Today’s post is written by a guest contributor, Charles Fisher. Charles is currently the Public Forum coach at Millard North in Omaha, NE. As a debater, he was a TOC Top Speaker in public forum in 2006, as well as a Nebraska State runner-up in public forum. He also competed in cross-x/policy debate, where he racked up a third-place State finish and a trip to NFL Nationals. In this article, Charles tells PFers how to structure a strong backbone for an awesome PF case, by borrowing a few techniques from CX.
Charles, getting his speaking on.
PF rounds can have a tendency to fatten up on misconstrued/shallow ideas and skirt the impacts/harms of the case right before hitting the bottleneck of the summary speech (and sometimes after). While it may seem like a necessary reaction to some cases, loading down the round with as many positive/negative stats or impacts on each side often leaves a judge with a whole lot of bloated flies to swat at going into their voting process. Barring an INCREDIBLE framework as to why your flies are the only one worth grabbing at with chopsticks, the round is left up in the air, and in the judges wavering hands, as opposed to securing the outcome by the successful machinations of your speaking. A 9pm semifinal round after a 16 hour day of travel and other rounds is NOT a great position to leave a loose ballot in the hands of a cranky judge.
PF doesn’t have the lengthy speech time of policy, or the upfront framework of LD, to be able to make sense of a tirade of evidence cards and off-case kritikal showboating. Here’s a better idea: pull some structure in from traditional policy rounds, and give your case, along with the whole round, a backbone on which to hang a clear narrative. The NFL may have scared everyone away from even thinking policy ‘plan-text’, but look at a traditional policy case and see that it goes through a buildup of steps to make it’s selected impacts hit home as part of the big picture.
A policy aff case opens up with Harms and Inherency. Essentially, it’s a group of evidence [with citation not just of author but DATES] illustrating that RIGHT NOW something is a problem (Harms), and RIGHT NOW there is a block to something being done about it (Inherency).
In beginning to craft the narrative for the round, it’s a major help to have a description of the situation as close to reality as possible, so when you offer a solution to the problem, there really is a need for it. Judging rounds on the recent Sahel topic left me wishing that more teams had taken a bit more time [read: ANY time] to offer solid evidence to what’s actually going on in the region, rather than trying to merely hammer home how either form of assistance was “teh best evar.” It’s like saying you need to either ice or bandage a wound. It helps to know if that wound is a bruise or a cut, and the decision of what to do becomes infinitely clearer.
Solvency in policy is more evidence illustrating that the selected course of action [the plan text we don’t get in pf, but can use the resolution as one] would solve the problem, plus the Advantages/Impacts that would come from such a solution. This is the area that most PF rounds tend to exist entirely in. Rounds that exist entirely in Solvency or Impacts come down to numbers matches, be it economic one$, or body counts…with the victor having the higher or lower pile in the end. It doesn’t feel good as a judge to be FORCED to vote in this way, though, and having a bigger picture of such things being warranted by the situation at hand [the status quo] is the difference between a definite 3-0 decision, and a 2-1 where any of the judges could have justifiably decided either way, depending which impact they personally found strongest.
The time limits in PF push you to have a concise, clearly defined story that grows during the 16 minutes of constructive speeches, is pruned back into something recognizable in the summary, with a look at the roots AND the proverbial flower in the final focus. To continue with this image as to why finding a working system is helpful: In the long run it’s better to have a healthy plant you can count on to flower W’s, instead of a pile of chopped branches that only has a flower in there somewhere if you’re willing to dig through it. Some judges are fine with digging. More would rather gaze upon the beauty of a well-structured round.
The thing to keep in mind is that you really are telling a story with this structured approach. Think of stand-up comedy: you get a little story as a lead in, and the punch line is funny BECAUSE of that lead up. Continue to cite [with date] your evidence showing that your team is the one painting the most relevant picture of reality. LINK your Impacts back to that evidence as illustrations of how your case is the most apt reaction/solution to that reality/status quo. Expand on why your impacts are more important than your opponents because of this picture of reality. If your opponent is trying to dump impacts and numbers in the round, point out exactly HOW they fail to link these to the reality of the status quo. See: With a good lead up, YOU are the comedian on stage with a good punch line, and your opponent is left to follow up your act with the same lead up, and jokes that make no sense. Revel in that.
Stay shiny, PF kids.
For more on how to structure your debates for maximum victory potential, see: