Students showcase public speaking skills in competitive club

by Cassie Lowery, ’13

For many people, the thought of having to go up in front of a group and deliver a speech is nerve wracking, if not downright terrifying. But for some, the trembling hands and churning stomach are replaced by excitement and the thrill of competition.

The speech and debate team is a group that researches and prepares various types of oral presentations. These speeches are then taken to competitions and tournaments roughly twice a month from November through May. Both speech and debate have different categories in which members can choose to compete in such as Impromptu, Extemporaneous and Public Forum, a debate that centers around current political issues.

Junior Ziyue Wang, who competes in Public Forum debate, got involved with the team his freshman year after looking for a club to join at the high school.

Wang said that anyone can join the team, but the events students pursue depend on their individual strengths.

Despite competing in various categories, the speech and debate teams are part of one unit and they travel to competitions and tournaments together. Individual students are placed on either team depending on their event. Students who compete in categories that involve arguing against another team will be in the debate section, while all other events fall under speech.

Senior Niki Ahmadi, who has also been on the debate team since his freshman year, said that while knowing the facts and being informed about the featured issue is important, it is not enough to win.

“You have to be pretty good at…being confident in what you’re saying, even though it might not always make the most sense at the time,” Ahmadi said. “You’ve got to sell your argument and if you sell it right, oftentimes the other team will be convinced.”

According to Wang, good public speaking skills are crucial to success on the debate team, but quick thinking can be just as important.

“[For debate competitions] I go as the second speaker, which means I have to sometimes come up with speeches on the fly,” Wang said.

As the later presenter, Wang waits for the other side to deliver its points before taking his turn. Wang said that this is one of his favorite aspects of debate, because it lets him think about the issue in a different light.

“I get to think about the other person’s points and think of comebacks against them, and that’s always very enjoyable,” Wang said. “Being able to see something, figure out what’s wrong with it and then show them that we’re right: That’s what I like about debate.”

The competitions, are tournament style, where most events have multiple rounds. Students compete for judges who rank the competitors in the speech events and determine the winners for the debates. The winners are awarded points, and the points each team member gets are then added together for the school’s score.

According to Ahmadi, UAHS’s speech and debate group is one of the better teams in the state. He points out that each year several students qualify for the state tournament, the highest competition the team attends.

“Almost every year we have people who go to states. They’re usually seniors, but every now and then—actually every year we have one underclassman who does really well at districts and goes onto states,” Ahmadi said.

Both Ahmadi and Wang were state qualifiers in 2012, and they hope to repeat their achievement this year. Wang said the team is setting its sights even higher.

“We’re expecting to build on the victories from last year and definitely win states this time. So that’s one of our goals,” Wang said.

Despite how well the team does in this coming year, Ahmadi said he has seen a lot of growth in himself throughout his time on debate.

“I think what I enjoy is you see yourself rising to a point where you didn’t think you could get,” Ahmadi said. “You see yourself improve a lot, and I think especially for things like speech where people have a lot of fear, it’s just really nice to see that you’ve improved.”

Image Caption: Senior Nick Donadio practices his portion of the debate during a team meeting. Donadio and his partner Niki Ahmadi qualified for states last year and hope to do the same this year.

Image By: Maria Berger