Friday, September 23, 2011

2nd Speaking Position Strategies for PF

For more about Public Forum Debate including topic analysis, strategies and links to evidence, *click here*.

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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Elements of Debate - Rebuttal Speeches (part 2)

Answering Attacks on Your Case
During your rebuttal speeches you will typically be forced to answer attacks made against your own case.  These attacks will be the same kinds discussed in part 1 of this discussion of rebuttal speeches; attacks against your premises and claims, grounds, and impacts.  When attacked, you will be expected to answer in your next speech. If you fail to answer the attacks it will be perceived you have conceded the points and the judge and your opponents may look unfavorably on your case if you try to answer the attacks in a later speech.  In some cases, you may choose to concede certain points especially if you think you are winning other points which outweigh any arguments of the opponent.

Extending Your Arguments
Generally, you should be prepared to reaffirm all of your points made in the constructive speech and you should continue to do so, during every speech you make except, perhaps, the summary speech.  By reaffirming, speech after speech you extend your arguments from the constructive, all the way to the end of the debate.  Anywhere along the line, if you fail to reaffirm one of your arguments it will be viewed as conceded by the opponents and most likely the judge.  It is considered bad form in debate to drop a point and then try to pick it up again later in the round.

As a general rule, when you initially make your argument in the constructive speech, the opponent will attack it in the first rebuttal and then you will be forced to answer the attack. If the opponent fails to attack the argument, most debaters remind the judge, the opponent dropped the point and so extend the argument by reaffirming the same argument and warrants as originally stated.  Often, a debater will simply ask the judge to "extend the argument" and move on to the next point without further clarification.  Asking the judge to "extend the argument" or saying "I extend such and such argument" is an instruction to the judge to simply draw an arrow on his flow sheet from the argument through the next column on the sheet, thereby, "extending" the same point. To be sure, debaters who claim to extend in this manner save time allowing more time to answer other points and many judges have no problem with it.  Nevertheless, some judges do not like rote argument extension and in a category like Public Forum debate, citizen judges may not always know what is meant by the imperative, "extend the argument".  If possible, and time allows, it is best to extend the arguments explicitly by reaffirming the point in a summary way.  This means you do not have to reread the entire argument complete with evidence and warrants. It means briefly remind the judge why the argument is still valid and quickly move on.

Answering Attacks
When the opponent has challenged some argument of your case, there are many ways to answer, depending on the how the opponent chose to attack.  As noted in part 1, the opponent will challenge the premises and logic or your claims, he will challenge the validity of your grounds, or he will challenge the impacts, claiming they are not meaningful or his impacts are are more important.  Many of the attacks levied against your case should not come as a surprise.  By the time you are in rounds facing opponents, you should have already researched and written affirmative and negative cases for the resolution.  Experienced debaters anticipate the kinds of challenges they are likely to face and are prepared to provide answers to those challenges. Additionally, as you face opponents, through the weeks you will quickly understand where the vulnerabilities of your case exist and either revise the constructive to strengthen the case or research effective answers to likely challenges. 

Counter-claims: Avoid the Rabbit-Hole
Many times the the opponent challenges your arguments with counter-claims. Since a counter-claim is simply a claim. It can be counter-attacked in the same way one attacks any claim:  challenge the premises, logic and grounds. But it is not a good strategy to make, yet another counter-claim as this tends to misdirect the debate away from the initial claims and soon you are running down the "rabbit-hole" of irrelevant arguments.  For example: You claim with full warrants that the U.S. should rely more on coal as an alternative energy. The opponent's rebuttal counters with burning fossil-fuels is bad because it increases global warming. You answer, global warming is mitigated by planting more trees.  Soon the debate spins off down a rabbit hole, debating global warming instead of the original point of alternative energy.  Anytime you answer attacks, try to stay focused on the original claim and bring it back into the debate. Instead of answering, global warming is mitigated by planting trees; direct attention to your claim by showing, with evidence, how coal burning technology is far more carbon friendly than in the past and so the use of coal as alternative energy is increasingly desirable. In this answer, coal as an alternative energy remains in focus and avoids the global warming rabbit-hole.

