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NSDA National Conference

About the Free Virtual Conference

As the national authority on public speaking and debate, the National Speech & Debate Association is proud to invite you to the 2021 NSDA National Conference, a free conference advocating for more equitable and inclusive speech and debate communities. The conference is an opportunity for hundreds of coaches, educators, and community members across the country to learn from experts, connect with peers, and grow as professionals.

The National Conference will be held online August 3-5, 2021, and is entirely free. Any interested adult is welcome to attend, regardless of their NSDA membership status.

2021 Online National Speech and Debate Conference

Don’t forget to also pre-register to attend one of our seven coaches’ caucuses!

Schedule Outline

We are continually adding new sessions, speakers, and details! Check back for updates and mark your calendar with the general session outline to save the date.

Time – Central August 3 August 4 August 5
8:30 a.m. Central   Latinx Coaches’ Caucus  
10:00 a.m. Central
30 min break
African American/Black Coaches’ Caucus Womxn Coaches’ Caucus People with Disabilities Coaches’ Caucus
11:30 a.m. Central Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus LGBTQ+ Coaches’ Caucus Asian Coaches’ Caucus
1:00 p.m. Central
15 min break

Keynote – Elijah Smith

Community-Wide Town Hall: Growing and Supporting Programs

Keynote – Denise Young

2:15 p.m. Central
15 min break
Professional Development Sessions Keynote – Alex Shevrin Venet: “What Can One Coach Really Do About Trauma? Transforming Our Teams with Trauma-Informed Education”

Community-Wide Town Hall: The Future of Online Competition

3:30 p.m. Central

Community-Wide Town Hall: Recruiting and Training Judges

Professional Development Sessions

Professional Development Sessions

Keynote Speakers

Elijah Smith
Alex Shervin Venet
Denise Young Smith
Elijah Smith
    • Director, Rutgers University–Newark Debate Team
    • Biography – coming soon!
Alex Shervin Venet
    • Keynote Title: What can one coach really do about trauma? Transforming our teams with trauma-informed education
    • Many of our students experience trauma, and it can be overwhelming to figure out what we should do about it as educators. But we have more influence than we realize. Learn how trauma-informed education can help transform our learning spaces and be a driver for change – and fit in with what you’re already doing. You’ll leave with an understanding of the big picture, key concepts, and a jumping-off point for further learning. 
Denise Young
    • Denise Young Smith recently closed a brilliant two—decade career with Apple and is currently serving as only the second executive-in-residence at the new Cornell Tech( Cornell Ithaca’s graduate school campus in Manhattan). At Cornell Tech, Denise is a visiting scholar and a key cultural influencer at this unique institution, on the imperative of true diversity, representation, inclusion, and humanity in technology… drawing on her passion to positively impact the next generation of business and tech leaders and entrepreneurs.

      Denise held a variety of executive roles at Apple, including building much of the company’s retail store initiative, taking the chain to over 400 stores globally before being promoted to the Chief HR role, reporting to Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook. She served also as Apple’s first ever vice president of inclusion and diversity, leading the company’s efforts to see its full ecosystem become as inclusive as possible. Denise has been named a “Most Powerful Woman” by Ebony Magazine and Black Enterprise, has been named one of “100 Most Influential in Silicon Valley” by Business Insider, and has been featured in Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women” issue.

Community-Wide Town Halls

The Future of Online Competition

More details coming soon!

Recruiting and Training Judges

More details coming soon!

Growing and Supporting Programs

More details coming soon!

Professional Development Breakout Sessions

We are still working to build an excellent assortment of professional development breakout sessions for this year’s conference. The schedule below is subject to change to meet the needs of our presenters and attendees, please check back for updates!

August 3

Hosting Equitable Tournaments and Implementing Equity Panels

In the past few years, tournament directors have sought to make their tournaments safer for all participants by implementing equity panels and other inclusive tournament practices. This panel, led by those who have had experience doing so, will discuss lessons learned, strategies to implement, and ideas for future tournaments. 

Panel moderated by Dr. J. Scott Baker, Assistant Professor, UW-La Crosse

    • Featuring:
      • Angelique Ronald, Vice President of Activities – California High School Speech Association, CA
      • Renea Moss, Founder and Creative Director – Fortlo Academy, FL
      • Crawford Leavoy, Director of Speech & Debate – Durham Academy, NC
      • Kristy Thomas, DEI Consultant & Educator, MO
Scott Baker

Reflecting Back: Alumni Voices on Their Unique Experiences in the Activity

A student’s identity often impacts the experience they have in competitive speech and debate. In this session, a small panel of former competitors will share their stories and experiences of their time in speech and debate. By listening to, reflecting upon, and growing from these experiences, all members of the speech and debate community can benefit from this session.

