This is a guest post by Isaiah McPeak of Ethos Debate.
I’ve been coaching debate since 2003. Tactics and strategies have come in and out of style. Giovanni asked me to identify some tactics that are underused right now but should be used more often.
Here’s what I came up with! Hope it helps 🙂
1. Leading CX Questions
It seems like every time I do a live replay analysis of a round with my students, we identify that the student thought he/she was asking leading questions, but was actually asking open-ended questions.
The key point is this: a leading question always reveals the opinion of the questioner, so that the questioner is the one educating the judge.
Phrase it like this: ([claim] in brackets)
- “Isn’t it true that [the social contract explains most governments],”
- “and I have concluded [examples of rehabilitation vary wildly in form], could you agree with that?”
- “wouldn’t you agree that [justice is not satisfied when an injustice has gone unbalanced]?”
NOT like this:
- “Does the [social contract explain most governments]?”
- “Do you think [examples of rehabilitation vary wildly in form]?”
- “What is justice?”
For more on Leading CX Questions like a lawyer, watch this awesome video from debate dad and “I’ve argued at the Supreme Court” lawyer Jordan Lorence.
2. Refute by Rebuilding Initial Points
Most 1ARs that I see–whether team or LD debates–are a rundown of responses to negative arguments. This approach glorifies the NEG arguments and puts your side on their turf.
Instead, look back to your original 1AC/AC outline and attempt to rebuild it. Perceive all NEG arguments as attempting to “break” the original case, but that if you can rebuild said case you have a prima facie reason to support the resolution–that’s why you wrote it that way.
So turn your 1AR into re-establishing that Point 1 is still true, Point 2 is still there enough to base your decision on it, etc etc. You still refute your opponent’s arguments, but you refute them as mere objections to your case.
3. State the Resolution Often
The ONE thing nervous judges know is that the resolution created the debate. They don’t know the topic word-for-word most of the time, but they do know that a topic is important. Yet, most debaters I see debate mention the topic once in the first constructives and never again.
A strong impact statement goes like this:
- …and that’s why the farmers of America will be hurt. (most debaters end here)
- So you can confidently vote against changing our food safety and agriculture policy, siding with NEG against today’s debate topic.
That may sound boring to you, but it’s what judges are begging for (they just don’t know the words for it) when they say before the round to “be clear.”
4. Argue from White Space
Many intermediate debaters who should be advanced or national-class bump into a flowing ceiling. They aren’t flowing directly and clearly enough to identify not just what opponents have argued but also what they have not. It is from these “have not disputed” sorts of arguments that national-class debaters draw a simple, winning strategy: argue that the unaddressed argument is the “most important one” and outweighs all the others, so you can vote already before even hearing refutation.
I used this tactic to beat speed and spreaders in college debate, who debated like they do in this video while we were speaking at a normal rate. Arguing “importance” from the white space staring you in the face on the flow is a key tactic you should prioritize.
5. Win with Disadvantages
In sales they say “sell to pain.” It means that if you can articulate the problem your potential customer is experiencing, they immediately side with you on something “negative” to look towards something “positive” that you probably offer.
Disadvantages are THE negative argument that wins debate rounds. It articulates the pain you can sell against, whether you’re selling the status quo, a counterplan, or your side of a value debate resolution.
Here are some example disadvantages for each major homeschool topic. Not saying they’re great. They’re examples of disadvantages in action.
- China policy: Americentrist DA – U.S. unilateral actions that do not consider China’s (and the world’s) perceptions of U.S. activity doom us to massive long-term problems, even if AFF action today feels right.
- Agriculture policy: Inconsistency DA – Taking this action may feel right in our walnuts policy, but its essential that our walnuts, avocados, sugars, eggs, and EVERYTHING operate from a harmonious philosophy and regulatory structure. Vote against cases that do not establish consistent, harmonious agro-wide policies.
- Rehabilitation vs. Retribution: Vigilantism DA – When the scales of justice are not restored, individual police officers and families will secretly or openly make sure justice was done, because “he needed killin’”.
- Needs of the Public vs. Private Property Rights: Corruption DA – Providing the government a direct line of authority to take property for anything deemed “necessity” is a blank check to anyone in authority who can articulate that their pet project or point of view is a “necessity.” There’s no balancing that blank check with rights.
6. Use Original Points as Voters
Instead of multiplying complexity in the round by adding newly-named “voting issues” in the final speeches, try making your ORIGINAL points – with their exact. same. names. – your voting issues.
If in the 1NC you ran a disadvantage titled “U.S. Food Security Lost” then your first NEG voting issue should be “U.S. Food Security Lost.” If your AFF case has a contention titled “Retribution Answers Harm with Harm,” then your 2AR voting issue should not be some synonym (“festival of pain”), but instead exactly and only “Retribution Answers Harm with Harm.”
7. “Even If…”
Drawing upon persuasive inoculation theory, the “even if” argument is one of your most powerful tools as a debater. It allows you to write the judge’s ballot for them.
After you make your argument, try admitting that perhaps your opponent said something intelligent that the judge may find compelling. Name it, say how it seems strong, but even if you buy that, here’s how it’s still ok to vote for your side.
That’s a way to “lose but win” – and if you can’t articulate how you should still succeed despite a good argument, how do you expect your audience to do that for you?
Advanced debate is all about improving on the margins. You should be edging out opponents in 51%/49% victories, not shock and awe. Recognizing that winning margins at higher levels are typically close, brushing up on the little tactics that lead to success are your best bet.