Answering by Reaffirmation
In debate, the constructive speeches are the only time your side is allowed to introduce arguments. During rebuttals and summary speeches it is considered abusive to bring up new arguments.  Therefore, your constructive must present every argument you will uphold in support of the case.  It is important to understand there is no prohibition to introducing new evidence in support of the arguments you have already presented. In fact, it is a very good strategy to be prepared to answer challenges to your claims by presenting additional evidence and warrants which reaffirm your arguments.  Debaters should always have multiple sources of evidence in support of their arguments and bring those other sources into the debate in later speeches as a way of continually reaffirming by adding more and more evidence in support of the original claim. This strategy is effective because, while there is a very good chance, an opponent can provide a reasonable attack on an argument in your case, it will be increasingly difficult for the opponent to continue to pile on additional attacks if you are able to continuously reaffirm your position with new warrants.  NOTE: If your argument has been challenged by the opponent it is nearly always worthless to answer by repeating your original warrants.

Answering Disadvantages
Quite commonly, in policy debate, link turns and impact turns are used to refute the claims of the opponent, especially the DA.  These kinds of attacks are not as common in Public Forum or Lincoln-Douglas debate even though the idea of turns is still applicable. Impacts are the claimed results of a certain course or action or state of being and they are important to a case because they provide an answer to the question, "why is this important?" An impact is a claim which must be proven so it is possible to attack it in the same way as any other claim; by attacking the premises, logic or grounds.  Claims identified as impacts are usually consequences arising from some cause. Some cause leads to some effect; some cause leads to some impact. Therefore, it is possible to disturb the cause-effect nature of the impact by proving the cause does not uniquely lead to the effect.  For example: Let's say the affirmative makes a case that the U.S. needs to increase the size of its military.  The negative can argue against this by claiming the increase will have a negative impact since it will increase the federal deficit.  The negative's cause-effect is, increased military has the effect of increased deficit.  Affirmative can turn the link between the cause and effect by challenging the uniqueness of negative's cause-effect relationship.  For example, affirmative can show that if nothing is done, the deficit will still increase. The affirmative may also show that increasing the size of the military does not lead to a bigger deficit but reduces it because the increase in defense spending puts more people to work thus increasing tax revenues. Both of these arguments serve as link turns because they break the uniqueness of the cause-effect relationship. The cause-effect relationship can also be undone, if affirmative can show that the cause does not always result in the DA.  A good way to do this is show an example in history where the action did not result in the claimed disadvantage.  Another way to overcome the negative's claimed disadvantage is to turn the impact.  Basically this means, that if the impact occurs it is actually a good thing rather than a disadvantage. For example, affirmative could claim the increase in deficit is a good thing because such a deficit is justifiable and even desirable to offset a threat from terrorists or other enemies. In this case, the positive benefit outweighs the negative disadvantage.

Answering Turns
As discussed in part one of this topic, a valid negative strategy is to attack the affirmative case by showing how adoption of the affirmative position results in harmful impacts.  Affirmative will attempt to turn these arguments by showing how the claimed harms are actually desirable and they will attempt to control uniqueness by explaining how the disadvantages will still occur in the status-quo or affirmative can prove the disadvantage does not always occur when the affirmative position is adopted.  The best way to defend link turns is to structure them in such a way that affirmative can not turn the link without damaging their case, having a firmly unique causation claim, and relying on the strength of the argument to persuade the judge. Ultimately this means citing impacts which outweigh the advantages claimed by the affirmative. While the affirmative may be able to destroy the link which establishes a formal causation, it is still possible to defend the disadvantage. If the opponent claims the DA will happen in the status-quo, try to argue if the impact happens in the status-quo, it will reduce desire, need or resolve to enact or adopt the opponent's proposal.  If the opponent shows that action does not always result in the disadvantage, argue that the probability is high and the magnitude of the impact is too high to risk adopting the opponent's proposal. Again, if the opponent tries to turn the impact, again look to the impact calculus and stress how bad the risks are of things turning out badly.

Things to Avoid
Do not extend disputed arguments without new evidence or warrants.

