By Alex Adia, Brown University ’18
The MO’s Role in the Round
The MO is most often described as the most flexible speech in the round. The PMC is pre-written, and the LOC’s job is to lay out the groundwork and outline the strategy that Opp will take in the round. The MG is the most rigid as Gov tries to overwhelm Opp to a point where they can’t come back, and both rebuttal speeches are designed to do the bulk of the weighing to win the round. That leaves the MO speech. The MO’s job is to provide the “push” that Opp needs to win rounds (unsurprisingly, it’s hard to beat pre-written cases in just seven minutes and thirty seconds of prep time unless you’re one of the best LOs on APDA); what that push looks like and how to determine that will be outlined in this article.
Organizing the Round
Flowing the round with one piece of paper for the on case and one piece of paper for the off case is the most basic thing you can do as an MO. While the MO does not have to be as flow-heavy as the MG does, when you first start out keeping a clean, organized flow will help you structure your speech. As you start to get better, you will start to get more comfortable condensing the round into a few issues rather than sticking to the line-by-line, but the safe choice is to use a detailed flow of the rest of the round to help you as you start with any overviews, move down the off case, and then hit the on case. While this general advice can be applied to any other speech, in terms of MO specific advice, I like to keep extra pieces of printer paper with me to keep any other arguments I come up with any overviews for the round along with the issues to frame with each overview. Doing this helps me keep my flows less cluttered, but figure out what works best for you!
Winning by Knowing Where to Lose
Round sense, or understanding where your side is on the ballot at a given point in the debate round, is essential for winning rounds in the MO. By the time it’s your turn to speak, you’ve had the time it took for POIs and 25+ min of speeches to evaluate the case and your Opp advocacy. That time should be used to think about how your arguments interact with the case and how you can set up your LO to win the weighing in the rebuttals.
The best way to start developing your round sense early on is to evaluate the arguments that you’re considering using in your speech from the perspective of the judge. Is this an adequate response to what Gov said? Would I buy this weighing mechanism? Would I vote off this argument? Putting yourself in a judge’s shoes forces you to give adequate credit to Gov arguments while simultaneously forcing you to consider where to spend your time. It’s important to figure out where you should concede points or add only a response or two on the flow; it is not only impossible to get to everything said in the round, but it is also unlikely that everything Gov said was round-winning. A good way to determine what the PMR collapse might be is to pay attention to where the MG spent their time. If the MG spends a lot of time on a point in your partner’s LOC, there’s a good chance that will come up in the PMR. Understanding when to let a point go to fight for an argument more likely to be an RFD is important to developing as a good MO.
Knowing where to lose certain points gives you more time to focus on arguments and weighing that will win you the round. Generating a set of diverse, well-warranted arguments is the foundation upon which the rest of the MO is built. On that note, adding new argumentation in the MO is most effective when you can hide it among the arguments your LO has already made. While the PM can respond to MO arguments in the PMR, portraying your new warrants and impacts as simple extensions or further elaborations on ideas that your partner had previously presented can, at worst, make point of order calls on PMR responses toss-ups for judges and, at best, leave PMR with restricted ground to work with. To do this, figure out where the most similar lines of argumentation to your MO are in the LO. Naturally transitioning to your new material makes it more effective and keeps your speech consistent with the rest of the round. If you do choose to spend substantial time on new argumentation, make sure you aren’t cutting out important arguments in favor of “interesting” ones.
Weighing in both the overviews and during your speech is also essential. Getting a weighing mechanism out there as quickly as possible will sound more convincing to judges and will provide a framework that your LO can spend less time on in LOR. While there are already Novice Mentor articles on overviews and weighing that are helpful, weighing against the on case while you’re spending time on your off case is something to focus on. Going line-by-line and hitting everything of note on the on case during the back-end of your speech is incredibly tough. Instead, group portions of the on case and figure out where the clash is with the off case. Weighing between those issues and warranting why your portion is correct makes it a lot easier for the LO. Again, figuring out which parts of the case are going to be PMR collapses is key here; while your LO might drop parts of the on case, eliminate the drops that could be round-winning and ignore the ones that can’t be.
As a final note on round sense, taking a step back to evaluate the set of claims that an argument is predicated on can save you a lot of time. If a major argument has many warrants that are dependent on one another or has a few warrants that lead to many impacts, taking out one of the links can take out all the offense that flows from the point. All cases rely on a core set of assumptions that manifests themselves into different pieces of offense in the PMC, so figuring out the responses to those overarching assumptions could save you a lot of time.
Practice rounds are the best practice you can get at live experience in developing round sense, argument generation, and overall preparedness for the diverse set of cases that might get run on you. Watching videos online that the VTF has posted offers the chance to watch varsity debaters deliver great MOs in high quality rounds. Lastly, your varsity teammates will likely have advice on how to develop as an MO (that may differ from the tips in this article). Listen to them, spend the time on your skills, and you’ll be ready to give great MOs in no time.
Feel free to approach me at tournaments or contact me if you have any questions!