Not to be ornery, but when a dentist pokes a drill into my mouth and assures “this will only hurt a bit”, I cringe. And then I grip the chair, inhale deeply, and try to find that inner happy place of dental bliss. I know his use of the drill is going to improve my teeth, but good grief and no thank you.

And there were many times in my career when debate drills made me feel the same way. You’ve heard your fair share of “This will be fun!” (the debate equivalent to “this will only hurt a bit”), and you’ve done your fair share of cringing. Drills can be terrifying, regardless of how you use them. One side of the spectrum, doing drills alone offers no feedback and requires serious discipline. Yet in a group, you run the risk of social anxiety stifling participation. Mastery of an art requires practice, and debate is not an exception. Use drills to weed out the rubbish.

Mindset Blockades

Debaters make drills harder on themselves with adverse mindsets. Drills are effective when your mind is prepared for them. Here are some mindsets to fight, trample, and destroy.

  • Pride. Weeding out rubbish isn’t supposed to be your glory moment. Drills are for learning, practice, and development. Don’t gridlock your learning with ridiculous performance standards during drills. Explore. Learn. Build. Discipline yourself in humility by focusing on improving, not winning the competition in your head.
  • Fear. If you mess up, it is not your ignominious downfall. Fear is really rooted in pride too. Prioritize learning and block out fear of failure, what other people will think, and so on. A cup of coffee works if you need a boost of courage.
  • Apathy. There is always more to learn, more to explore. When you become complacent with your ability, you lose the wonder of being a student. And what’s worse, you backslide. Let learning fire you up. Let growth be your passion. Get out there and give those drills a hug.

Unconventional Growth

The best drills are not what you’d expect. An equation of p+sa+dc = d (where “p” equals people, “sa” equals social anxiety, and “dc” equals debate coach) does not exist. Tons of drills work that way, but you’re not limited to that. Branch out into something less facilitated, more realistic, and more intellectually stimulating than what you know.

1. Best drills: daily habits. In your schoolwork and daily conversations, practice the following habits:

    1. Tag your points. Just like I’m doing in this post. Don’t speak in 5-12 sentence paragraphs. Instead, use succinct proof to support claims, in 2-3 sentence bundles.
    2. Leading questions. Instead of using rhetoric to make a point, try asking questions of your listener. This elicits their thinking process and commitment to your point. Build lines of questioning this way. Since this require practice, use it for simple decisions (like what’s for supper) to strong opinions.

2. Second-best drills: more traditional. Drills as you know them.

    1. Pack and Punch. Watch a debater on YouTube. Take a single point and attempt to shorten it by 20%. Then by 40%. Get the same warrants across, but with fewer words. You’ll eventually find yourself chopping up quotes as well. This is something you can incorporate into everyday conversations. Be more succinct and less speechy with what you say.
    2. Same drill, but try it with folks on Intelligence Squared debates. Eventually use your own arguments, like an advantage or a disadvantage. In fact, I never ran an argument or presented a case without attempting to bundle, shorten, pack and punch. You’ll find yourself working this in during prep time eventually.
    3. CX lines. Have a central assumption you want someone to agree to, and build lines of questions that lead them to agreement. Except in this case, you’re starting with CX as the very first thing. Example: Person doesn’t know where you’re going with the questioning, or the general subject area. You’re looking to:
      • Build a knack for knowing what people will really agree with or not
      • Phrase your questions as leading questions (“wouldn’t you agree with me that [your position]?” as opposed to “what do you think about [topic]?”)
      • Experience how 10 micro questions build towards a conclusion better than 3 large questions 

3. Immediate Stop. Present a case, argument, or card of evidence and have an Ethos coach stop you whenever you do something you need to weed out. Choose one area of focus (eradicating unnecessary words, incomprehensible “debate speak”, etc.) and tackle one at a time. This keeps your mind on its toes and brings attention to problem areas.

4. How to find your flaws. Book a session with a coach and ask to debate them on Skype. They can be NEG or AFF and the coach will rapidly identify some of your blind spots and help you to see them.

Drills sharpen, illuminate, and declutter your skills. Don’t let your skills suffer in silence. Flourish boldly.

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