Category Archives: Lessons From Listening

Lessons From Listening, Part 7

Lesson 7: Get to 6

One of the most important elements of any speech is being near the time limit. If an absolutely phenomenal Persuasive speaker has great content and a wonderful speaking ability but only has a 7-minute speech, he is shooting himself in the foot. In the same way, many Apologetics speakers have great content and superb speaking ability–but the judges don’t get to hear more than 4 minutes of it. If you want to succeed in Apologetics speaking, you have to be able to get to 6 minutes.

Here are a few of my tips for ensuring that you’ll be able to reach the 6-minute time limit.

1. Invest in Thoroughly Equipped. Seriously! It takes more time to find 2 minutes of material for 100 cards than it does to find a full 6 minutes of material for 25 cards. And you can cover the same number of topics either way! If you want to get to 6 minutes, I would strongly encourage you to consider investing in Thoroughly Equipped–it’ll be worth every penny.

2. Expound. Let me explain what I mean via an example. In Semifinals at my last tournament, I drew the topic “How can God be both merciful and just?” I expounded on that topic in two different ways.

First, you’ll notice that the answer to that question is fairly simple and couldn’t possibly take up 6 minutes without being incredibly repetitive. So, instead of going straight in and answering the question, I spent the first two points addressing the “if” part of the statement by establishing the Biblical support for God being both merciful and just. Then I used my third point to answer the question, based on the solid foundation of my first two points.

My outline was as follows:
Point 1: God is Merciful
Mercy=not getting something we do deserve.
Point 2: God is Just
Justice=getting something we do deserve.
Point 3: God Can Be Both Through Grace
Grace=getting something we absolutely do not deserve. (i.e. a Substitute)

By setting up the dichotomy between grace and mercy in my first two points, I heightened the sense of anticipation for my third point, where I explained that God is merciful toward us and still acts justly by punishing a Substitute in our place–His Son, Jesus Christ.

The second way I expounded on the topic was in my third point. I explained more about the Substitute than was strictly necessary–I expounded on Who this substitute was and just how much His sacrifice should mean to us. I quoted 2 Corinthians 5:21 (one of my favorite verses) and discussed just how much we need Someone to take our place. While all of this wasn’t strictly necessary, my expounding upon the topic was received positively by the judges, added passion, and helped me get to 6.

3. Summarize. While I’ve always taken summarization for granted, my Apologetics-watching experienced demonstrated to me that not everyone does. Very few of the speakers I watched had any sort of summary, any ending review of their points. When I averaged the speakers’ times, it came out to 4 minutes 45 seconds. On average, each speaker had over an entire minute of time remaining!

When you come to the end of your prepared material, summarize. Give the judges a brief review of the points they’ve covered. My summary for my Semifinals speech may have gone something like this (I can’t remember exactly).

“Over the past few minutes, we’ve seen that God is a merciful God–he doesn’t give us what we deserve. And yet God is also just–He will punish someone for our sin. God can simultaneously not give us what we deserve and give us what we deserve by giving us something we absolutely do not deserve–grace. By sending His Son as a Substitute on our behalf, God both punished sin and was merciful toward us. [Transition to concluding statements here.]

That’s not hard at all! All you have to do is summarize each of your points in a sentence or two. Your summary can be long or short–I’ve filled up as much as an entire minute with a summary (with a little expounding mixed in) and as little as 15 seconds. When you summarize, you not only reach 6 minutes but also remind the judges one last time of your phenomenal points.

Lessons From Listening, Part 6

Lesson 6: Introduce Yourself

This lesson is short and sweet: Introduce yourself clearly and in a friendly manner as quickly as possible upon entering the room. I’m surprised I even have to address this, but several of the speakers didn’t introduce themselves until right before they began to speak (and didn’t have their nametag visible), and one never introduced herself at all!

According to Forbes, we have “seven seconds to make a first impression”–that is, much of the judges’ first impression of you is based on your first seven seconds interacting with them. Here are three simple tips to help create a positive first impression when you walk into an Apologetics room.

1. Introduce yourself promptly. You can set your box down and get it ready, of course–but don’t wait until four minutes of prep time have passed before introducing yourself. In real life, we introduce ourselves immediately upon meeting someone–you should do the same in an Apologetics round.

2. Introduce yourself clearly. One of the speakers had a somewhat strange name, both first and last. But far from enunciating his name carefully, he slurred it! I had to wait to write down his name until he came up to speak and I was able to read his name tag. Even if your name is John Doe, enunciate!

3. Introduce yourself friendly-ly. Yes, I could have said “in a friendly manner,” but that’s not quite the same. Anyway, have a smile on your face while introducing yourself. You don’t have to go over-the-top, but you should appear genuinely glad to be there. (Actually, you should feel genuinely glad to be there.)

That’s all I have. The point is simple: Introduce yourself promptly, clearly, and friendly-ly.

Lessons From Listening, Part 5

Lesson 5. … … … … P a u s e … … … …


Annoying, right? It’s hard to read and just as hard to listen to. This lesson could just as easily be titled “speak conversationally.” The NCFCA and STOA both mention the value of conversational speaking on their Apologetics ballots–the judges will be expecting it.

One major element of speaking conversationally is pauses. … … … … … (It’s not quite the same in print, is it?)

When we’re talking to other people (not to say that judges aren’t people), there are natural pauses in our conversation. Some of these pauses are indicators of uncertainty over what to say next, some are to allow others to voice their opinions, some are at the end of sentences, and some are to add emphasis to a point.

In a speech, you should only have the latter two types of pauses–you should always be able to figure out what to say next, and the judges don’t get to voice their opinions verbally. However, you definitely should pause at the end of a sentence, as well as when you finish what I call a “verbal paragraph”–essentially a point.

