have it written down, you’ll have a more organized way to refute the other team’s arguments, and you’ll remember more.
The judge says I need to prioritize my refutation better
This means you tend to spend too much time on unimportant ideas. When you are flowing the round, make a system that highlights big ideas or issues that the other side said. Try using a highlighter, or different boxes to sort more or less important information. When you get up to speak, focus on the more important stuff and fill out your time with the less critical material.
Make alterations to fit the situation
Varying conditions in a debate round or before the tournament benefit from adjusting your system. While you don’t need a complete overhaul, you might find it beneficial to make slight changes or to emphasize certain things. Consider the following situations:
- Taking notes for a prepared round the week before
- Flowing the debate as the first opposition speaker in a nationals round
- Flowing the debate as the third speaker in a worlds round
- Preparing an impromptu speech as the first proposition
Each of these situations have different objectives, and would benefit from a flexible note taking system.
Personalize your system
While everyone’s system is different, most include a series of main components. The basic elements of any system include:
- A way to keep track of your own constructive material that will allow you to present a coherent, well organized argument
- A way to track your opponents material that allows you to sort and prioritize their material and your responses to them
- When giving a speech that requires an understanding of the entire round (reply, third, or whip) you need a way to track all the material that comes into the round that you can then organize into a speech that can highlight key ideas in a new, organized way
There is no one way to take notes, if it works for you it is the right way. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with different note taking styles so you can incorporate different elements into your own system.