By Ben Fogler
As an aspiring speaker (since I was a little boy I’ve wanted to be the kind that blares music at parties), I knew I had to start learning the ropes early if I wanted to get ahead in the game. You’d be surprised by how competitive the corporations are -- Big Speaker has really cornered the market in a way that makes it very difficult to enter the playing field. Thus, last year I joined my school’s renowned Speech and Debate club in the hopes of furthering my experience so that one day I might be a well-known disruptor in the speaker industry.
Speech and Debate is great. A common misconception is that there is only one event -- arguing about something for judges. Truthfully, there are many events in both the speech category and debate category. Of course, I chose to do a speech event (see above paragraph for a recap of my career goals), and I picked a more niche one so that I’d have an easier time rising to the top: Radio. Radio is a superb event for people who really like thinking on their feet, being in a prolonged state of panic and stress, and labor conditions comparable to that of the Industrial Revolution, when Laissez-Faire Capitalism reigned supreme. Seriously, it’s great practice if you’re looking to be a non-union factory worker or Anna Wintour’s personal assistant.
Radio is an event where you receive a large packet of current news articles from an older man who strongly resembles David Letterman but definitely is not. You have 30 minutes to select your articles, frantically cut them up, paste them together with tape, glue, and tears, and ensure you still have time to practice reading it aloud in a room of people who need you to be quiet because they are also under the stress of doing radio. The result is a lot of low murmuring during practice coupled with some heavy sighs and muttered curses. Did I mention they print the articles on double sided paper? A big rule is that your final reading must be exactly 5 minutes long with a ten second grace period. This is because if you were to actually be a radio reporter, you’d have to make sure you stayed within your allotted time and didn’t encroach on other people’s broadcast space. I think this is a little silly -- if you’re going to go for realism, maybe you should take out the part where I have to find and edit the stories myself. Last I checked, Ira Glass over at NPR does not have to put together his entire segment as well as deliver it, and definitely not 30 minutes before he goes on air. But I digress.
The truth is, I really enjoy doing radio. It does not require the preparation of some other events, but it does force you to work faster than you thought you could and make decisions in the moment. I’d be lying if I said I don’t apply those skills to other parts of my life (colleges, are you noticing the subtle personal development?), but that would not make a very good article. So instead, I want to talk about the highlights of my radio experience.
One of my favorite things about doing radio is the intro you get to write. One of the only things that you have total creative freedom with is the intro, where you say your name, the radio station you work for (you get to make this up -- just add a W or K at the beginning depending on which side of the Mississippi you’re on!) and your headlining first story. I sometimes like to include a little joke in my introduction to see if the judge will notice. For example -- “Breaking News: Pfizer vaccine being approved by the FDA amid a spike in COVID cases across America. I’m your host, Ben Fogler, with W-IBS news: There’s no telling when it’ll strike, but our reporters are always in the splash zone. In our top story tonight…” Or something like that. I’ve found if I say it in my very best news-anchor voice (I try to speak with the confidence of Ben Shapiro and the quiet grace and dignity of NBC’s Kate Snow), they usually don’t even notice.
Another great part of doing radio is the judges. Most of the time the judges are parent volunteers who did not know they were going to be judging radio in advance and definitely wished they were judging their own kid’s performance over the randos they got stuck with. Radio is a rather awkward event because the judge and the participant are not allowed to see each other. We have to sit back-to-back in school chairs that are always sloped such that you can feel the other person’s hair lightly brushing your neck. I love radio. Also sometimes, the judge’s little kid that they couldn’t leave at home will be in the room with you, and they love to stand and watch you do your thing in the least subtle way possible. One time, a kid stood right in front of my desk and just stared at me like the girl from The Ring. And the judge did absolutely nothing. Later, in her comments, she had the audacity to suggest that I “seemed distracted,” at one portion of my speech. Oh really Sherlock, I wonder why. The best part is when the parents do have their kids stand away so they don’t distract you. I think one told his kid that they weren’t supposed to see me when I was speaking because that kid decided he would stand facing the corner, head down, Blair Witch style.
By far my favorite part of doing Speech and Debate, though, is the team comradery and spirit. It’s essential because most tournaments last upwards of 12 hours, so you’ve really gotta work to think of stuff to talk about during downtime. Once everyone in the team has inevitably finished discussing their horror stories from the rounds (“And then the judge gave me the side-eye!” “Gasp! No he did not!”) we start scrambling for topics of conversation. By this time, we are all exhausted, starving (there’s food but it is literally just snacks), and delirious, so let’s just say the discussions get *does my best millennial cosplay pose* pretty wacky. From the time we arrive, 7:30 in the morning, we’re full of zest, ambition, and spice, anticipating the tournament ahead. At lunch, most of us are halfway through our rounds, and we’re tired but in good spirits. And then in the 92939238409348208398402984092 hour stretch betwixt finals and the closing ceremony, I want to crawl into the supply closet and go into a coma for just a little while. You know it’s bad when one of the girls pulls out her phone and starts playing Green Light by Lorde, and all of the girls get in a circle around her and they sing the lyrics like how boys do with Bohemian Rhapsody or Mr. Brightside, except Green Light is a terrible song for that because there is like a ten-second silence between the lines of each verse so they just awkwardly stand there, and also most of them are not the greatest singers. It is in these strenuous times that I think we form the best connections with our peers, and also realize that none of us could survive an apocalypse.
So in conclusion, this is why you should join Speech and Debate. Because for me, it was never about the fame, the fortune, or even the prospect of breaking into the Speaker industry. It was about the friends I made along the way. After all, life is just a big journey until you die, and in my opinion S&D is a must-see destination. The views are to die for.