Two weeks ago, the Miscellany News published an article in its Features section that profiled the Toastmasters Club (Miscellany News, “Toastmasters club sharpens public speaking prowess,” 02.05.13). I was struck by a particular passage in that article, which cited Victoria Qiu ‘14, a member of the Toastmasters: “There remains no club that is solely dedicated for the improvement of public speaking…You could take the Debate Club as having a similar goal however the atmosphere is completely different. Toastmasters provides a very supportive and non-judgmental venue…Most [debate] people talk so fast, you can’t hear them. You would not expect people to talk like that in the real world. But I think Toastmasters is definitely real.”
As President of the Vassar Debate Society, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions here. First, the Debate Society certainly promotes public speaking. The style of debate that we teach and compete in at Vassar, American Parliamentary Debate, prioritizes presentation, quality of argumentation and quick-thinking. That is, American Parliamentary Debate encourages its competitors to speak in a manner that the average person would understand, and frowns upon fast speaking (On a side note, and because I coach a form of high school debate that requires students to speak quickly: many top policy-makers, journalists, and businesspeople have participated in a form of debate where competitors speak at over 300 words per minute).
Second, though we compete in tournaments with judges, our practices (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p..m. in Rocky 307) are non-competitive and open to all Vassar students. People who debate come away with great public speaking skills, along with the ability to craft nuanced, well-structured arguments.
—Zack Struver ’15