The Best Way to Improve

By: Young Seol, Brown University 2014

One of the best ways to improve as a debater, particularly for novices without any prior debate experience, is to simply watch lots of debate rounds. Many high-level rounds are collected online at Passively watching rounds will only do so much, however. This article is intended to provide a guide on how to make the most out of your debate viewing experience, whether online or live spectating an outround.

To start, merely watching a large number of rounds will give you a good sense of the kind of rhetoric used on APDA (e.g. “On our side of the house…” or “Mr. Speaker…”), which is especially useful for debaters new to parliamentary debate. However, be careful not to learn any common debate tics that merely distract from a speech instead of enhancing it. For example, many debaters like to use “right?” in the middle of arguments to fill time or create a false sense of persuasiveness.

If you know how to flow, you should flow the round as if you were judging it; the tactile experience will help you remember more about the arguments from the round, and it will also improve your flowing skills. You should also pay attention to how and when teams ask POIs (Points of Information) to each other during a round, and how good debaters handle them. Oftentimes, debaters will stay standing for POIs for a bit before they are allowed to talk by the speaker. Try to think of what POIs you might ask at that moment in the round if you see a debater in a video stand up to ask one.

For more advanced lesson techniques, pretend to be the LO in every round, flowing the PMC and writing a mock LOC before you hear the one actually given. If you can, try delivering an 8-minute speech with what you have written by the time the PMC ends, and then compare what you said with what was actually said in the round. POCs (Points of Clarification) can be difficult to hear on a lot of videos, but you should try to think about what POCs you might ask as Opp and how you would handle them if you were the PM.

You should also try to develop a good “round sense.” Round sense is the ability to identify the important issues in a round and, to an extent, predict what issues will be emphasized by future speeches. Round sense is absolutely critical in giving effective rebuttal speeches that can turn around a losing round. You can help develop round sense in a number of ways. First, try to predict what kinds of arguments the LOC will make based on the POCs and POIs asked during the PMC. Doing so will help improve your case writing and MG skills. If you can, try to come up with an effective overview the LOC could have used to highlight any critical flaws in the case; leading with such overviews will give you a significant amount of starting momentum, which can help you win the round.

During the LOC, you should pretend to be the MO and think of arguments the MG might make and responses to those arguments. Especially at a higher level of debate, many MGs have arguments (“MG spikes”) prepared that make the case much stronger than it initially appeared during the PMC. Predicting these is crucial to giving good Opp speeches that don’t fall into Gov traps. Strong cases can also seem purposefully weaker in the PMC so that the LOC does not make a tight call; predicting strong MG spikes will help you avoid wishing you’d called a case tight during the MG. Similarly, the best tight call LOCs are oftentimes those that predict MG arguments not yet made, thereby adding extra constructive material to the case.

You should also think of ways to expand the LOC’s arguments while it is being given, so that any MO speech you give isn’t repetitive. You can do so by adding new warrants (reasons why an argument is true) or impacts (reasons why an argument is important) to arguments that the LOC made or by adding brand new arguments the LOC didn’t think of at all. If you do come up with such new arguments, you should generally also think of ways to disguise the fact that they are new arguments, as the PMR has the ability to respond to new arguments made in the MO. By mixing new MO arguments into an overview at the start of your MO speech or taglining a new argument as an extension of an LOC argument, it makes it that much less likely the PMR will notice or dare to respond to it (and even if they do, you might still win a Point of Order calling that PMR response new in front of the judge). Organization is critical here.

While watching the member speeches of an online round, you should focus on maintaining a clean flow, particularly because high-level debaters tend to be more flexible in adding overviews or rearranging the flow, so that arguments are not necessarily made and responded to in the order they appeared in the previous speech. Additionally, start thinking of possible areas of clash to highlight in rebuttal for each side. During the MG, therefore, you should be thinking both about how the MO might respond to the MG’s arguments and about how the PMR might seek to capitalize on them.

During the MO, your main priorities should be thinking about the rebuttal speeches. The LOR has significantly less time to prep than the PMR does, so you need to have better round sense to identify important winning issues and preempt probable PMR collapses. The PMR is easier to write in terms of focusing on important issues, but Gov (both PM and MG) must be vigilant about identifying new arguments made in MO that need to be responded to in PMR.

Lastly, during the rebuttal speeches, try to see how the issues you identified as important throughout the round (e.g. from your overview preparation earlier) are discussed in the actual speeches that were given. You should ask yourself, “What issues will win me the round? What issues are enough for them to win?” It’s important to manage your time so that your rebuttal doesn’t just ignore the other team’s good arguments while still not sounding too defensive because you spent too much time responding to them. Good rebuttals should distill the round; don’t try to capture everything on the flow, just what matters. Seek to convince the judge that your interpretation of the round is correct, even if you might be losing on the flow. Also think about how the rebuttal you had in mind differs from the one actually given; how is yours stronger or weaker? What could you have incorporated from the online round into your speech?

Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once! Videos can be stopped and played again; start small and work your way towards developing a good round sense, and much of this process will come naturally. Moreover, don’t treat online videos as gospel; while the debaters in them are certainly good, they are not perfect. Don’t necessarily think that an argument made in the round was the best possible argument. Finally, although you should try to watch as many rounds as possible, a good place to start is here particularly if you want to work on improving on a specific speech or position.

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