Do not neglect mentioning to the judge when the opponent has dropped one of your arguments.

Be careful to not make a common mistake of double-turning an impact. If you link turn an impact do not impact turn as well. Doing both, like a double-negative resulting in a net positive, has the effect of each turn cancelling out the other.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Elements of Debate - Rebuttal Speeches (part 1)

During a rebuttal speech, the debater presents counter-arguments which refute the claims of the opponent. These arguments have two aims. First, to directly attack the basis or claims of the opponent's case as presented in the constructive speeches and second, to answer any attacks the opponent has made against your case. Part one of this topic will focus on attacking the opponent's case and part two on answering attacks against your own case.

Attacking the Opponent's Case
The opponent's case is built upon a series of claims which should be backed by some kind of evidence. The claims will lead to the conclusion the opponent wants the judge to take.  The claims will usually be built upon premises which serve as the logical basis for the claim. Some claims may be impacts (advantages, benefits, disadvantages, harms, etc) which are the consequence of some action or condition.  Attacking a case means, refuting the premises and claims, grounds or links.  Effective attacks are comprised of pointing out failures of the logic leading to the conclusions, presenting evidence which directly refutes evidence in the opponent's case, turning the arguments by showing either the causation does not lead to the claimed impact or the claimed impacts actually lead to other impacts with are detrimental to the opponent's case.

Attacks in the Constructive
I include here, the idea that the negative (or second speech) can attack the opponent's case directly and more or less spontaneously as part of the negative constructive speeches. This is done by reading disadvantages.  Since new arguments are not allowed after the constructive speeches, these kinds of attacks (especially in Policy debate) are made immediately as part of the constructive. (For more on this topic, see Attacking With Disadvantages, below). Another form of attack embedded in the constructive is to include preemptive arguments against attacks that are likely to be brought up later by the opponent.  These kinds of speeches blur the nice neat lines between what is a constructive and what is a rebuttal, but because they can be effective rebuttal strategies, I include them in the topic.

Attacking the Premises
Many times a claim is built upon premises which are presumed true either because we all agree they are true or because the evidence proves they are true.  Once the truth of the premises are established the argument can be structured into a logical conclusion.  For example: Premise 1 - All illegal immigrants should be deported. Premise 2 - Xavier is an illegal immigrant. Conclusion - Xavier should be deported.  If one assumes premise 1 and premise 2 are universally true, there is no other conclusion for Xavier. Obviously, if you can refute the truth of the premises by either showing that NOT all illegal immigrants should be deported or Xavier is NOT an illegal immigrant, the opponent's claim that Xavier should be deported is inconclusive or not true. Often a universal premise is preceded by a statement like ALL, EVERY, EACH, etc. These should be red flags for the debater to attack the universality of the premise.  For example, if you can show that most illegal immigrants should be deported but not ALL, one can no longer conclude, based on the premises supplied, that Xavier should be deported.  Sometimes the logical conclusions drawn by the opponent are simply incorrect or inconsistent.  For example: Premise 1 - the U.S. has always provided aid to poor nations. Premise 2 - Somalia is a poor nation. Conclusion - the U.S. should provide aid to Somalia. The first premise is assumed to be universal but it may possible to refute this if you can show examples of poor countries not being aided by the U.S. But there is another glaring problem with the first premise. It is an appeal to tradition (argumentum ad antiquitatem) because it assumes since something was true in the past, it is also true now. This is a logical fallacy which is easily refuted.

Attacking the Grounds
The grounds for a claim are the proofs the claim is true. In debate this usually means the evidence and the warrants which link the evidence to the claims. There are three principle ways to attack the grounds:

  1. Refute the evidence with more recent evidence which draws a different conclusion.
  2. Show the opponent's evidence does not link or apply to the conclusion.
  3. Refute the validity of the evidence by showing it is flawed in its methods (usually applicable to statistical evidence), or the source is biased or otherwise not credible.

