I used to find it frustrating when I knew in my head why the other team was wrong, but the judge just didn’t seem to get it. I’d complain to myself about the ballot afterwards, wondering how I could win that round next time.
One day, I was venting to a friend about how wrong the affirmative team’s case was, and he interrupted me and said, “did you tell the judge that?” That’s when it hit me. I was so focused on my debating persona that I was unwilling to just straight up tell the judge what was wrong with the case, as if the judge was my friend.
From that point on, I vowed that I would say bold, direct, conversational things if that was necessary to get the point across. That’s when I began improving from an okay speaker to one who really connected with the judge.
In summary, the idea I want to get across is that you should tell your judge what is wrong with an argument in a similar way to how you’d tell a friend it is wrong.
This sounds a bit disrespectful…
Obviously the tone and words you use with your friend will be completely different from what you use with a judge. But you’re smart, I’m sure you can figure out what I mean by talking to the judge as if they were your friend.
Too many debaters beat around the bush, or use soft words and language that don’t convey the importance of an issue. “Well, I disagree with this argument I believe [insert something here] is true.”
Why not try something different and say “The argument the negative team just made is extremely dangerous, and here’s why. It’s false because [x], and it’s also proven wrong by this quote [insert evidence]”
I’ve even told the judge an argument is “bad” before.
Hold on Mr. Potent Speaking. Aren’t we supposed to be polite?
Yes, by all means be polite, especially in cross-examination. However, there’s a line between being polite and being timid. Your demeanor, tone, and way of conducting yourself throughout the round should communicate a polite confidence so strongly that you can make statements like the ones above without looking like a jerk.
If you say “This is just a horrible argument” with a sour face expression, the judge is going to dislike you. But that’s not what I’m advocating.
I said very interesting things like “this case is bad” or “this argument is purposefully misleading” in nearly all my debate rounds where appropriate, and never once got a comment on a ballot saying I was mean or too direct. That’s because I was kind to the other team throughout the round, I smiled as I said some of these things, I cracked jokes, and I connected with the judge. In the context of the debate round, it wasn’t mean.
Some bold things to say
Example 1 – The case blatantly uses emotional appeals/judge bias
You’ve probably encountered an annoying case that uses emotional appeals to make the judge feel like voting affirmative. The dying children in Russia! The poor people being falsely accused of crimes! The dirty environmentalist agency in the UN manipulating people! All those poor military personnel can’t vote!
Instead of complaining to yourself about how hard these cases are to beat, just tell the judge what’s up. I did that in a round against military voting. I said something to the effect of:
One of the most difficult cases you can debate is one in which the goal of the case is noble and appeals to emotions. The affirmative team has presented the problem that many military personnel can’t vote because of various inefficiencies in our voting system. It’s easy in a case like this to make it look like we the negative team do not support the military voting. Obviously, that’s not true. We agree whole-heartedly that the military should be able to vote, and we believe it’s a good goal.
The difference between the negative and affirmative teams is not that one wants the military to vote and the other doesn’t. The only difference is that we as the negative team are looking at the issue realistically. And we recognize that no matter how noble the goal, the affirmative team’s plan simply will not and cannot work.
I want to spend the rest of my time showing you why, despite the fact that I agree with this goal, I believe you should avoid enacting their plan.
After I went through my solvency points, I concluded by bringing it back to the emotional appeal vs. realistic achievements standard at the end of my speech. We won and I got 29 speaker points.
The reason it works: it’s completely open and honest. It lets the judge see the frustration of being negative against a case like this, and it gets them on your side. It’s not whiny either; that would be counterproductive.
Example 2 – Winning with a significance point
Judges that are not experienced do not generally care about points that you label “the stock issue of significance”. It doesn’t mean much to them. Heck, judges with experience often nod off to significance arguments. After all, why should they vote against a case if it’s a good idea, no matter how small the effect?
