The only problem with this approach, a problem that I hope to remedy in this post, is that many debaters develop a habit of running too many arguments. They do this in order to fill up their time and make their coach happy.
Exceptions to the rule
I’ll start with some exceptions to make sure everyone is happy. I can already see the argument-hungry debaters starting out their comments with 10 reasons why I’m wrong. 🙂
1) If you’re struggling to fill up time as it is.
If you’re still learning to take eight minutes for a speech, it’s not necessarily bad for you to run more arguments to fill up the time. It’s just important to phase that out as you get better at filling up your time. So if you’re a novice who is still learning, just keep this as a note to self: don’t get addicted to large amounts of arguments.
2) If you’re being judged by someone who wants plenty of arguments.
College debaters or public school debaters are accustomed to having more arguments in a debate round. Sometimes they will debate on one argument for an entire round, but I think the majority of the time they’ll lean towards points. NCFCA/Stoa alumni will also be more interested in a large amount of points than your average judge.
3) If the case needs a lot of arguments to take down.
This is a sticky issue, because the line is a lot less clear cut in this case. Your opinion of how many arguments it takes to destroy a case will be different from mine.
In general, though, I tended to run more arguments in an impromptu round since I could only think of a lot of small arguments, not one position that decimates a case.
Cases that have no big arguments will probably take more points to take down. If you think about a case and find yourself saying “oh I’m not scared of that case because….. [insert point you like]”, then that argument is probably a big problem for the other team. Use it and a few other big ones and win the round.
Why run less arguments?
1) It makes the round simpler for the judge.
It is amazing how overwhelming a debate round can be for a judge. Even an experienced judge. I judged for the first time a couple of years ago, and found that when you’re not in the middle of the debate round yourself, it can be very hard to keep track.
You have to be thinking of who is the best speaker and why for speaker points, while flowing, while trying to figure out who you think is winning at the moment. Often times you’re not well-informed on the topic, as well. All this combines to make it very hard for the judge to follow a debate round.
By limiting your arguments, you are helping the judge understand your points.
2) Your points are usually not as clear as you think.
Have you ever had the opposing team completely misquote your argument and then refute their misquotation? Have you ever considered it might be because you weren’t clear enough?
When you have spent time researching an argument and developing it, you have certain thoughts and context in your head that helps you understand the argument. The other team, and more importantly the judge, has only the information you tell them.
Example: if you read 5 studies backing up your argument, you’ll be extremely confident that it is correct. But if the people listening don’t realize you read 5 studies backing you up, it won’t sound as convincing to them.
Sometimes you just need the extra time for each argument so you can make sure the judge is following you. Running less points helps with this.
3) It helps you speak conversationally.
Some of the most brilliant moments in debate are when teams explain a point for 5 minutes in a conversational tone, making the judge believe in the point so strongly that no refutation will take it down.
Conversational tones are generally slower and less high-pitched. They are much easier to listen to and much more persuasive.
Running less points helps you focus on building your points up with brilliant rhetoric. You can throw out a couple of catchphrases. You can slow down and speed up to add emphasis. You can do so much more if you just spend more time on each argument.
4) It helps you avoid bad arguments.
If you run less arguments, it forces you to prioritize and remove the less effective arguments. Debate is not like a shotgun—the more pellets you throw out there, the higher chance one of them will hit. These extra, weak arguments actually hurt your credibility.
If you spend time explaining an argument the judge can’t identify with, you’re not only losing valuable time for other arguments, you’re undermining your rapport with the judge.
Using the extra time
Once you’ve prioritized your arguments and removed the less effective ones, here are a few ideas for what you can do with the extra time.
1) Add rhetoric/catchphrases to arguments
Spend some time before the round coming up with catchy sayings that sum up your arguments. Rhyming and alliteration help make it memorable.
2) Spend more time explaining
There is a difference between your judge believing your argument, and understanding your argument. If you can get the judge to see exactly why you are right, it will be hard to convince them otherwise.
3) Spend more time impacting
I’ve seen some negative teams try to take down a case by running 5+ arguments per speech, without impacts. They just stated their argument, read evidence, and moved on.
There was nothing persuasive or powerful about their presentation. It was bland.
The other team had a well-formed strategy and philosophy, and completely ran over them.
4) [Insert other nice tactics here]
You can spend some time spiking arguments, spend time having a chit chat with your judge about the round, or spend time adding layers to your arguments. All of these are better uses of your time than running an overwhelming amount of arguments.
Try this out sometime. Take your negative strategy for a case, then cut it in half. Keep the strongest half.
Now arrange the points in such a way that they form a cohesive philosophy/theme for the round.
Get rid of any points that detract from this theme.
Use this new strategy in your next round. You’ll breath a sigh of relief when you realize you can slow down and focus on what is important rather than throwing out as many arguments as you can.