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Why Speed Is Good For Public Speaking
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 word economy.
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?