Making the Board

In Student Congress the goal of each competitor is to make the board. Making the board, by definition, is being chosen as one of the five or six finalists by consensus of the judge and the parliamentarian. In a room full of thirty plus students, this can prove to be quite difficult. But, there are three ways a speaker can make the board. The board can be made by being the Presiding Officer, giving strong speeches, and asking good questions. But in order to stand out, it is important to realize what needs to be done in order to pull this off.

One of the primary ways to make the board is by being the Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer has a few things working in their favor. The first is that he or she is seen the entire time. The competitors, judge, and parliamentarian witness the effort and skill of this unique position during the entire session. In order for someone to stand out as a Presiding Officer there are a few things he or she needs to do. First of all, a Presiding Officer must be aware of all the rules. One of the easiest ways to be eliminated from the running of making the board is having to consult the parliamentarian on certain rules. Where do competitors normally trip up? The most common problem speakers have is knowing when they need a majority vote and when they needed two-thirds. Another issue tends to arise when voting on the bill. Majority changes if people leave the room. For instance, if there are thirty people in the session, then sixteen is the majority. If one person leaves the room, the Presiding Officer now has to base the majority on the twenty-nine remaining and not the original thirty. This will move majority from sixteen back to fifteen.

Besides recognizing these changes, another way a Presiding Officer has a sure-fire shot at making the board is overall conduct of the session. If able to keep things moving quickly and efficiently, a Presiding Officer should have no problem securing the vote of the parliamentarian. In many ways, the parliamentarian is trying to reward the Presiding Officer for their efforts. So it is really in the Presiding Officer’s hands whether or not they make the board. If the Presiding Officer stays aware of these subtle details, they will stick out in the mind of the judge and should have no issue with qualifying for votes.

Because only one competitor is the Presiding Officer, it is important to know the main way to make the board. This is quite simple: give strong, detailed speeches that provide a fresh perspective. Once the Presiding Officer has been elected it now becomes a fierce battle for recognition at the podium. Everyone wants to speak as well and as much as possible in order to make the board. But where quantity exists, quality is how to truly stand out. In this instance, do not be quick to make speeches. Those who do not have a speech prepared, yet get up and talk about the bill because someone said something that fired them up, hurt their odds by delivering a weaker speech. Threes and fours are not going to win it; getting a five or a six on every speech is needed in order to make the board. This does not mean a speaker cannot speak unless they have a speech prepared. Merely attempt to avoid being in a position where failure is dictated by a lack of self-control. In the end, if a speaker gives enough speeches to stay on base, and receives high rankings on all of them, they should be able to make the board. Consistency is critical, and if one can pull this off then the chances of making the board or winning vastly improve.

The final way to make the board is through asking and answering questions. This is a weapon most Congress competitors fail to use to their advantage. When there are six or seven great speakers in the room, and all are doing well, how will judges distinguish one speaker from the rest? The answer is through questions. Ask questions for two reasons. First, it allows an individual to be seen more often by the judge and the parliamentarian. This makes a huge difference--especially when trying to seize votes. Secondly, it offers another opportunity to show that one has thought through what the speaker had said and can challenge him or her to validate a point.

In addition to asking questions, do not be afraid to answer them. If done speaking before the three minutes are up, NEVER yield time to the chair. This is a wasted opportunity. Stand in there and allow people to challenge the speech’s stance to prove to all that the argument is solid and well-researched. It is surprising how far a few concise answers can take a speaker when aiming for a high score.

These are the three ways a speaker can make the board. If given the privilege of being the Presiding Officer, be consistent and run a smooth session. If one is not appointed as the Presiding Officer, give well-researched speeches that add a new element to Debate. And if deadlocked with other competitors stand out by asking difficult questions of the opposition. Staying alert during the entire session and continuing to be involved are the only real ways to have any chance of making the board at a consistent rate.