Why You Should Double-Enter (in Speech and Debate)

admissions counseling debate speech Nov 25, 2022

The National Speech and Debate Association's (NSDA) national championship tournament used to have repetitive awards ceremonies. This is because, until the early 2000s, students were allowed to double-enter in main events. The top students would excel in both categories.

You may have seen Josh Gad's 1999 championship original oratory. You might not know that Josh (now famous for his work in films like Frozen and the live-action Beauty and the Beast) won humorous interpretation with a parody of The Wizard of Oz in the same year, or that he had finaled in dramatic interpretation a few years prior.

If you're a real speech and debate history buff, you may know about a performer like Thomas Finley, who won nationals in humorous interpretation in 2003--the same year he made the final round in duo interpretation.

But you don't need to go back 20 years to see how double-entered students lead the pack of competitors. The most competitive college organizations are the American Forensics League (AFA) and National Forensics League (NFA). The 2022 national runner-up in Lincoln-Douglas, Tess Welch, also made national finals in impromptu and extemporaneous speaking. Anna Kutbay, from the University of Alabama, made finals in persuasive (original oratory), informative, and extemporaneous speaking during the same year.

You get the point: the most successful competitors seem to be competing in a lot of categories. But are they successful because they compete in a lot of categories, or do they compete in a lot of categories because they're successful?

The evidence suggests the answer to both questions is "yes." Double-entry makes you a stronger competitor, and being a stronger competitor incentives you to double-enter more often.

There are four primary reasons students participate in speech: (1) to become more confident, (2) to find community, (3) to win championships, and (4) to get into college. Double-entry helps students achieve all four goals.

First, double-entering builds confidence. More people are afraid of speaking publicly than death itself. One of the best ways to overcome that fear is by being directly exposed to it and realizing it's not that bad. If you only enter in a single category every weekend, you may have only 30 minutes of public speaking time across a full day of competition. If you double- or triple-enter, you can multiply that time substantially. The psychology is clear: according to the tenets of exposure therapy, social anxiety is reduced by social participation. If you're a speech student who is afraid of debate, or a debate student who's afraid of slowing down and speaking, conquer those fears by double-entering.

Second, double-entering helps you find community. The speech and debate world is a remarkable place. The idiosyncratic rituals and techniques employed by different subgroups (policy debaters versus dramatic interpers, impromptu kids versus orators) are varied and fascinating. If you don't like how one set of folks behave, there may be a more welcoming group a few rooms away. It's easier to relate to them by sharing in their experiences. Speaking to them from a place of direct experience is preferable than coming in as an outsider.

Third, double-entering helps you win championships. As we discussed earlier, the past NSDA and current AFA/NFA tournaments demonstrate how the best of the best enter in multiple categories. There are countless anecdotal examples (did you know the 2009 national dramatic interpretation champion, Jane Bruce, was a state champion in impromptu speaking?). Going to the NSDA's student database and looking at how the top students accumulated their NSDA points almost invariably reveals a multitude of events.

The speech and debate events are complementary. If you have improvisation experience, it'll be easier to recover in a prepared category after a mistake. If you have debate experience, it'll be easier to formulate an argument in a research-based speech. If you have prepared oratory experience, you'll have internalized persuasive structures for spontaneous speeches. If you have acting experience, you can bring a sense of grativas and ethos to all the other speeches.

I'm not arguing you should be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Entering in EVERY category is excessive. However, it's clear that choosing two or three categories to deeply understand every year will make you a more successful speaker.

Fourth, double-entering helps with college. There are a few ways to demonstrate top-tier excellence for highly selective schools. You would win a national championship, which is largely outside of your control. You could win at a bunch of smaller tournaments, which is more likely if you enter in more categories. You can also get enough NSDA points to prove your merit.

The NSDA gives you points for every round you compete. The more rounds, the more categories, the more points. These points can make you eligible for Academic All-American status, levels of distinction (up to Premier Distinction), and even the All-State and All-American leader board for the top competitors. Whether or not you clinch that national title, nearly every dedicated student can become an All-American. Colleges recognize that title. They favor it. You can earn it.

You have a finite amount of time left to make the most of your K-12 speech and debate experience. Optimize it. Cherish it. Make the most of it by double-entering.

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