In-Round Communication Tips

By Russell Leibowitz, Brandeis University  2014

One of the most undervalued debate skills is being able to work well with a partner. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be easily taught or explained, but rather is something that develops from doing consistent practice with another debater. There are however some ways you can work to minimize the amount of time it takes to learn how to work well with someone.

Every person has a different way that they prefer arguments to be passed to them, so it’s important to adapt to the other person’s style and to be willing to compromise on how you’re used to doing things. For instance, some people hate when their partner explains arguments to them aloud while others much prefer that to passing notes.

The first thing to think about when making your strategic choice is how heavily you and your partner value attentiveness to the opposition’s arguments. Many debaters believe that the most effective form of communication between two debaters is simply to talk to each other about the ongoing debate. This strategy has a few advantages. The most important of those benefits is that it’s quick: speaking is almost always faster than writing a note and having the other person read it. While it seems counter-intuitive, the total number of arguments you miss are actually fewer in number this way than when you write notes. Furthermore, it has the additional benefit of being more precise. The person explaining an argument can easily answer any questions and can even help to indicate where to place the argument.

Another frequently used method of communication is passing notes. This strategy enables the disruption to occur when you want, because you can control when you read the note. Additionally, it prevents there from being a time when both debaters aren’t paying attention. While one person is writing a note, the other is flowing and when one person is reading the note, the other is listening again. This can help to minimize the number of important arguments that are missed.

Once you decide which method of communication you’re using, you need to decide how you want to communicate. I’m going to discuss this from the perspective of each speaker:

PM: When you’re the PM, your only responsibility after PMC is to write the PMR. This means that you have a significant amount of time available to help the MG prepare responses. One technique that is useful to employ is looking at your partner’s flow. Watch what your partner is writing down. This way, if the MG misses a critical argument, you can make sure it is added to the flow. The same goes in terms of helping come up with responses. If you think of something your partner doesn’t have on the flow, you can recognize that and have it added. This saves time because it prevents you from repeating arguments that your partner is already dealing with.

LO: After LOC, there isn’t a significant amount of time to prepare LOR. What that means is that communicating with the MO is often a secondary priority after writing the rebuttal speech. That being said, it’s important always be in-tune with what the MG is adding to the round, so when you hear something of importance, check the MO’s flow to make sure it’s on there. Use your perspective as the rebuttal speaker to make sure the MO’s focus is going to be consistent with your advocacy and that you’re on the same page.

MG: The MG should make sure to take notes on the MO’s new arguments to give to the PM as needed. This enables the PM to focus on writing the rebuttal speech instead of having to spend time listening to parts of the MO’s speech that either aren’t relevant or are repetitive of LOC.

MO: The MO should make sure to keep a good flow of PMC to help the LO. This enables the LO to focus on writing off-case knowing that the MO’s flow can be a resource to help with on-case. It’s also often beneficial to note potential responses to PMC on your flow as an MO so you can feed them to the LO when needed.

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