Friday, September 23, 2011

2nd Speaking Position Strategies for PF

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Phases vs. Speeches in PF
In PF debate, a round will pass through several distinct phases.  The constructive phase is used to build the case. The rebuttal phase is used to attack the opponent's case and defend one's own case. The summary phase crystallizes the key issues of the round and explains why the case should be decided a certain way. Distinction must be made between the phases of an advocacy and the names of PF speeches.  There are no specific time limits on how long a phase may run, so long as they do not exceed the total allowable time for the team.  Whereas, the various speeches are strictly time controlled in accordance with PF category format.  So, while the speeches in a PF round are named Constructive, Rebuttal, Summary and Final Focus; there is nothing implicit in those names demanding the summary phase of the round must be wholly contained within the summary speech time, or the rebuttal phase must be contained within the so-called rebuttal speech time.  When the category was first conceived as Controversy and later, Ted Turner Debate, the rules mandated the Summary speech would summarize the round and the Last Shot, as the FInal Focus was called, would only allow a single argument.  These restrictions have now faded out of the rules and judge's guidelines.  Probably everyone who has experience in PF debate has seen rounds where the rebuttal phase extends well into the third speech and sometimes all the way up to the last seconds of the final speech.  While this may not be the best use of one's allotted speech time, it is allowed within the rules governing the category today and indeed at times, it may even be necessary depending on the dynamics of the round.

New Arguments Restriction
There is one notable exception to the idea that speech phases are not time restricted. The NFL says, in the "Competition Events Guide" any arguments introduced in the Final Focus should be ignored. Further, OHSSL in the document,  "PF Judge Training Handout" states Summary speeches "may not include new arguments". The intention of new argument restrictions is to prevent abuses which could arise if a team introduced a new argument after the opposition was finished delivering speeches or so late in the round, the opposition could not possibly muster an adequate response. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude, in most jurisdictions, a team should have introduced all its constructive arguments within the first first eight minutes of speech time allowed for the side.

The 2nd Speaking Position Problem
At the start of the round, a coin is flipped and the winning side can choose an advocacy, either PRO or CON or choose a speaking order, either first or second speaker. The losing side then gets the remaining choice. Some teams will choose PRO or CON based on the perceived strength of their cases, others may choose second speaking position because ultimately the team to speak second will be the last voice heard before the judge decides the round.  This kind of selection strategy is not necessarily the best.  For example, I choose second speaker because I want to make sure my team is the last to stand before the judge.  Let us assume the opponents choose the CON advocacy.  They will stand and deliver the CON constructive in four minutes. Then my side will deliver the PRO side in four minutes. After the cross-fire, the CON side will begin a four minute attack against my constructive.  This now puts my side at a strategic disadvantage because our second speaker is forced to spend a portion of the next four minutes rebuilding our own case, so this limits the amount time we can attack.  At this point, our case has endured a four minute assault and we have only been able to muster perhaps a two minute assault on the opponent's case since we had to spend two minutes reaffirming our own arguments.  If the two teams are evenly matched it is almost assured by the time the "final focus" speech happens, our side will be still trying to make up lost ground or we will have conceded some points due to time constraints.  This diminishes the advantage we thought we had being the last speaker in the round. It would seem, therefore, when facing a team of equal or greater strength, it is best to choose first speaker and use the entire second speech time to attack the opponent's case and thus avoid the second speaker's burden to spend a greater amount of time defending one's case than attacking the opponent.

Second Speaking Position Strategy
Probability dictates any given team should have a 50% chance of ending up choosing an advocacy rather than speaker position after a coin flip and so the second speaker position is unavoidable.  Therefore, a strategy must be selected which limits the potential amount of time the first speaker can spend in all out attack against your case. This is the situation you will face if the opponent's deliver their entire constructive in the first four minutes.  Necessity, it seems, would dictate that your side should begin the attack as soon as possible. I see three ways this can be done either independently or collectively.

1. Attack During Cross-fire
While the cross-fire is normally structured as a question-answer period designed to clarify points, expose weaknesses or try to set up some advantage for one's case, there is no reason the cross-fire time can not be used to aggressively attack the opponent's case.  Normal rebuttal counter-claims can often be presented as a question. For example, the opponent's case advocates the U.S. should normalize trade relations with North Korea. You could ask, "Did you know that according the UN Council of Human Rights there are over 200,000 political prisoner's in North Korea?"  While this kind of questioning can assault aspects of the opponent's case there are potential problems.  First, the judge may correctly determine you are asking leading questions and reject the line of questioning from consideration. Secondly, you can not easily control the amount of time it takes the opponent to answer so in the end you risk raising the contempt of the judge or not getting as much attack time as you would like.

