Five Big Tips For The Summary Speech
Updated: Mar 10
This article hopes to help first-speakers improve their summary speeches by providing advanced tips. For the basics on how to structure your summary, see How to Structure a Summary.
A strong summary speech boils down to preparation, strategy, and delivery. We will break down each of these and then provide a numbered list of Five Tips that will give you a leg up over the competition. (Read to the end for a bonus tip for Second Speakers!)
Preparation, Strategy, and Delivery
Not all debaters prepare for the summary speech – some believe that just because it is not a pre-written speech, it will entirely depend on the circumstances of the round. While it is true that much of the Summary has to be impromptu / extemporaneous / off-the-cuff, you will want to prepare for the speech as much as you can. For first speakers, this is the only speech you have to give that is not pre-written, meaning you should invest a lot of time and energy into this aspect of the debate.
You do not want to pre-write your entire summary speech and read it like a case; it is very obvious to the judge when you are doing that, and the judge will not approve. There are, however, two components of the speech that you can pre-write: 1) Succinct explanations of your arguments, and 2) “Extensions.”
A succinct explanation of your arguments is a 1-3 sentence blurb that you pre-write so you can deliver explanations of your arguments clearly and concisely in the summary and final focus speeches. Sometimes, the document with these pre-written explanations is called a “playbook” like in sports, as you will have all of your possible “plays” that could “score you points” in one document, ready to be used in the clutch. (For sample playbooks and much more, join our mailing list at the bottom of the page!)
Extensions, (also known as Frontlines), are responses to anticipated responses on your case. Oftentimes, the result of a debate comes down to who presents the greatest depth of knowledge on a topic, so you should have responses to the most common responses to your case at the ready. It is important to note that “Extension” is a slight misnomer as you are not merely trying to “extend through ink” (which means to reiterate your point without being responsive to the specific response your opponent gave). Rather, extensions present new material, whether it be new logic or new evidence. More on extensions below.
Summary is almost certainly the most “strategic” speech in the round. This is the speech where you show the judge what you really care about in the round, making it very distinct from the case and rebuttal speeches where you may be looking to overwhelm the opponent with quantity. In summary, you are not looking for quantity; if you are making arguments on more than 3-5 subjects you could be spreading yourself too thin a problem.
Take prep time before summary (or, as we recommend, before 2nd crossfire) to discuss with your partner which points you are winning, and thus which you need to go for. Also discuss which points the opponents are winning – you will need to touch on those and reiterate the strong responses your partner gave in rebuttal.
There is no cookie cutter on-size-fits-all approach to summary strategy. But remember that your goal is not merely to summarize. It is to analyze, to convince, and to persuade.
When considering how to deliver your summary, you will likely be curious about presentation, time allocation, and speed. We will touch on these in order.
When presenting, you must be confident. While practicing speeches in the shower, in front of the mirror, or in front of friends and family, evaluate your ability to do the following:
Stand tall on your two feet
Don’t sway back and forth or fidget in any way
Make eye contact with the judge
Smile when possible (although not when discussing impacts like death, of course)
If you are standing strong and calm, looking the judge in the eyes, smiling when you can, and speaking confidently and clearly, you will seem perceptually dominant. In the end, many judges don’t actually understand much of the content of a complex debate round. But they can’t help but believe, or even better empathize, with the debater with impeccable delivery.
Hopefully these notes on Summary preparation, strategy, and delivery have been helpful. Now, five tips that will help you improve your Summaries (and one bonus tip for second speakers).
Five Tips For The Summary Speech:
Tip #1: Write Extensions
Not everyone decides to pre-write explanations of their arguments, but to succeed in the summary speech you will need to write extensions. This is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. You can use this process:
Find the 3 best responses to your Contention 1 (pick from the responses you and your partner have already come up with in your block file)
Write 1-2 strong responses to each of those responses
Repeat for all contentions / arguments / sub-points.
That’s it; it’s pretty simple. However, you need to make sure your extensions are actually responsive.
Maybe your opponent forgot to respond to a piece of evidence in your case that effectively refutes their argument – in that case push it hard and hammer it home. You can even point out that it was in your case since the beginning yet your opponent “dropped it” and that it is too late for them to respond to it now.
Maybe your opponent responded to a piece of evidence but didn’t address the underlying logic that you explained in your case.
Maybe your opponent’s response has a glaring logical hole that you can point out.
Maybe your opponent’s response is reasonable but not important in the grand scheme of things – outweigh it. More on weighing below.
Finally, maybe you have found the perfect piece of evidence that responds to that specific response. If you are the second-speaking team, you may get flack for bringing up new evidence in the second summary, but don’t worry about that for now; just write the evidence into a response and put it in your Extensions file. (One option for addressing the issue of new evidence in the second summary is to have your partner allude to it in second crossfire).
Tip #2: Extend and Explain Your Turns
If this hole website is a haystack, this tip is the needle. It is often overlooked, yet incredibly powerful, and will both make your second speaker very happy and make you substantially more likely to win the round.
