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Event Overviews and Resources 7: Congressional Debate (Feat. CONGRESS tips from Coach Allen Pino)

Welcome to A Long Winter's Clap: 12 Days of Speech and Debate Event Overviews and Resources. Today we are taking on Congressional Debate, and Cheyenne East Speech and Debate Coach Allen Pino, Congress wizard of grand repute, has some excellent Congress tips for us.


Congressional Debate is essentially a simulation of the US legislative process carried out by enthusiastic student competitors who write, present, debate, and vote on bills and resolution while carefully following parliamentary processes. Chambers are led by voted-in student presiding officers (or POs) who guide the chamber through rounds.

Here is a description straight from the NSDA:

“Congressional Debate is like a simulation of the real United States legislature. A group of 10-25 students, called a Chamber, will compete in a legislative session. A series of bills and resolutions will be proposed by students from various schools. Students in turn will be selected by a presiding officer — a student elected to conduct the business of the round — to give speeches both advocating for and encouraging the defeat of the measure in front of them. Following each speech, competitors will be able to pose questions of the speaker. Once debate is exhausted on a particular item, the chamber will vote either to pass or fail the legislation, and debate moves on to the next item.

...Students typically give speeches 3 minutes in length. The first two speeches on a piece of legislation are known as the first advocacy, or first pro, and the first rejection, or first con. These speeches are followed by 2 minutes of cross examination. After the first pro and con speech are established, each additional speaker is subject to one minute of cross examination by the chamber.”

Congress is a really cool event, as it mixes elements of debate, platform, and interpretative events. Students debate over bills, and some common elements of debate are useful for Congress competitors - like use of evidence, clear and organized presentation of arguments, and use of rebuttals to other presented arguments. The organization of the speeches is quite similar to extemporaneous speaking in terms of organization. Plus, there is the added interpretative element of each of the competitors acting as if they were senators or representatives of an actual Congress. Winsome approaches with displays of senatorial personality can really resonate with some judges. Accurate and consistent role-playing by students can definitely contribute to the success of Congressional Debate competitors.

There are a lot of nuances to learn as a Congressional Debater, and we won’t go into all the details here, but I’ll be attaching a lot of resources for anyone who would like to dig deeper into this unique event. One of the most fun aspects of Student Congress is the social aspect - even in the online world, Congress is an event that is most interesting and exciting when many students are engaged with the congressional process - giving spirited speeches, showing understanding the debated legislation, referencing the speeches of their fellow competitors, and asking relevant questions that keep the action of the Chamber fresh and interesting. Congress is a great place to make friends too!


Five quick tips from friend of the podcast and friend to all -- Cheyenne East Coach and Master of Congress, Allen Pino.

1. Speech Organization

In Congress, you don't have a lot of time to speak in general, meaning you have zero time for the judge or your audience to be confused about your speech. It might be the skill that would help you get the ranks you feel you deserve. When writing a speech for any bill, your three best friends should be a clear thesis, a preview statement, and signposting. Please don't get a lousy rank because things got messy; clean it up, and get the 1.

2. Evidence/Research

Be better than our real congresspeople and know what you are talking about, and spend some time to research. Having at least one piece of evidence for each of your points is enormous, especially in a prelim round, when you are trying to stand out immediately. You avoid the chance of someone asking the straightforward question "do you have evidence to support your claims" and get into the real debate at hand.

3. Be ready to debate.

You have written the speech and done your research, but be ready to debate when you get into your chamber. For judges listening to 30 speeches that had nothing to do with each other makes the round unbearable. The judge came to watch some congressional debate, and the only way they will get that is if you create clash by disproving your fellow representatives/senators' arguments. It shows the judge they are not the only ones in the room, paying attention to the speeches.

4. Create sound bites

When you are in a room of 20 other competitors and only 3 minutes to talk, you must find a way to stand out quickly. The most powerful way is using the English language in your favor. When you can have a strong hook, it will always win you the round compared to "I stand in negation of this bill." There is a reason politicians spend time creating slogans that leave the American people thinking about them. Taking the extra time to use figurative language, alliteration, and power language will have your judge talking about you after the round.

5. Be a friendly warrior.

When you are in a competitive round, it can be hard to stand out. Everyone has good evidence, strong speakers, and everyone wants to speak; what's left for you to do? Channel, you inner friendly warrior. Your judge is looking for any reason to give their ranks to someone, and when you seem like the person in charge but someone they want to be around, they are happy to vote for you. You have politicians who are using this tactic when trying to get your vote, so use it to get your judges' vote. To channel your inner friendly warrior, you need to seem like the person who can get things done while being the person you want to hang out with after the round. This is easy said than done but being aware of what nonverbal messages you are sending out is essential. If you are mean or don't seem like the one in charge, it is hard to get top ranks in a round.

Thanks so much to Allen for the gift of these smart tips for congress competitors.


You should check out all One Clap episodes with Allen. He's a genius. Also, Hot Springs County Speech and Debate Alum Breeze Petty has a great story about her reluctant love affair with Congressional Debate that is worth the listen. They are all linked here:

Double Trouble! Coach Allen Pino Discusses Duo and How to Pass the Pino Test

A Chat with the Team Behind the Recorded Interpretative Wyoming Online State Tournament

How Breeze Petty Accidentally Fell in Love with Congressional Debate


If you have any ideas for the podcast or would like to help out with content here at One Clap Speech and Debate, send me a message on the website or an email ( As the Speech and Debate season hits its stride, I have less time to create content for the podcast and the website. But, I'll continue to do my best to get usable, inspirational, and helpful content out there.

Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the One Clap Podcast wherever you listen! Watch for new episodes of One Clap, Rock On! Debate, Coach Connection, and Speech Love!


More links to helpful resources for Congressional Debate:

NSDA Competition Guide:

Resources from Allen:

Download DOC • 28KB
Congress-Placard-Template (3)
Download DOCX • 45KB
Download DOC • 28KB
Bill-Word (5)
Download DOC • 35KB

How to format Congress Legislation by Will Aepli and Josh Hansen:

Congressional Debate Drills from NSDA:

Congressional Debate Guide from NSDA:

What to expect in Congress from a Student's Perspective from NSDA:

Congress Resources from Judge Training:

Parliamentarian Instructions from NSDA:

Congress Resources from

Sample Congress Ballot from NSDA:


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