2. Interleave the Phases
Another way to allow more attack time against the opponents and consequently force them to spend more time answering and less time attacking your side, is to interleave the constructive and rebuttal phases of your speech time. For example, present two minutes of constructive and two minutes of rebuttal in the first speech and finish the constructive and continue the rebuttal in your second speech.  This approach allows your side to make the first attack even though you are second speaker and forces the opponents to divide their second speech into attack and defend. There is a potential problem with this approach as well.  Some judges may object to this arrangement of speeches since it is non-traditional (even though nothing in the rules prohibits it).  The shock to the judge may be mitigated by "road-mapping" the speeches prior to giving your first speech.  Simply tell the judge, "First I will deliver the first contention of our constructive, then spend time attacking our opponent's case.  My partner will finish our constructive in the second speech and if time allows we will continue our rebuttal." While there is no guarantee the judge will like this arrangement, at least the judge will be expecting to change the flow after the first few minutes of your allotted speech time.

3. Use Defensive and Preemptive Constructives
This may be the most subtle way to force the opponents to defend their case in their second speech.  Basically a defensive constructive incorporates rebuttal arguments in the body of the speech with the aim of defusing attacks before they can happen. This is, in fact, a common persuasive technique which builds your team's ethos. But like its wartime counter-part a preemptive speech is not a defensive action. It is an attack.  In order to effectively attack in the first speech, you must anticipate the kinds of arguments that are likely to be run by opponents and in advance, prepare a series of relatively short arguments structured as disadvantages or link turns which can be read on the fly in the body of your constructive.  For example, you expect the opponents to use the argument that unwarranted wiretaps are an acceptable way to control terrorism. You read a pre-written disadvantage which states that allowing unwarranted wiretaps erodes civil rights or read an argument which breaks the link between wiretaps and terrorism reduction such as "recent studies have shown that in spite of active wiretaps, terror attacks still occurred."

The structure of a PF round presents a clear disadvantage for the second speaking team.  By allowing the first speaking team the freedom to attack the second team's case for four minutes, the second team is forced to defend itself reducing the time available for attack.  Given this disadvantage, teams should develop methods to advance their attacks into the six or seven minutes of available speech time in order to force the first team into a more defensive position.  While some of the techniques presented here are unusual and perhaps risky from the point of view of the traditional PF judge, they may be effective in gaining a competitive edge in certain situations.


  1. could you give a few tips for speaker 1s? that would be fantastic!

    1. The first speaker gets up and reads a case and since the other team has not spoken, there is nothing to attack and so, no reason to do anything but lay-out a comprehensive four minute constructive. There are all kinds of ways to construct a convincing constructive speech, depending on the topic and the position being taken. Also, I am a firm believer that the first speaker should be capable of making a really great speech. No stumbling over words, no "ahhs, ums" etc, and eye contact with the judge. I will review the things I have written about constructive speeches and see if anything can be written to help first speakers.

  2. Very great points; this blog is an unequaled resource for novice debaters such as myself.

  3. I recommend every novice ignore this, beside the obvious flaws in this idea of how one should approach the second speeches (It seems like the author has never done pf) any judge will be annoyed by breaking up your speeches like this, don't do it

  4. No offense, but I think the whole idea of choosing to go first is junk. In PF, a lot of judges have little to no experience, and are easy to sway if you have the last word. Also, remember that although the 2nd speaking team may only have half the time to attack, there will be less time for the 1st speaking team to rebut the attacks that are made in those 2 minutes.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Judges are different in different districts. Accept what I wrote or not, it's your choice. I did base my explanation upon my experience as a judge and upon in-round trials with my team. The four minute rebuttal time advantage for the first speaker often effects the debate well into later speeches and so the warning to the second speaker teams is learn effective strategies to prevent disadvantages arising from lack of rebuttal time. I am not necessarily saying always choose first speaker, I am saying if you choose second speaker be prepared to deal with the four minute rebuttal. That's why it is called strategies for second speakers.


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