Public Speaking for Judges (Part Two)

Posted in NEWS on May 18, 2004

By Wizards of the Coast

Another weekend, another tournament - but this time, you're the head judge. You're comfortable with your rules knowledge. You've refreshed your memory with the Penalty Guidelines. You have some ideas for how to keep things moving. You've even made notes about the informative announcements you will be making to your players throughout the day.

But what happens when you actually stand up there in front of the handfuls, dozens or maybe even hundreds of players? When you open your mouth, does your voice come ringing out clearly, or do all your carefully worded announcements come tumbling out unintelligibly?

Knowing what to say when you’re running a tournament is only part of the battle. What you say won’t matter at all if you aren’t able to make yourself heard and understood when you speak. Some judges are blessed with naturally loud, clear voices, but not everyone is. Even if you don’t have a thundering voice, there are some things you can do to improve your clarity and audibility.

This is actually part of a series of two articles on announcements and how to make them written by two different judges. This second part - on public speaking techniques - was written by Ingrid Lind-Jahn. The first article, regarding what announcements to make and when to make them, was written by Chris Richter. The information in both these articles can apply to announcements made at tournaments of any sizes, whether you're using just your own voice or amplification.

Get their attention

This is at least half the battle in and of itself. If people are paying attention to you, you won’t need to expend quite so much energy in getting yourself heard for the rest of your announcements. However, this can be a challenge in its own right. The next time you’re at a Magic tournament, observe how the noise levels among the players fluctuate. Right after everyone starts playing, the room is at its most quiet level because everyone is playing rather than talking. As more and more matches finish, the ambient noise level gradually increases. It will tend to be at its maximum during the time when there are no players playing – which, of course, is also the time when you will be making most of your announcements.

Some people have a natural advantage in their ability to get players’ attention. Our local tournament organizer, Steve Port, is known all over the region for his incredibly piercing whistles. (Visit one of his PTQ’s or Prereleases some time and watch as he looks like he’s going to do one of his whistles. His experienced judges and players cover their ears, and some of the more canny players will even duck their heads under the table.) If the first whistle doesn’t grab everyone’s attention, usually the threat to do it again will.

Even if you aren’t endowed with a piercing whistle or a commanding presence, you can still get players’ attention. First of all, move to the front and center of the venue. The best spot may actually depend on just how everything is set up. You want to be clearly visible, and you need to be facing your players. Don’t lurk back behind the computers, even if you are going to be doing scorekeeping as well.

Have a presence. Stand up straight and try to feel as though you are on center stage. Take a few seconds to look over the whole crowd of people. When I was learning to give speeches in high school, this was called “polarizing your audience.” If you can deliberately catch the eye of even a few people, they’ll be aware that you’re going to speak.

Then ask for their attention. You need their attention before you make an announcement. It takes a while for people who are talking to realize that someone else is talking, and that it might be something they need to listen to. Making a general request such as, “May I have your attention,” gives them time to realize that someone is talking so they are more likely to be paying attention when you actually have some information to impart.

Speak slowly

Public speaking is different from conversational speaking. All of us are used to talking – human beings are social animals and we talk quite a bit. Usually we talk with friends or family who are used to our speech patterns. We can talk quite rapidly in that sort of situation and the people we’re talking with can still understand us.

When it comes to public speaking, though, our normal speech patterns aren't usually clear enough. Some people will understand us; others won't. And if players don't understand your announcements, they tend to assume they already know what you're saying, or that it isn’t that important anyway. Once people stop listening to you, they may start talking, and all that does is make it even more difficult for others to hear you.

It isn't unusual to feel nervous or hurried when you're making announcements and trying to get a tournament going. The natural tendency, though, is to speak more quickly. This is counterproductive - it makes you less easy to understand. You need to resist this tendency and consciously try to speak more slowly than you do in normal conversation. This helps to make your speech patterns more understandable, and it also gives your speech tones time to form fully. You don’t need to slow down so much that it sounds exaggerated. Usually, if you just think of talking slowly and you slow down just enough that you can tell it is slow for you, that’s about the right speed.


Many people think that in order to make themselves heard, they only need to talk more loudly. This, too, is a natural tendency, especially if we can see that people are not listening or do not seem to understand us. Volume can help, but it’s not usually enough. The clarity of your speech is what makes the difference in its being intelligible all the way to the back corners of the room. You can strain your vocal cords all you like, but if your speech isn’t clear, all the volume in the world won’t help anyone understand what you’re trying to say. Actors on stage talk about being able to project to the back of the theatre – something very different from shouting.

