January 30, 2017
February is an interesting month for Public Forum. Many teams no longer have local circuit competitions every weekend and are now looking at wrapping up their season with one, maybe two national tournaments. This means that most people won't have the luxury of taking one tournament to get their head around the topic so that their second tournament can be successful. Fortunately, there are many different ways one can get sufficiently prepared when only one tournament is on the docket for any given month. In this article I hope to give you some methods to hone your skills before Berkeley, Millard North, Penn, Delbarton, Harvard, etc., while also providing some insights on the February topic - "Resolved: the United States should lift its embargo against Cuba" along the way.
If you haven't started prepping by the time this article was published, whoops! For the future, I cannot stress enough the importance of planning ahead for different topics. Many debaters get into the habit of only prepping a topic the night, or even week before their first tournament and then using that tournament to ~get acquainted~ with all the material and rhetoric they need to have down before their real circuit competition hits. Ideally, you should get ready for any tournament with enough time to do practice rounds and acquaint yourself with the topic literature. In even the smallest tournament fields, it's the best researched and the most nuanced teams that stand out. This is even more true in a field of 300-400 teams like what many of you will be seeing at Harvard or Berkeley. Here are a few tips for prepping:
This is something many of your coaches probably already tell you to do, but it helps infinitely in making time allocation for topic preparation more efficient. I would suggest reading broadly and generally before you start committing to any particular idea or argument. Going through the history of the Cuban embargo, utilizing some of your prep from January to look at the overarching geopolitical context the United States is currently in, and then from there choosing impact scenarios you like the most is what will get you more unique cases than your competitors. When I wrote cases as a competitor, I would start at the most basic level of thinking about what an argument could do for me in the final focus. Did I want to use it to take ground away from my opponents? Did I want to use it to outweigh any argument that could possibly be run on the other side on magnitude? Did I want it to be the most probabilistic and easy to comprehend argument in the round? From there, you can start to outline your case. Make a word document that ends with the impact you're trying to get to and starts with affirming or negating the resolution. Then think about all the ways to make a link from one end to the other. Find the necessary evidence to make those links and voila, you have a unique argument where you already know how it functions in the round ideally.
This is where many people procrastinate because writing a large block document can be a hassle, but there are some convenient shortcuts to getting your blocks done and done well if you're on a smaller team especially.Look through the briefs
I fully recommend using any brief possible to your advantage. Not just to find decent evidence, but to look at which arguments might show up in any given round and develop your own answers to those arguments. Without a tournament to gauge what arguments are going to be run, it's harder to even develop a list of what you need to research, but if you look through brief books, half the work is already done.Write out pre-written forms of weighing
Odds are, even if teams are running unique links, their impacts are going to be pretty similar across the board. Once you have your cases written, writing blocks becomes easier because you can simply find reasons why, for instance, having a Cuban brain drain (if you're negating) matters more than maybe trading slightly more with a new country.Developing general harms or benefits not attached to your case
On some topics this is easier to do than others, but I think on this one it's entirely possible and can be encouraged. To illustrate this point better, I'm going to use an example. For those of you who remember the January topic two years ago, comparing military aid to developmental aid for the Sahel region of Africa, a common generic answer that could work on pretty much any argument was corruption. Here's how it works.
Opponents: "Military aid is good for [x reason that is currently not in your block file]" You: "Doesn't matter, it won't work because it's corruptible"
You can still be directly responsive and take out strange or obscure arguments if you develop a generic list of harms and benefits to ending the embargo. On this resolution, think about other countries that will step in if the United States doesn't get more involved in Cuba. Any harm of involvement with Cuba on the Cuban people could happen anyways because other countries like Russia and China are willing to trade with the government. The only difference is in the affirmative world, the United States can actually get some benefit out of it. Stuff like that.
If you come from a small team, and are either the only team going to any tournaments on the February topic or the only ready team going to any tournaments on the February topic, then this is the drill for you. It only takes cases, you, blocks to your case, and your partner. For the purpose of simplicity, A will be the first speaker and B will be the second speaker.
A: Reads 4 minute case, let's say the affirmative case
B: Takes 3 minutes (to simulate cross time assuming you're speaking first to prep during) to write a rebuttal to the affirmative case.
B: Gives the rebuttal 3 times. The first time, they use all four minutes, the second time, they use 3 minutes and 30 seconds, the third time they use 3 minutes. The purpose of this is to slim down rhetoric, so don't take out any responses or speak faster, just focus on using less and less words each time.
A: Gives a 30 second summary speech as if they were the NEGATIVE team. In other words, they only focus on extending key defense and/ or turns. Repeat until both partners are satisfied with rhetoric and which responses were extended.
A: Gives a 1 minute 30 second summary speech as if they were the AFFIRMATIVE team. So they respond to responses, extend evidence, weigh, address framework, the like. Repeat until both partners are satisfied with rhetoric and which arguments were addressed.
A: Gives a 2 minute summary speech, but switches sides half way through. Ie, they start out as if they were the NEGATIVE team and extend turns, then switch sides at 30 seconds to be the affirmative team and extend offense from their case.
B: Repeats the same process but more in a final focus type fashion, synthesizing issues, making comparisons between arguments, the like.
What does this exercise accomplish? More than anything it helps with time allocation and rhetoric. Teams start to focus more on their case offense than reasons why their opponents' arguments are flawed. Moreover, when you have to give the same speech over and over until it's perfect, eventually you'll become more word economic much quicker. What's even better is that every part of the drill focuses directly on improving each person on the team's skills. In a practice round, only half the time is actually dedicated to that. Practice rounds are like actually practicing a sport, which matters a lot for any number of reasons, drills are like hitting the weight room, which will certainly help you in round and is a good option if it's you and your partner against the world.
February is a month where many of you are putting a lot on the line. Often the circuit tournaments you attend will have out of pocket expenses and the cost of missing a large portion of school as well. Take things seriously and get ready early. If you have cases and blocks ready in advance, you can focus on word economy and weighing, and I guarantee that if you hone your skills in those two categories, you'll start to win more rounds. Good luck!