It's quite common that certain evidence may be superceded by more recent evidence and most judges will usually conclude the more recent evidence is more valid. So if you have a more recent study or statistic which refutes a similar piece of evidence given by the opponent, then use it.  Sometimes the opponent's evidence or warrants may not be applicable to the claim or premise trying to be proved. The opponent may simply be misinterpreting the evidence and so you should reveal these kinds of flaws to the judge. Finally, the source of the evidence should be considered even though in some types of debate, such as policy, the sources are rarely questioned.  Sources can be biased or worse yet just plain wrong in how they have reached their conclusions and so these flaws can also be attacked.

Attacking With Disadvantages
A good strategy of attack for a debater is to show how adoption of the opponent's position results in harms or undesirable consequences .  In policy debate, these kinds of attacks are called disadvantages or D.A.s. An effective DA must be predicated on some aspect of the opponent's case. In other words, something the opponent's case advocates will result in the DA. There must be a link from the opponent's case to the DA you wish to promote. Next, the disadvantage must be result solely as a consequence of the action or condition advocated in the opponent's case. In other words, if the disadvantage will occur without adopting the opponent's position then there is no reason not to support the opponent's position. And finally, and this is most obvious, there must be an impact or consequence which is the thing that makes it a disadvantage in the first place.  A properly constructed disadvantage, will answer the question, "why is it the harm will not happen in the status quo but only if the opponent's position is adopted?"  and it will answer the question in the impact, "how bad will it be?".

Things to Avoid When Attacking
Be sure to always attack the opponent's case and never the opponent's character, motives, intentions, or such. Always focus on attacking the elements of the case no matter how intense the round may become.

Try to attack the claims on the opponent's case in the same sequence in which they were presented.  This is commonly referred to as line-by-line refutation. It makes it easier for you (and your partner) to enure you have attacked each point and it helps the judge to follow the flow of the attack and anything you can do to help the judge follow your claims works to your advantage.

Do not try to refute everything. Selectively drop some points if necessary.  It is not always to your advantage to attack every claim on the opponents constructive.  It is best to attack the most significant arguments letting the less important points flow through to later speeches.  The opponent may claim you dropped these arguments but it may not matter if your own claims have more of an impact on the judge's decision than the few relatively minor things you may have dropped. Knowing what to drop and when to drop it depends on the dynamics of the round and but you should consider it a viable strategy to allow time to heavily refute the opponent's strongest arguments while defending your own.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Elements of Debate - Cross Examination

Good cross-examination (Cross-x) is an acquired skill which comes from practice and experience.  Anyone who has ever watched a court-room drama on television or witnessed an actual trial has probably seen the witness cross-examined by the prosecutor or defense team.  Rarely are the questions simply attempts to clarify the witness testimony. The cross-x is carefully worded so as to provide some positive impact for the examiner's case or some negative impact on the opponent's case.

Cross-X Purpose
Cross-x presents an opportunity to fulfill three possible objectives:

  1. It is a chance to clarify certain aspects of the opponent's case.
  2. It is a chance to expose weaknesses in the opponent's case.
  3. It is a chance to build one's own case.

Clarification of Points
Sometimes, certain aspects of the opponent's case may not be clear, or you may have missed something which could be significant to your rebuttals. In these situations it may be a good idea to ask the opponent to clarify or explain the information.  This should be done cautiously, in my opinion, and it is better if it is not necessary at all.  Clarification takes time and does little to advance the debate. In some cases, it may be to your advantage to leave the judge as confused as you rather than allow the opponent to clarify.  On the other hand, there may be advantages for you if the opponent is allowed to clarify a point which is confusing to the judge because a clear understanding of the point may help in the judge's understanding of your attacks against the point.  Be aware clarifications essentially extend the opponent's speech time so you must not allow the opponent to over-explain. As soon as you are satisfied, say "Thank you" and move on with the next questions. If he appears to be filibustering or missing the point, it is better, to intervene with a rephrased question which may narrow the focus.