Even more important are pauses for emphasis. Pausing for a moment after a particularly important point allows that point to sink into the judges’ minds for a moment. This increases their retention, and also helps you to look more professional. A speaker who is truly confident is not afraid of the sound of silence. To the contrary, the speaker welcomes pauses. On the other hand, a lack of pauses can make you appear nervous.

BUT DON’T USE VERBAL PAUSES!!! A “verbal pause” is, um, a word that, uh, fills in some, well, space between sentences, you know. The previous sentence contains four of the most common verbal fillers. The difference between pauses and verbal pauses is,  to quote Mark Twain, “the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Lightning is exciting and powerful, while a lightning bug is simply small and powerless.  A pause demonstrates your professionalism, authority, and comfortability, while a verbal pause does exactly the opposite. Work on pausing during your speeches … … … … … see how your speaking ability improves.

Lessons From Listening, Part 4

Lesson 4: Roadmap Clearly

No matter what topic you draw, you are going to have a series of points. A great way to appear polished and prepared is to provide the judges with a quick “roadmap”–a few sentences where you tell them what your points are, letting them know “the road ahead.”

This benefits you in three ways.
First, it lets the judges know you have a plan. If you don’t tell the judges your points in advance, it’s okay if you don’t know your third point yet–you can make it up as you go along! But if you explain your points in advance, the judges know that you are prepared to address this topic.
Second, it helps the judges remember your speech. The general format of any speech is as follows: tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them. People are forgetful! If you remind them of your points multiple times, it will increase their retention.
Third, it increases your professionalism by providing a smooth transition from the reading of the topic statement into your first point. If you launch straight into your first point immediately after stating your topic, you make the judges feel like they’re on one of those roller coasters that goes from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds. It’s a jolt, and in a speech round that’s not very pleasant.

Provide the judges with a roadmap–give them a teaser of the fantastic journey they’re about to embark on.

Lessons From Listening, Part 3

Lesson 3. Get an Introduction!

Five out of the eight speakers in my room started their speeches by reading the topic. While perfectly valid, this approach is the bare minimum of introductions. If all you can think of to start off your speech is reading the topic, that’s far less professional than the speaker who begins with a quote, story, Bible verse, or analogy. It doesn’t have to be a long, fancy introduction–just find something.

Here are three steps I take to find introductions for cards:
First, while I’m researching and writing my cards, I will go to websites such as and look for illustrations on the topic.
Second, while I’m outside my room waiting to go in, I will review my cards. If I stumble upon a card without an introduction, I will try to think of a simple one right then and there. Even better, I sometimes write entire cards while waiting to go in–I’ve written some of the Miscellaneous topics this way. I remember sitting outside my Quarterfinal room at the National Championship last year and asking two of the most brilliant Apologists I know what points they would make on a given topic. With their help, I was able to formulate a basic outline with verses and illustrations for a topic that I previously had nothing on. If you have down time outside your Apologetics room, go through your cards and think of illustrations.
Third, if all else fails and you have to think of an introduction during prep time, look at your card. If it contains a story somewhere in the body, consider using that story as your introduction and returning to it during the body to re-emphasize it. If there’s a Bible verse that works well, use that. Ask a question that you end up answering in the speech. The possibilities are endless!

No matter what type of introduction you use, get one!

Lessons From Listening, Part 2

Lesson 2. Determine Your Distance

One of the delivery aspects I recorded while listening was the distance of each speaker–that is, how far away from the judges did a given speaker stand? Most speakers (in all speech events) will move much more horizontally than vertically. If they start far away, they’ll stay far away. If they start up close, they’ll stay up close.

But who cares? Why does standing distance matter? From my perspective, the difference between standing close and standing far is the dichotomy between academic delivery and conversational delivery. In general, people standing farther away gain credibility (in a professorial way) and people standing closer gain conversationality. My personal preference is to stand close–it’s normally better to appear more conversational, and deliver the speech as though you were actually explaining the topic to an unbeliever. You don’t want to stand so close it becomes creepy, of course–but standing close to the judges can add an air of  friendliness to your presentation.

Lessons From Listening, Part 1

I rarely get to listen to other peoples’ speeches at tournaments. I compete in five events plus debate, and normally take several speeches to Semifinals and Finals. Down time is a rare commodity.

But yesterday, I was at a tournament in my area in which I wasn’t competing due to league differences. Because several of my friends were competing, I went to support them. I finally got to listen to some speeches! I listened to an Apologetics round and came out of it with seven lessons that you can apply to improve your speaking. I will be posting one of these lessons per day for the next seven days. Here’s the first lesson for you.

Lesson 1. Know Your Terms

One of the speakers was very eloquent and very smooth in speaking style, but had one fatal flaw in his speech: He misinterpreted what “inerrancy” is. He defined “inerrant” as “not changing”–that’s immutability, not inerrancy. Inerrancy means that the Bible is “in-error-ant”–it does not contain errors. Because of his misinterpretation, he ended up discussing “the inerrancy of Christ,” which is not a real theological term–no one discusses whether or not Christ contains errors. He also ended up discussing the accurate transmission of Scripture through the ages, which doesn’t directly relate to inerrancy. Hypothetically, the Bible could be inerrant (in the original manuscripts) but have been corrupted as it went from scribe to scribe. I certainly don’t believe that is the case, but accurate transmission and inerrancy are not the same thing. Make sure you know your terms.

If you own Thoroughly Equipped, you can read “Verbiage Imperative to and Efficacious for Discussing Theology: Big Theological Terms You Need to Know.” This is, quite simply, a theological glossary specifically for NCFCA and STOA Apologetics. You could even print this out on 4×6 cards and bring it into the round with you–that way, you’ll always avoid the fatal mistake of misinterpretation.