Even if the turn was only discussed for 10 seconds by your partner in rebuttal, it has the potential to win you the round. If it is a link turn, you may be able to co-opt your opponent’s impacts and actually make them a reason to vote for your side. If it is ‘independent rebuttal offense’ that your partner tacked on in response to a certain contention (if you don’t understand this distinction feel free to reach out for further explanation), it is even more likely your opponent respond adequately and you can hammer it home in the summary.
The lesson that we hope you take away from this is turns are highly important and incredibly powerful, but they only work if extended and explained clearly in the summary speech.
Tip #3: Use Prep Effectively
How should you allocate prep time and what should you discuss with your partner? The Debate Resource recommendation is that you take prep time before the 2nd crossfire to discuss what points to cover with your partner. This gives the first speaker all of 2nd cross to think through their wording and approach. Don’t worry about the fact that this gives the opposition time to prepare; focus on giving the best summary speech you possibly can.
The most important thing for the partnership to decide is which offense you are going for. You will not be able to discuss every one of your arguments and turns in the summary, and if you try to there will be no cohesive narrative in your speech. You and your partner must be on the same page about this because the Summary and Final Focus speeches must be congruent – if you go up and discuss some points in the summary and your partner discusses different points in final focus, that is pretty much the worst-case scenario. Flow judges require any argument made in final focus to have been in summary, and Lay Judges will simply have no idea what you’re talking about. Of course, there should be a bit of variance between the two speeches, but the major points should be the same.
The second most important thing to decide is how you will respond to the 1-2 points they are winning. This is where your partner likely will have good input as they delivered the rebuttal speech and likely will have strong opinions about which responses are best. However, if you prepared well together and you flowed the rebuttal speech well, you should have a good sense of which responses to reiterate. Just make sure you’re on the same page.
Finally, if you are a partnership that alternates between Defense/Offense and Voting Issue summaries, be sure to lock in which type you will be using. It is much better to have this certainty before second cross even if you are the second-speaking team, which is why we recommend always taking prep for the summary before 2CX.
Tip #4: Weigh
Weighing is the way you convince the judge you should win the round when you are winning some arguments and your opponents are winning other ones. If you can simply annihilate every one of your opponent’s arguments such that they have no offense whatsoever, you theoretically don’t need to weigh. However, this is very tough, and just because you think you have completely wiped out your opponent’s offense doesn’t mean the judge agrees.
In debate, you are likely to hear the phrase “impact calculus.” It may sound complex because it sounds like a variety of advanced math, but it’s simply a reference to determining the significance of your impact.
Basic impact calculus considers just two variables: Magnitude and Probability. In basic terms, the size of your impact is considered to be the magnitude of its effect multiplied its probability of occurring.
But those aren’t the only two “weighing mechanisms,” as they’re called, that debaters use. Here is a simple acronym that you memorize if you are just learning about weighing mechanisms: STOMP
Scope: My impact affects more people than yours
Timeframe: My impact extends over a longer period of time than yours
Otherization: My impact helps marginalized groups more than yours
Magnitude: My impact is simply larger than yours in its magnitude (e.g. we save more money than you)
Probability: My impact is more likely to manifest than yours
However, it is the recommendation of Debate Resource that you do not simply rattle off weighing mechanisms at the end of your speech. This is an option, and it is commonly done, but often is not the most effective way to weigh, and certainly should not be done in front of a lay judge.
Instead of saying “we outweigh on probability,” we recommend you say something like “because the probability of our impact occurring is far greater than our opponent’s, you should vote for us,” and be sure to explain clearly why that probability analysis is applicable.
Tip #5: Practice
The best way to use your time is to practice giving speeches! After doing a practice round, look back at your flow and redo your summary 3-5 times. Record yourself giving speeches and watch the recording so you can see what you are doing well and what you need to improve on.
If you are in a crunch for time and only have a few days left before the tournament, the way to use your time that offers the greatest return on time invested is to practice. It takes 10 minutes to do one practice summary and seven minutes of reflection and self-analysis. By contrast, it takes more than 10 minutes to find a single piece of evidence most of the time.
When practicing, focus on word economy. If you re-described your argument in 20 seconds, can you do it again in 10? If you spent 30 seconds reiterating your responses to your opponent, can you do it in 20? How about 10? Keep pushing yourself until your wording is strong, efficient, and convincing.
Bonus Tip for Second Speakers: Flow Your Partner’s Summary
As promised, we will finish this article with one bonus tip, for the second speaker this time. This tip is not commonly practiced but will work a world of wonder for you.
As a second speaker, you need to focus on your partner’s summary. Flow it using a separate piece of paper even, if you like, making sure to get down as much of it as you can. Then, use that paper as the template for your Final Focus, crossing out the parts that are no longer relevant and adding in important points in the blank space. (Be sure to leave yourself an excess of space – no need to worry about saving trees when rounds are on the line!)
The reason we end with this and stress it so heavily is that judges are looking for congruency between the two speeches. They want to see that you and your partner are on the same page and are building off of each other’s ideas.
Don’t be that arrogant second speaker who thinks he or she can win the round alone, with a genius point in final focus! If it wasn’t made in summary, the judge is likely to disregard it altogether. The summary speaker is putting in the work to bake the cake; as the final focus speaker, your job is to ice it.