Expose Weaknesses
Cross-x can be an opportunity to begin exposing certain weaknesses in the opponent's case by asking probing or leading questions. This allows you to extend your rebuttal time since you will essentially be attacking his case even before your official rebuttal speeches begin. The only difference is, your attacks will be in the form of questions. In some circumstances you can also reduce the opponents ethos (credibility) by asking questions which the opponent finds difficult to answer.  Doing so makes the opponent appear unknowledgable or unprepared.  However, it is best not to drive this weakness too hard, as it can arouse sympathy for the opponent or appear that you are badgering or attacking the opponent rather than the opponent's case. This is perceived by the judge as an "ad hominen" (personal) attack and harms your credibility.

Build Your Case
Cross-x is an opportunity to build or repair your own case.  I believe it is very beneficial to have a series of questions pre-written which are designed to set-up your case or in the best situation, get your opponent to agree with concepts or ideas which will be brought out in your case. For example, a Lincoln-Douglas debater may want to get the opponent to agree that some value is better than another or a certain criterion is a better way to evaluate a value. A Public Forum or Policy debaters may want to get the opponent to agree a certain situation is a problem or a solution leads to is something undesirable (or better) under certain circumstances.

Things to Avoid
Do not be rude or overly aggressive, yet you must not allow the opponent to dominate the time by filibistering or over-explaining. Cross-x is not speech time so be aware that some opponents will tend to use it as an opportunity to extend their cases. The best approach is to interrupt with "thank-you" and begin to ask your next question.  If the opponent asks for time to explain, you may reply, "thank-you, I understand the point..." and move on.  After these interruptions, if the opponent continues to speak, the opponent will appear rude. Conversely, if you are being questioned, you may want to use the time to build your own case whenever possible.

It is not always effective to demand yes or no answers to your questions.  There is a good possibility the opponent will not comply and in some circumstances it makes you appear overly aggressive which can invoke sympathy for your opponent in the mind of the judge.

Cross-x is not a good time to introduce new claims, evidence or contentions yet this often happens and those claims end up being argued throughout the rest of the debate. Inexperienced debaters are more likely to do this and it is probably more likely to happen in Public Forum debate than other categories.  Try not to frame your questions in such a way that affords the opponent the opportunity to introduce new claims or evidence and if it happens, try to divert attention away from the response. For example, "I'm sorry, you didn't mention that in your constructive speech so it wouldn't be proper to bring it up in cross-x...".

Always remember who is supposed to be asking the questions.  In Public Forum debate, any side is free to ask questions but in Lincoln-Douglas and Policy, the cross-x belongs to one side. Therefore do not allow your opponent to turn things and question you. Simply respond, "I'm sorry. You can ask that during your cross-x time."

When you are the one being questioned, if you find time to extend case, do it. Also, when you are being questioned, never agree with your opponent unless you are absolutely certain your agreement can not be used against you. It is typically a strategy to get you to agree to some point so it can be used against you. Develop methods to avoid absolute agreements. Always allow yourself a means of escape. For example, your opponent asks: "Do you agree that convicted murders should be removed from society?" You say, "Not necessarily, in some cases, perhaps that is a reason criminals are rarely rehabilitated?" Notice there are no absolutes in the answer through the use of words like, "in some cases" and "perhaps". 

What to Ask
It may seem intuitive to focus on the journalistic questions of "who?, what?, where?, when? and how?" when formulating cross-x questions but usually a more focused approach is better. In the examples given, only ask these kinds of questions if the opponent's case has not already answered the questions because you do not want to give them opporutinity to extend the case they have already made.  For example, if the opponent's case has impacts, there are specific attacks you can use.  Impacts may be any claimed benefit or advantage and they may be any claimed harm or disadvantage.  Ask questions such as, "when will this advantage (or harm) occur? Are you sure this will happen? Why has it not occurred already? Is there a chance it will not occur? What is the probability of it happening? How bad (or good) will it be? Can something happen in the meantime that would prevent the impact from occurring or reduce its magnitude?" If the opponent's case advocates a plan or course of action ask questions such as, "who will make this happen (what agent will be the facilitator)? How much will it cost? How soon can be the action be implemented? How long will it take to carry out? Do you know of similar plans already in place? Has this been done before?".  If the opponents case advocates a value, ask, "Are there circumstances where other values may be more important? Are there better ways to achieve the value?". If the opponent's case suggest a certain cause leading to some impact, question the correlation, "Is that the only way for this result to occur? Can other results occur as well?"  The art of cross-x is not asking these questions directly but using techniques in which you guide the opponent into giving an answer you want to hear by asking in an indirect way or asking a series of questions which lead to the inevitable conclusion you want. Finally, do not focus on a single point. A broad line of questioning is preferable.  A common mistake is to nitpick some point which in the end may prove insignificant, especially if the opponent drops it or kicks out of it. Mastery of these techniques takes time. Develop a line of questioning that works for a broad range of cases.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Elements of Debate - More on Constructive Speeches