Most words are formed out of combinations of vowels and consonants. The vowels are where the volume is. If you just talk more loudly, you’re emphasizing the vowels in the words. The actual defining word sounds, though, come with the consonants. They shape the words. It is difficult to change the volume of most consonant sounds in speech. To get increased clarity, you need to be able to do something with your consonants.

That something is called enunciation. To enunciate well, you need to make the main consonants in your words as clear as possible. Most of us, in our conversational speech, are sloppy with enunciation. The words come tumbling out quickly and fluidly, and we may gloss over some sounds or take shortcuts in making them. It’s fine in normal conversation – most everyone talks like that and our ears are used to compensating. In public speaking, though, it doesn’t work. While the people closest to you will understand what you’re saying, those in the back of the room will only hear muted, garbled words.

To enunciate properly takes a little bit of time – but that you have because you’re already thinking of speaking slightly more slowly. Pronounce all your main consonants clearly. Hit them solidly.

Yes, it will sound funny. You might think you sound like a retired English teacher. Don’t use this in normal conversation – your friends might think you’re odd, being very insistent about something, or trying to start an argument. But when it comes to making announcements to a crowd, it is the way to be understood.

Lower your pitch

Higher frequency sounds are a little harder for most people to hear than lower frequency sounds. Also, if one is feeling at all stressed, or under pressure, or is trying to hard to talk loudly, one tends to speak in a slightly higher pitch. Compensate for this by trying to speak somewhat more deeply. Again, as with all these suggestions, you don’t need to overdo it. You don’t need to go for dramatic effect, such as trying to sound like the voice of doom. Just lower your voice enough that you’re thinking about it, and that should be sufficient.


We all know how to breathe. Breathing is a natural, involuntary muscular function that we don’t even need to think about from day to day. However, anyone who has done any acting, singing or playing a wind instrument knows that there is another way to breathe.

Musicians and actors use diaphragmatic breathing to control their breath. That is how they keep the sound even in their speech, singing or playing throughout the entire breath, rather than having a burst of sound at the beginning, tapering away to a gasp as their lungs empty. Controlling your rate of air flow will help with the projection of your speech, supporting your sound better so that it can carry across the room.

Basically, what you want to do is inhale deeply, from the diaphragm, filling your lungs up from the bottom to the top. This gets more air into your lungs than just breathing from your chest. Instead of feeling like your shoulders are going up when you breathe, it should feel more like your stomach is going outward.

And then, when you are speaking, think of letting the air out from the top of your lungs first, gradually squeezing more out from the bottom. Also think of rationing it, using just what you need to be able to speak at the volume you want, rather than using more air than you actually do need.

Practice this at home alone until you get comfortable with the idea of breathing from your diaphragm when you have to. You don't need to breathe like this all the time, but knowing how to do it can really help for those few minutes here and there when you need to make yourself heard.


Depending on the size of the event, you may have some sort of amplification available. Even if you do, the above tips are still useful. Amplification, after all, can only make you louder; it can't improve your intelligibility.

There are some additional tips you can consider if you are using amplification, whether it's a full PA system, a microphone with a single speaker, or a bullhorn. First of all, practice with it briefly. Be comfortable with what you're using and know how to use it. Figure out where the switches are. If there are adjustments that can be made, know how to make them. If you're using a microphone, you probably don't need to hold it very close to your mouth, but equipment varies - try it out at least once before you actually need to use it for your announcements.

When you do make your announcements for the first time, ask if everyone can hear you. Then pay attention to their responses. It also helps to station some other judges at the far end of the room to give you some sort of obvious visible signal as to whether you can be heard or not. If people can't hear you - adjust. Also, don't move the microphone too close to the speakers; it can cause feedback.


Like anything other skill, speaking this way is something you need to practice. Practicing in your room helps, but practicing in a large room or event hall is better, albeit a touch embarrassing. The best option is to practice outside, when you are doing something that has you and friends a distance apart (e.g. playing Frisbee, whatever.) Instead of shouting, use the occasion to try out your “judge voice.”

In summary

Be observant and pay attention to your speech. We take our speech for granted - it comes to us naturally, after all. Better yet, pay some attention to the speaking techniques of others, especially those who are good public speakers.

It is possible for anyone to speak better in public. All of the above tips are something you can learn, and most of them take minimal practice. If you can learn them all, your speech clarity should improve quite a bit. Even if you only learn one or two of them, your speaking should improve noticeably, and that can only make it easier for you when running an event.

One final note - if you haven't already, be sure to read the first part in this series of articles on public speaking for judges written by Chris Richter. He covers the nuts and bolts of what sorts of announcements may need to be made at tournaments of all kinds, as well as when are the best times throughout the event to make these announcements.

Ingrid Lind-Jahn, Level 2