You may be cringing at my logic, but this is the way a lot of people think. The way to get them to vote on significance is to tell them directly why it’s important. If they’re not nodding at your significance point, you can say something to the effect of:
I understand that an argument labeled “significance” doesn’t seem very important or groundbreaking, and it might seem a bit nit picky. I don’t like nit picky arguments either. But let me show you why this point is actually extremely important, and why you should vote negative on it even by itself. This case that we are discussing is absolutely tiny compared to what we could be discussing. We could be discussing [rattle off a list of big, interesting topics under the resolution], but instead we’re stuck here talking about [insert a very unflattering description of the affirmative case]. The NCFCA (or Stoa) wanted to avoid insignificant cases, so they added the word “significant” to the topic, or resolution.[there are plenty of other reasons to be significant, I won’t list them here but you can add to this]
This is a reason in and of itself to vote negative. If you vote affirmative, you send a message to the debaters that it’s okay to use an insignificant case, in violation of the words in the resolution.
It’s a bit confrontational at the end there, but I think “sending the right message” is a pretty good impact.
Example 3 – Calling out the neg/aff strategy for what it is
Sometimes you know exactly what the opposing team is trying to do, what kind of persuasive techniques they’re using. A good amount of the time, the judge doesn’t realize, and it’s your job to expose it to them.
One team I debated kept asking detail questions about our case, trying to make us look like we didn’t have important details. They then told the judge that their job as the negative team is to create doubt about the affirmative case, and if the judge is confused at all or doubts the case in any way, she should vote negative.
This bothered me because it’s extremely easy to create doubt as the negative team, especially when asking irrelevant questions that the affirmative team can’t answer. So I told the judge, instead of beating around the bush.
The negative team has been asking a lot of questions about the details in our case. For example, they’ve been pushing very hard for us to come up with a list of federal judges that we will use for the reformed agency we are proposing. But this is a debate round, not a job interview. [yes I actually said that] We’re not here to discuss the names of judges, we’re here to discuss the idea.
In fact, [insert first name of neg debater] even said ‘if you doubt their case in any way, vote negative’.
I want to show you what the negative strategy is. What they’re doing is asking several irrelevant, nit picky questions about our case, making the round confusing. Then they tell you if you’re confused or doubt our case, you should vote negative. That’s their strategy.
The negative team needs to stop asking questions, and start making arguments. Debate is not about confusing questions and doubting cases, it’s about well-reasoned argumentation.
This worked, the judge gave me first in the room with the comment “very confident”. This was an elderly lady and she didn’t say anything about being impolite or confrontational. Further proof that saying bold things is 100% worth it.
Example 4 – You don’t have much evidence compared to the affirmative
There are many things you can do in this kind of situation, and I’ll talk about more of them in later posts, but the bold approach would be to say:
The affirmative team has been making a big issue out of the fact that they have more evidence than we do. It’s certainly true, but it doesn’t matter as much as they want you to believe it does. Logic is more important than evidence, and if you look at their quotes, you see assertions by people with ‘credentials’, but not analysis or logic. Meanwhile we’ve presented several reasonable arguments for why [insert your arguments].
Throughout this round we’ve provided only a few quotes, and we don’t plan to provide much more. We’re willing to admit we have very little evidence because we recognize that debate is a logical exercise, and we’re able to disprove the affirmative team’s quotes by simply using reasonable arguments. I urge you to look at which argument makes more sense, not which one has the most PhD’s behind it.
As I said, there are other things you can mention when discussing this topic, but this is just one example.
I wrote this post because in many of my tips I’ll recommend saying something that is often a bold statement like the ones above. I don’t want you to think “oh that’s just too riveting to actually say in round.” As long as you have a good rapport with the judge, you can pull it off.
Three important notes:
1. Don’t be dumb about this. If you’re rude the judge will not like it. This post isn’t advocating being rude. Also, consider your rapport with the judge and whether they are the type that might get offended.
2. This isn’t a license for manipulation. Don’t excuse saying something rude just because you think the judge will let it slide. That’s not okay.
3. Be genuine! Don’t use my quotes, say them how you would actually say them. And don’t say it if it’s not natural to you. My examples are here purely for guidance and example.
If you’re planning to close this tab and not try it, I encourage you to reconsider. Commit to trying it for a tournament, even if it feels a bit awkward at first. If done correctly, it will work.