Having presented the role of modes of persuasion in the formulation of constructive speeches, some time must be given to the discussion of style and presentation.

Regional Style
Acceptable argumentation and presentation style is dependent upon regional norms and influences.  In some areas, debate is very much evidence-based, in other areas, more pragmatic orations are preferred and have greater influence on the local judges. The National Forensics League establishes procedural rules governing how debate rounds should be conducted but do not regulate elements of style.  Additionally, local governing bodies may mandate particular rules which may establish stylistic elements.  The Ohio High School Speech League, for example, has a constitution which defines how tournaments are conducted and provides instruction for debaters and judges but regional styles still exist. The role of evidence in debates often varies regionally. While I firmly believe that any debate which makes claims based on data which is not common knowledge, should be grounded on verifiable evidence, there are many stylistic considerations as to how that evidence is warranted and revealed in a speech. These conventions also vary region to region according to the debate category. For example; in some districts, public forum cases may include many direct quotations from sources, in effect letting the evidence do the persuading, while in other districts, evidence may be simply paraphrased and not directly quoted at all. In either case, the evidence exists and can be produced in the round if needed but styles used to present the evidence are entirely different according to the expectation of the regional judges.  In Ohio, there are several regional styles, especially with regard to the presentation of debate evidence, that requires debaters who travel to other regions to adapt their cases to the preferences of the host region.  Since the goal of any case is to persuade a judge, it only makes sense to be sensitive to the regional style in which the competition is hosted.  Policy debate avoids many of the regional differences in how evidence is presented since policy debate has evolved into a very evidence-driven form of debate. Nevertheless, regional styles may play a very big role in how the cases are presented, with some districts expecting a much slower oration in place of the more common speed reading techniques employed in other regions.

Word Economy
While the text of these essays may not be as concise as possible, I am not under time constraints.  Debate speeches do have time constraints and so efficiency in the use of words is essential in order to convey as much information as possible in the allowed time.  Whereas, policy debate in many regions relies on a very fast speaking style to deliver a huge volume of information, not every category of debate benefits by speed reading. In fact in some regions it weighs negatively against the debater.  First and foremost I should mention that in most cases, a few quality arguments are more effective than many poor arguments. So the reason for writing efficient and concise speeches is not so more arguments can be made in the allowed time.  Word economy provides time to insert more stylistic elements into a speech and to enrich the arguments to be made with additional data and/or warrants which provide the grounds for the claims.  I advocate spreading in all forms of debate. Not the spreading (SPeed READING) prevalent in policy debate rather spreading the foundations of claims in order to establish solid grounds backed by more than a single source of evidence. When one can make a claim and support it with several independent pieces of evidence, the claim has more weight in the minds of most judges.  Concise wording affords the time to build the case foundation.

Presentation Style
Reading a case is one thing, presenting a case is something else entirely. The presentation style conveys information to the judge and the opponents and so debaters need be very aware of what messages are being communicated in non-verbal ways. Posture, demeanor, eye contact and intonation are noticed and evoke subtle reactions in the observers. This kind of nonverbal communication has a direct impact upon the speaker's perceived ethos and upon the pathos of the audience or judge.  A skilled orator can evoke emotional reactions simply by his intonation, delivery speed or facial expressions without making any direct, verbal appeal to emotions. Another key element of presentation style, involves the structure and flow of the case itself.  It's very important to present a case which flows easily from point to point without requiring any mental gymnastics from the judge. In other words the judge should expend minimal mental energy trying to follow the logical progression of the case. A case which flows linearly or circularly is preferable to a case which jumps back and forth between points or revisits points made previously.

