Speech and Debate Team talks its way to Nationals

by Beacon Staff • April 23, 2008

True to form, Emerson's Speech and Debate Team used those skills to talk their way to the National Forensic Association's competition in Nashville this past weekend, with sophomore Meredith Constant making it past quarter- and semi-finals to rank sixth in the After-Dinner Speaking category, a form modeled after traditional persuasive and humorous speeches given after dinner parties.,If there's one stereotype about debaters that rings true, it's that they've got a way with words, a finesse for language, a gift for gab.

True to form, Emerson's Speech and Debate Team used those skills to talk their way to the National Forensic Association's competition in Nashville this past weekend, with sophomore Meredith Constant making it past quarter- and semi-finals to rank sixth in the After-Dinner Speaking category, a form modeled after traditional persuasive and humorous speeches given after dinner parties.

There were about 1,300 competitors representing 88 schools at the tournament.

Emerson's team took eight competitors and two of their three coaches to this year's Nationals, which were held at Tennessee University.

Each of the speakers specializes in one or more of the different categories, which include debate, poetry, impromptu and persuasive speaking.

Most of the categories are individual, although "duo," which involves a pair of speakers interpreting a 10-minute selection of a play, is a team effort.

This year was the team's second visit to the National Forensic Association's competition, which Constant said is impressive for a group that only started last year.

"Our team is full of a lot of potential," the broadcast journalism major said before the event. "We're definitely a force to be reckoned with."

The eight competitors each had to qualify individually at one of the local or regional tournaments. Many of them secured their spot at Nationals at the season's very first tournament.

Constant said the group also attended five cometitions in preparation. She said some of the pieces performed have been in the works for as long as a year.

The payoff for all the hard work, which includes countless revisions and reworking of their speeches, are good standings at regional levels.

"We talk to walls a lot," Constant said of the team's preferred practicing methods. "But we're second place in regionals."

First place belongs to the University of Maine, whose success Emerson's debaters ascribe to Maine's larger and more diverse team.

"Our team is new and small, so it's hard to get funding for a lot of events," said freshman Corey Efron, who specializes in interpretive poetry.

The Student Government Association, along with the Organizational and Political Communication department, funded the team's trip to Nashville.

The finalists that headed to Nationals, which ran from April 17-22, said speech and debate offers a competitive environment, especially at the region-based events.

"Within the Northeast, it becomes so consuming," said BFA acting major Ciera Iveson. "You're continually watching the competition, following their speeches and seeing everyone develop."

However, it's also a social activity, both at competitions and within the Emerson speech community, Constant said. She said the time the team spends preparing for Nationals together creates close bonds.

"I can honestly say that I'm friends with everyone on the team," said Efron, a writing, literature and publishing major.

One of their favorite rituals, which supplements the "talking to walls" approach, are monthly team dinners, during which the members of the group try out their speeches on one another.

Many members share the sentiment that speech and debate, also known as Forensics, is misunderstood.

"When I tell people what I do, their minds immediately jump to 'CSI'," Efron said. "Forensics actually means of or related to law, but a lot of people don't understand that."

The team is eager to demystify what they do, and are ready to persuade you with their explanations. However, it's not all seriousness.

"I explain what I do as 'competitive acting,'" said Iveson, a freshman who focuses on Duo and Dramatic Interpretation, which is the performance of an excerpted piece of acting or published work. "But basically, we talk, we wear suits, we eat and, sometimes, we try and meet boys."

Members of the team said the benefits of Forensics extend beyond social networking. Efron, Constant and Iveson, despite their drastically different majors, said they believe speech and debate has helped them become better news anchors, writers and actors, respectively.

This year's Nationals brought incoming president Constant a Top-10 placement in the After-Dinner Speaking category.

Constant's topic centered on the sexualization of female athletes by the media.

Though the rest of the team did not "break," or rank in the top 24 of the first four rounds of preliminaries, their improvements were reflected on their ballots.

"We all got much better rankings [then last year]," Constant said. "It was definitely a solid tournament."

However, the future team captain and her speakers are all looking forward to next year already.

"I think most of us will take a couple weeks off and then start preparing for next year," she said.