How Speech and Debate Has Been Crucial to My Career

research skills I just finished a trial article for a potential client, a Boston non-profit that works with public and private partners to improve the parks and green spaces in the city. The client wanted an article about Portland, Ore. park system, and how they handle public and private partnerships. I've never been to Boston, and have never worked with any system park system. I have minimal experience writing and covering government projects and funding. Usually, in this line of work, such expertise might be preferred but it's definitely not required. What's required is that you can write well, understand the format you're writing, deliver results with your work, and not need any hand holding throughout this whole thing. It's harder to come by then you'd think. It's also tough to come by if you don't communicate what you need all that well, but that's another story for another day.

What does this have to do with speech and debate, an extracurricular activity from high school?

Well, I finished the trial article in just over an hour. It was 700+ words, and that hour included research time. I'm worried I might be too efficient, hurting only myself because I'll only get paid for an hour of work, instead of the five the client originally budgeted for. I suspect I am able to be so efficient because of my speech and debate experience.

My Speech and Debate Experience

I did speech and debate for three years in high school, primarily competing in international extemporaneous speaking. If you don't know, in international extemporaneous speaking, you have 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech about international current affairs. You don't know you're topic until the start of your 30 minutes. With a time constraint like that, you have to do the research and analyze what you are reading the research at the same time. Is this information even useful? How does it answer my question? How does it fit in with what I've already researched and learned? How credible is it? You can't waste time.

On top of that, you have to work with the articles and information you brought to the tournament. You can't use the Internet or go on the computer. You can't ask your teammates for help. You have your head and those hard copies, and you have to make it work. You can't learn everything, even if you wanted to. It's also best that you leave yourself some practice time, so although you have 30 minutes, you really have 15-20 minutes to do the research and to compose the speech. You don't want the first time you're delivering the speech to be the one that counts toward your points, if you can help it.

Research Skills are Necessary, Especially in this Google Era

I remember that I took a public health class the second semester of my senior year. Thought it would be interesting. We had to do a 10-15 page paper as our final. Could've been worse. I remember some of the students complaining that they had too much information for their papers, that 15 pages wasn't enough and that they had no idea how to reduce the overload. I don't understand how this was such a problem. I mean, you're not going to do 20 pages. You're a college student during the last few weeks of school. You should be happy that 15 pages are going to come so easily.

Another lesson I learned from speech and debate and all that research: you gotta know when the stop. I'm not writing a 20-page paper here, so although I want more than enough research to write 10 (I don't want to be stuck with less than I need), I also want to give myself room to leave something out. I want enough to form a cohesive 10-15 page paper from start to finish. I have to narrow my topic from the beginning. I have to construct the narrative in my head as I read each piece of research and organize all the journal articles and sources I've collected. It's college. There's not necessarily a right conclusion, just a solid one based on sound logic and argumentation.

I'd say the cohesion came from speech and debate too. There are only consequences to preparing an eight minute or a 10-minute speech, so you learn the amount of research necessary to deliver a seven-minute speech (by the way, it's introduction, three main points with two to three sources per point, and a conclusion). As someone who's been writing to 600-800 word posts for at least a year now as part of a professional standard, I know what that looks like and I know what that takes. The hard part is accomplishing what a 800-word post can in 400 or 500.