Poor elocution can destroy even the best cases.  It should go without saying that unless a case is presented in clear and distinct language projected with correct volume, the speech may ultimately be a complete waste of breath. The object of the persuasive speech is to communicate ideas, but no communication takes place if the judge can not understand your words due to poor elocution or if the judge can not hear you.  Policy debate is one area where proper enunciation and elocution is essential, especially when reading a case at 300 words a minute.  If the judge has to spend a single second trying to interpret your words that is a moment in time when you have lost the judge.  In districts where speed reading is the norm, elocution becomes all the more important for effective communication.

Presentation Style as a Voting Issue
In principle, the judge will probably not base a decision about who wins or loses based on stylistic issues unless the judge simply has difficulty hearing or understanding due to the style in which the speech was given.  In most districts, I think judges are reluctant to vote on stylistic concerns. Nevertheless, they will definitely comment on the ballots when a debater's style, or volume, or methods violated the judge's norms.  For example a judge comment on a ballot may read: "NVI - try to speak louder - I had trouble hearing you over the air conditioner". The judge is careful to mark the criticism, NVI, non-voting issue, but the mere fact he has taken the time to comment indicates there was problem.  And while that judge may say it did not weigh on the decision, it creates a reaction within the judge that may evoke a subconscious or extremely subtle bias against you.  Who's to say whether or not that reaction meant the difference between winning or losing a round. Rarely are the cases so evenly matched that they come down to a very subtle stylistic difference, but if such problems can be avoided in the first place one need never wonder if it truly was a NVI.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Elements of Debate - the Constructive Speeches

Competitive high-school debate demands a resolution which creates opposing points of view and a neutral judge.  The judge is like a balance scale. The weight of the debater's arguments will tip the balance arm of the scale to one side or the other and the weight which tips the scale is the force of the debater's persuasive skill. At the end of the round it doesn't matter what the truth may be with respect to the resolution nor does it matter what the opinions of the audience or debaters may be. All that matters is which side produced enough of an influence to tilt the balance of the judge's opinion. In fact, the judge doesn't have to agree with a side for it to win. The judge only needs to think the one side tilted the balance to their favor. Even if he thinks both sides were horrible debaters, all the matters is which side was the least horrible. It is important to realize, however, that even though the judge is a "clean slate" or neutral in opinion, the judge may still possess prior knowledge of the issue or data which support a given position.  When opposing information is given which violates or challenges the judge's prior knowledge, the judge will resist and at worst, reject the claim until sufficient persuasive weight is applied. So while a judge may initially be devoid of opinion as to which side will prevail, there is nevertheless, a tendency to reject or accept arguments because of the judge's prior experience and knowledge. It is very important to understand that reality.

The first chance debaters get to begin the process of tilting the balance is during the opening speeches, also called the constructive speeches. The constructives, as they are called, are pre-written and are supposed to supply the claims, grounds and reasons for why a particular point of view should be favored. Since the constructives are written in advance the persuasive power is supplied in the force of the language and how it's presented. Debaters who study persuasion learn of three mode of persuasion; ethos, pathos and logos and the format of persuasive speeches provide the means to employ each mode. Ethos encapsulates the credibility of both the speaker and his case. Pathos conditions the mental and emotional state of the listener. Logos defines the systematic series of arguments which drive the conclusion.

Debaters learn very early that claims are usually backed by data and data should be supplied by credible sources.  The credibility of the data and evidence is essential to establishing the proper ethos of persuasion. One should also consider the ethos of the debater as well.  A debater who knows what he or she is talking about is more persuasive than one who does not quite get the nuances or details of a topic. Therefore, its very important for debaters to present themselves as authorities by virtue of their exhaustive study of the topic and preparation of the case. Much of this personal ethos will be projected in the delivery and presentation of the speech itself. Is it delivered with confidence and enthusiasm? Are the words and names pronounced properly? is the content of the speech well known?  Personally, I see no problem explicitly making remarks which establish one's credibility, as long as its done subtly. For example, "...after an exhaustive search of the evidence, we have come to the conclusion..." This can invoke a submissive response in the judge as long as claims are not subsequently made which violates the judge's prior knowledge.