Panel moderated by Eli Woody, NSDA Membership Assistant and One-Diamond Coach

    • Featuring:
      • Daniel Arjona-Hau, Strive Prep SMART Academy, CO (class of 2020)
      • Emily Guidry, Comeaux High School, LA (class of 2019)
      • Michael Franklin, Sumner Academy, KS (class of 2017)
      • Kalese Warfield, Topeka High School, KS (class of 2017)
      • Kalani Seymore, James Logan HS, CA (class of 2021)
      • Cobin Szymanski, St. Michael Albertville HS, MN (class of 2021)

Springboard for Opportunities: Using the NSDA’s Expanded Springboard Free-Tournament Series to Support and Grow Speech and Debate Programs

Thanks to the generosity of The Julia Burke Foundation, the online Springboard Series has been expanded. During the 2021-2022 school year, the Springboard Series will provide a variety of opportunities including free online after-school scrimmages and two weekend tournaments. Both speech and debate events will be offered for current high school and middle school students. Events will offer a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous speech and debate opportunities. This session will provide more information on how to get involved and ideas for how to use this program to grow and support your team!

Session led by Lauren Burdt, NSDA Competition Manager

August 4

Applying Trauma-Informed Practices to Your Speech and Debate Team: Responding, Disrupting, and Preventing Trauma

In this workshop, we’ll dig into the “how” of trauma-informed practices. Alex will share a framework for infusing your planning with trauma awareness. We’ll also have time for discussion and questions as we apply our learning. 

Keynote Extension session led by Alex Shevrin Venet

Alex Shervin Venet

The Role of Content and Trigger Warnings in Debate: An Exploratory Discussion

Throughout academia and competitive forensics, content warnings (also called trigger warnings) are used to prepare participants and observers before potentially upsetting or sensitive content/themes are discussed, debated, or performed. The goal of these sessions is to provide a time for discussion, listening, and concern raising among colleagues. 

Discussion facilitated by: Benjamin Hagwood, Director of Debate at BL Debate Academy – Executive Director of NSDA Vancouver and Alyssa Fiebrantz, Director of Speech and Debate – NSU University School, FL

Benjamin Hagwood

Topic Writing and Decision Making through an Equity Lens

As the NSDA strives to become more inclusive and equitable, we are reevaluating the process for selecting topics for students to debate. This session will share how the NSDA has worked to incorporate equity with intentionality this spring and our lessons learned. This session will provide insight for those on a similar journey—be it on their own teams, as part of their local leagues, or even at the statewide level.

Session led by Nicole Wanzer-Serrano, NSDA Director of Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Dr. Ed Lee III, Senior Director Of The Alben W. Barkley Forum For Debate, Deliberation, And Dialogue


Nicole Wanzer-Serrano
Ed Lee

August 5

The Role of Content and Trigger Warnings in Speech: An Exploratory Discussion

Throughout academia and competitive forensics, content warnings (also called trigger warnings) are used to prepare participants and observers before potentially upsetting or sensitive content/themes are discussed, debated, or performed. The goal of these sessions is to provide a time for discussion, listening, and concern raising among colleagues. 

Discussion facilitated by: Justin Kurup – James Logan High School, CA and Daniel Hodges, Speech Coach – Apple Valley High School & Sr. Development Manager – EdAllies, MN

Justin Kurup
Daniel Hodges

Reunited & It Feels So Good: Navigating Students with Anxiety in the Classroom and Competitive Space

The students who pivoted and quickly turned virtual in March of 2020 are now returning with plenty of newly, un-researched stressors in hand. Counselor Adeyemi’s interactive session will define stress and anxiety, dive into some of the stressors your students are facing, and explore how to create an atmosphere that fosters mental health and wellness. Adeyemi will provide strategies, and tips to alleviate stressors through speaking to your students about what they have experienced utilizing group activities, exercises, and techniques you can use throughout the coming academic/competitive season and beyond. Attendees will leave with nuggets of practical and workable solutions as we enter into unchartered territories stronger, better, and together!

Session led by Lillian Adeyemi, Texas Certified School Counselor, Two-Diamond Coach, and Seven Lakes High School Director of Forensics (TX)

Lillian Adeyemi

Closing Chat: An Opportunity for Open Discussions with the NSDA Board of Directors

In this roundtable style session, attendees are encouraged to drop in to chat with members of the NSDA Board of Directors. It is a time for questions, suggestions, and concern raising. Please note, these are public sessions, so private or sensitive matters may be best addressed at a later time. 

Big Questions: Earn Funds for Your Team! 2021-2022 Applications Open Soon!

Visit to learn more about Big Questions Debate, and how you can earn thousands of dollars to support your team!