A Guide To Online Debate – Triumph’s Top Ten Tips For Competing Virtually
By: Sean Lavelle, Matt Slencsak, Katie Humphries and Sophia Dal Pra
As more and more tournaments online tournaments pop up and/or existing ones transition to online formats, such as the NSDA National Tournament, many students and coaches are faced with the reality that they have to compete online, without really having any experience or guide on the best practices for doing so. To help, our staff observed, judged and participated in some online tournaments. Utilizing those experiences we have put together a core list of ways to improve your experience while competing online.
To make this guide easy to follow, we broke our tips down into three areas: materials, technology and execution.
1.) Our first tip is to use a headset. If you cannot afford a full headset, at least using earphones/earbuds will help immensely in your audio quality. A headset/earbuds make it a lot easier for you to hear your opponent, and thus make your flowing more effective. They also cancel out, or significantly reduce, any other kinds of outside noises that might impair your ability to hear your opponent or just distract you.
2.) In addition to a headset, we also recommend that debaters competing online utilize a microphone. A microphone allows debaters to have greater clarity, which enables you to speak faster and still be understood by your opponent and judge. Microphones can take a few forms, stand-alone microphones, such as the blue yeti, will offer the highest quality sound, but are typically the most expensive. If you plan on competing online often, then it would probably be a sound investment. Gaming headsets can also offer a quality microphone, and double as a quality set of headphones. Finally, many earbuds have built in microphones, and while they’re generally not as good, they’re still better than relying on your computers built in microphone, or your phone.
3.) A mouse can really help your workflow when using a laptop. It allows for faster and more accurate clicking and scrolling, which can help when working between different windows. Not only that, but as you’re reading documents from, say, Verbatim, you’ll have an easier time scrolling through the pages. This could be really helpful to someone who isn’t as used to reading off a laptop, too. While a mouse isn’t as necessary as a headset or microphone, it can be helpful while debating online. Plus, most people have one at home already (or have family members who do) or can purchase one relatively cheaply.
4.) Finally, if possible, use a different monitor to access your debate materials than the one you have linked to the Zoom (or other platform) meeting. Not only does this make it easier for you to navigate all of your open tabs and resources, it also allows you to get different angles of yourself speaking, that way you don’t have to speak down into your screen. Plus, being able to physically see how you look to the judge at all times can be helpful in making sure you always appear clear, professional and at a good angle. This, at least somewhat, replicates the feeling of being in a real debate room.
From a tech side, there’s a few things you can do to help minimize technical issues during your online tournaments.
1.) Don’t use Wi-Fi. If at all possible, use a wired internet connection. They’re generally faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi, and they’re less prone to issues like interference. Oftentimes when people complain about “Paying so much money for slow internet” they don’t actually have slow internet. What they have is a poorly set up router, leading to really slow Wi-Fi speeds. If you use an ethernet cable and plug it into the modem, you’ll have a faster and more stable connection. If you have a laptop without an ethernet port, you can buy a USB adapter off of amazon for a very reasonable price.
2.) If you don’t follow tip #1, then set up the Router properly. If you have unreliable Wi-Fi in your home, chances are your wireless access point was improperly set up. Here are a few tips to help fix that. First, try to locate yourself close to the router, and ideally set up the router so that it’s above you. This will give you the strongest signal and the most coverage. Second, make sure there’s nothing causing interference. Routers can be affected by interference from other routers, and from other electronics including microwaves. Consider setting your router to a different frequency than nearby routers – there are a ton of guides detailing how to do this on the internet.
3.) Don’t overload the network. Every device on your home network is going to take up some bandwidth, leading to slower calls, and increasingly unreliable internet. If you can, try to disconnect smart devices and extra devices (like cellphones or tablets) while you’re competing to help ensure you have the fastest and most stable connection.
1.) PRACTICE FIRST! You ARE going to encounter challenges in round, but that’s nothing new for us debaters. It’s better that you get some of the mistakes out early by doing several practice debates BEFORE you formally compete. These definitely don’t even have to be full debate rounds with 4 competitors and a judge. You could just run a few constructives followed by cross-ex with a teammate, coach, or friend, if nothing to simply get used to some of the unique processes to online debate, such as simply knowing how to mute and unmute yourself at the right times.
2.) Adjust your speaking. This is perhaps the most important execution tip, as we’ve previously shown the challenges with speaking into a microphone. In addition to adapting your technology, you also need to adapt your speaking. This means SLOWING DOWN your overall rate of speaking, and SLOWING DOWN EVEN MORE for most important things. One of the biggest differences in online debate is that it is much harder to create those “ethos” moments. The least you can do to check back on that and possibly create some is to slow down your rate of speed.
3.) Interacting with your partner – this is another major difference with online debate, which is that you will not be physically next to your partner. This creates more challenges for communicating on the spot with your partner. The easiest way to resolve this issue is to have a separate hangout/facetime/zoom session with your partner, making sure to mute and unmute the appropriate session as the debate goes on.
We hope that these suggestions cover the basics for students competing online!