Pathos/State of the Listener
I have heard some say pathos is passion and it is reflected in the passionate way in which a speech is delivered. Others say that it is an appeal to the emotion of the judge. Debaters must be cautious about making appeals to emotion. They are expected to win on evidence, logic and sound reasoning. One would hardly think that because we feel sorry for a group all courses of action to alleviate the suffering of the group are justified.  Pathos deals with the mental and emotional state of the listener and yes, I think it can involve direct appeals to emotion on a certain level. The most overt way to utilize pathos is through the use of impact claims.  It is very common, in fact, often necessary to carry the claims in the speech to some sort of impact statement. An impact statement tells the judge why a claim is important. It takes the form of "if such and such is done it leads to something bad" (a harm or negative impact) or "if such and such happens it results in something good" (an advantage or positive impact). These impacts are claimed consequences which evoke an emotional response in the experience of the judge.  Positive impact statements can be very advantageous for the debater depending on how they are presented. For example, if the claim is made that a course of action can result in millions of people being saved from starvation, there is an implicit notion that millions of people must be on the verge of starvation in the status quo and so an emotional reaction, however subtle, may be triggered in the judge without the debater focusing on a direct emotional appeal of mass starvation.  There are other, less common ways to utilize pathos including the use of metaphors or figurative language but care must be exercised in their application.

Logos/arguments leading to conclusion
Probably for most debaters, the logos mode of persuasion is most understood since basically it describes the well-reasoned arguments which eventually lead one to the desired conclusion. Logos defines the collection of claims and their associated evidence presented in a cogent and logical way. The goal is to build the case in such a way that upon hearing the evidence or reasoning leads one to no other possible conclusion than the one desired. This mode will be developed more fully in future postings.

Related links: info on the three modes of persuasion
   Durham Tech - Ethos Pathos Logos
   Wikipedia - Modes of Persuasion

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Debate for Everyday Students and Their Coaches

The commentary, analysis and ideas presented on these pages originate from a high-school NFL debate coach active in northeast Ohio.  Debate is not my full time occupation nor am I a high-school teacher.  I work hard at a full time job an average of 40-50 hours per week and then dedicate my remaining time to perfecting my skills as a debate coach and the skills of a group of equally hard-working, dedicated students. The debaters I work with, indeed most of the debaters I know, are ordinary students engaged in multiple extra-curricular activities and who also like to debate. To be sure, they are competitive, extremely competitive, and driven to excel. After all, winning is fun and losing is not.  But the reality is, most of them will never debate in college and will probably never teach nor coach debate.  For some of them debate is a chance to build a unique and enriching skill set.  For others, it a chance to be competitive, maybe even good at something outside of an athletic field. And for nearly all of them, debate will provide a background of critical thinking and research skills that will serve them in their future academic and professional careers.

Debate is certainly a unique and rich activity and like any complex living organism it tends to morph and evolve in ways not always expected. The beginning of the 2011-2012 debate season in my corner of the world, finds the mother of all debate categories, policy debate, disappearing from many districts.  Lincoln-Douglas debate, in the meantime, seems to be morphing into a Policy-LD hybrid with kritiks and theory arguments emerging into the mainstream as students continue to seek competitive advantages.  All the while, the upstart, Public Forum debate has become the fastest growing debate category in our state. Some coaches proclaim PF is the antidote to Policy Debate. But the discerning eye perceives a growing trend toward more non-traditional argumentation in the category originally designed for the layperson. Where will these changes lead and what will be the reaction of the debate community, judges and coaches?  Only time will reveal.

The purpose of this site is not to criticize nor lament the emerging trends, but rather contribute some ideas on how keep students on track.  We are attempting to adapt and learning as we go.  This is debate for everyday students and coaches who are trying to keep from falling behind and perhaps gain some measure of competitive edge. Winning is fun and losing is not fun. Let the fun begin.