In honor of February 12th, today we’re going to share the 12 best pieces of debate advice we’ve ever received. Read and absorb these nuggets of wisdom below.
1. “Know the internal link scenario.”
No matter what event and what topic, everything comes down to internal links. How does one argument connect to another? If it doesn’t seem to make sense to you, chances are it’s because it actually doesn’t make sense. Figure out where the logical breakdown is, and explain that to your judge.
2. “If you don’t win the ballot, you didn’t win the round.”
No whining. Fundamentally, all debate is a persuasive communication activity. If you didn’t win the round, even if you were sure you were going to, it’s because you messed up somewhere. Maybe the judge was wrong, but if they were wrong it can only be because your explanation wasn’t clear to them. Figure out what you needed to do to persuade this particular judge, and regroup. Sulking and blaming others for your losses will never help you grow.
3. “Think like a human, not like a debater.”
Too often, debaters freak out when they hit an unfamiliar argument, and the round completely breaks down. This is because they’re scrambling to find “the right debate argument” to make, instead of keying in on obvious responses. The next time you see something new, take a deep breath and think to yourself “how would I respond to this if my friend said it to me?”
4. “Most good debates are ties. You gotta give the judge a reason to break the tie.”
Once you get to the level of evenly-matched debates between talented competitors, the truth is that there are many rounds where the judge could easily vote either way. Your job is to figure out why they should pick you, and explain that to them clearly, early and often.
5. “Look and sound right, no matter what you’re saying.”
Fake it until you make it. It’s much better to actually know what you’re talking about, but everyone occasionally stumbles into unfamiliar territory. In these situations, confidence is key. Judges want to make the “right” decision, and seeming like you’re certain you’re winning is a good way to capitalize on that.
6. “Debating your way will work better than debating the ‘right’ way.”
You’ll always do better when you keep the debate in your wheelhouse. If you’re just not a fast-talking, technical person, you’ll do better by tailoring your arguments to suit that style than by trying to transform yourself into someone who runs 12-off. The reverse is also true. Do an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and then work on emphasizing your strengths, while downplaying your weaknesses. You gotta do you.
7. “When the round is going off the rails, hard stop and reboot.”
We’ve all had those debates where mid-round we were sure we were destined to lose. Fight those feelings! Never give up. Instead, stop, and take a minute to figure out what new direction you can take. Dropped a counterplan that solves the aff in the 2AC? Hey, you can always go for theory. And so on.
8. “Know where the debate is headed before it starts.”
Ask yourself before the round even begins, and then again when you start prepping for every speech “how am I most likely to win the debate? How are my opponents most likely to win the debate?” Your goal should always be to place yourself in your opponents’ and judges’ shoes, and then cover the flow accordingly.
9. “You’re always telling the judge a story. Make it one they want to believe in.”
Whether you’re an LDer talking about Kant, a policy kid reading 8 politics disads, someone rocking a nontraditional argument about identity, or anything in between, you are ALWAYS telling the judge a story. The winner is usually whoever told the most salient, believable story. Don’t forget to tie everything together into one neat little package, and never underestimate the power of a good story.
10. “Research should be open and honest.”
Don’t just research by trying to find a specific card. Even if you find it, you may miss out on a cool position you never anticipated. A better technique is to begin your research process open to anything you might discover. This will help you develop a strong foundation of background knowledge in the topic, as well as give you opportunities to stumble upon unique, creative arguments. And, yes, it will also make it easier to choose good search terms when eventually you need to find that one special card.
11. “Winning is important, but it isn’t everything.”
The skills you learn and the friends you make will stick with you a lot longer than your record will. As we’ve said before, the people you meet in debate will probably become your best friends, so you should start treating them that way now. Above all else, never sacrifice your integrity for a W. You have to be able to live with yourself at the end of the day.
12. “When in doubt, just say the opposite of what the other team said.”
The strategy of just asserting the contrary is surprisingly underutilized. Sometimes, the best argument is simply “no, the opposite.” If they say “economic growth is good,” why not say “economic growth is bad?” You should always be ready for that direct clash.
What’s the best advice about debate you’ve ever received? Tell us in the comments. Maybe your contribution will make our next list!