Find Your Voice: Embrace Speaking, Empower Knowledge, Encourage Debate!

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that somewhere around 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety and are afraid of public speaking. Why is this percentage so drastically high? The best ideas won’t mean anything if we can’t communicate them. Whether it’s a doctor working with a patient, a manager coaching their team, or a retail worker responding to questions from a customer, all of us will be expected to speak and be put “on the spot” at some time. Maybe we won’t know the answer, but we need the skills to be flexible and to handle ourselves under pressure.

Find Your Voice is an online resource founded on my passion and belief that debate develops students into confident leaders in our community. As Miss North Dakota International, it is my mission to promote Find Your Voice to students, school faculty, and state leaders to increase the presence of debate programs. Find Your Voice advocates for students to reach their goals as effective communicators and connects volunteer debate alumni with current debate competitors. These experienced mentors work with students individually to guide them through everything from debating to professional networking while also reaching a large audience of debaters with blogs, tips, and advice. Find Your Voice is a complete debate resource available online and is accessible to students in rural communities and urban areas. Find Your Voice was created entirely to support and feature student debaters as well as to promote more opportunities for debate. Some of the most common feedback from debaters is that they want more competition, more teams, and larger tournaments.  

The word “debate” for most people brings up images of how debate is portrayed in the media. There is an underlying assumption that in order to win a debate, you must be the loudest, the smartest, or the meanest competitor. When I think of an exciting debate, I am always most inspired by the team that is the most prepared. Preparation comes from personal experience to extensive research and allows for creative ways for students to present and interpret information. Another stereotype is that debate is for students who want to be attorneys or politicians. Effective discussions are key in any career field. Learning unique techniques for communication through debate can be applied in a variety of situations.

At this time, it is suggested that the United States ranks 17th internationally in education when comparing literacy and graduation rates. To address this deficiency, a new national initiative that is about to be released is the new Common Core curriculum. Common Core is a challenging new national curriculum that includes English and Language Arts standards that will require extensive speaking and listening skills. The National Forensics League, which is the leading national honor society for speech and debate programs, lays out their plan to meet the Common Core standards with the alignment of debate programs in schools

The purpose of a school of any type is to guide students to learn and succeed. When I see students coming off a bus at 6:00am on a Saturdayin suits and ties and heading inside a school to debate, I see a group of students that are preparing to be successful.

Unfortunately, debate teams are drastically underfunded compared to athletics. Many schools believe they cannot afford to offer a debate program. Debate teams require the same funding for buses, hotel rooms, coaching, and tournament fees. Here in North Dakota, just about all of the 160+ schools offer opportunities to be in basketball or football, while only around 20 schools offer competitive debate. Although a debate tournament typically doesn’t include any pep rallies or immediate funding from tickets and concessions, schools will see the return in improved GPA scores, increased standardized test scores, and higher college admission rates. Debaters often surpass their peers in critical thinking, listening, research, and analytical skills.  Also, debate offers equal opportunities for everyone to participate. Higher standardized test performance and student achievement can potentially benefit the funding that schools receive. Funding for debate programs in schools not only benefits the students that are competing, but the support also benefits the school district and the community as well. When students achieve greater accomplishments through education, communities grow and thrive.

In my opinion, debaters are some of the friendliest people you will meet. They love to have conversations and they have excellent listening skills. The community is incredibly supportive of each other. The best way a debater can improve is if their opposing team challenges them to be better. Check out the Student Interview section at Find Your Voice to hear what students have to say about their experience as debaters

Now students even have the opportunity to debate internationally. Many new tournaments use modern technology to allow students to share ideas across the world! Technology is so relevant to how we communicate and students are using modern technology effectively and appropriately to exchange ideas globally. They are able to debate virtually using essays and even programs like Skype to meet students all over the world.

Finally, one of the most exciting ways to support the debate team in your community is to become a judge. Judging is a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many students by giving them your unique feedback. Advocate for education in your community and get involved with the forensics team in your district. Who knows, maybe you’ll watch the next great Oscar winner, justice of the supreme court, or CEO of a Fortune 500 Company!

To wrap up, I want to close with a quote from one of my most favorite forensic team members: “Forensics… I believe in it! It’s about the power of words to influence ideas, to uncover a higher truth, to change minds, and, for a lot of people, even to change lives.” -- Oprah Winfrey

For more information on forensics and debate programs, visit:

Meg Pulkrabek RD, LRD
Miss North Dakota International 2014

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