Q&A: Nationals Preparation

Q: Would you recommend purchasing briefs in addition to independent research, or should I just focus on independent research?

A: One thing I think briefs are invaluable for is argument coverage. Because brief writers have thoroughly brainstormed and researched the topic, they are likely to cover the span of argument that exist (whether they are winning or not). Briefs then can help you double check your argument and block coverage. Especially with Nationals, I think its worth a small investment to buy a least one good brief to supplement your independent research. However, I think independent research is crucial because it forces you to understand the topic at a deeper level – briefs allow you to process pre-processed information. Doing your own research will force you to find the gaps in your knowledge and also lead you down more inventive and perhaps novel paths because you don’t have a preset idea of what the arguments are.

Q: What is the typical judging pool like?

A: I think over time the pool has gotten more experienced. More ex-PF debaters are coming back as judges, more coaches are familiar with the event, and so there is going to be a segment of the judging pool that is very debate-experienced. However, PF remains a lay friendly event so you will still have your parent judges and community members coming in to judge.

Q: Any special advice for prepping for nationals?

Do what you do best. Whatever you have been doing well all year that qualified you, keep doing it! One thing that may get forgotten in the rush to Nationals is practice rounds. This may be harder to arrange because your teammates are done for the year, you may be the only team at your school preparing the topic – but if you can get some of your peers (or maybe even a team from another school in your area) to do practice rounds, this is invaluable. You do not want your first debate on the topic to be Round 1 at Nats. Get some practice rounds under your belt – even if you just do a maverick round partner vs partner!


Best Practices: Emphasizing good facts and arguments

Working on legal writing, I’ve run into some great and applicable advice for Public Forum debate. In a legal brief, it matters how you present the facts of the case – always truthful, but using persuasive tools to emphasize your arguments and shape the story of the arguments. The same goes for debate – you want to tell the truth, but emphasize the facts and arguments that help you most.

Techniques to Emphasize Good Facts and Arguments:

Use short & clear sentences.

  • Easy to process, easy to remember.

Put good facts/arguments in 1st or last paragraphs.

  • these are the most memorable for your judge.

Group facts and arguments together to make obvious inferences.

  • bring your arguments together to build their strength.

Repeat Good Facts.

  • always and throughout the round

Use lots of vivid detail.

  • this helps the judge remember and relate to your case.

Be specific.

  • giving specific examples, images, numbers, etc helps the judge ground a larger argument in a more tangible fact.

Use Emotional Words.

  • for example, “police brutality” rather than “legal enforcement.”

State Good Facts Alone.

  • Make your good facts/arguments stand out.

Generally the opposite logic applies to what to do with bad facts or arguments that will hurt your case in the round. You don’t ignore them, but you deal with them in a persuasive manner.

Techniques to De-Emphasize Bad Facts and Arguments:

Use longer & complex sentences.

Bury their facts by no repeating or emphasizing what your opponents drop throughout the round (but do refute everything – this applies more to later round speeches).

Don’t pile up your opponents arguments – separate them so the judge sees the individual flaws rather than the overall, cumulative strength.

Only state a bad fact once.

Use as little detail as possible.

Stay General and don’t give your opponent more evidence, logical reasoning, etc than they have provided you.

Use Clinical, dispassionate language.

Juxtapose a bad fact in same sentence with good fact. Pair your weaker arguments with your stronger to remind the judge of the big picture (good impact calculus).

Selecting a Public Forum Debate Camp

Selecting a Public Forum Debate Camp

How do you know what will be the best learning experience for you this summer? Here’s a checklist of things to consider as you look at Public Forum Debate camps.

  1. What skill levels does the camp target? Many camps offer a variety of programs, ranging from beginner workshops to advanced workshops. Know your skill level and know what kind of program you are looking for. Many camps provide an introductory/beginner workshop and nothing else. If you are a more advanced debater, you may not get that much out of such a camp.
  2. How many practice rounds are offered? Practice rounds are one of the most important parts of a debate camp. These allow you to get concrete feedback on your personal delivery and argumentation style. Make sure the camp includes practice rounds. Most camps will run an “in camp” tournament towards the end of the program to include rounds.
  3. What concrete skills will be taught and discussed? Most camps will advertise their program with a list of lectures that will be given at the camp. You’re always going to have coverage of case writing, rebuttal, delivery, and the basics of Public Forum. Look into what else the camp offers – are there electives? advanced topics such as framework and topic analysis? topic lectures on politics, economics, philosophy?
  4. What is the lab to lecture ratio? Labs (or seminars) are the small groups assigned to one faculty member throughout the camp program. This is where you will get the most intensive feedback and training. Lectures are generally for everyone in the PF program and are more like a college class. You want to make sure your camp has a balance of labs and lecture because both are necessary for skills improvement. Don’t select a camp that is too much lecture and not enough lab.
  5. What is the faculty to student ratio? The less students per faculty member, the more personalized an experience you will have.
  6. What is the faculty’s experience and reputation? You may not know much about the camp’s faculty, but you should check out the faculty bios on the camp’s website. You can also ask your coach about the camp’s reputation. What I would look for is Public Forum specific experience and success debating (if the faculty person is a debater).
  7. Where is it located and how much does it cost? Location can greatly affect your selection if you want to find something close to home. The further away, the more expensive the plan ticket to camp. Also, many camps offer a commuter option that may save you a lot of money if you live near a camp. Finally, camp cost is a big factor. Know your family’s budget for camp going in to the selection process. Just so you know, some camps can cost upwards of $2000 and that is before the cost of travel. Perhaps consider getting a summer job, babysitting, mowing lawns, whatever you have to do to get yourself to camp.
  8. Ask someone who has gone to the camp about their experience! I highly recommend speaking with someone who has attended the camp before about their experience. Websites may look pretty, but the camp experience could be different. Get on the ground reviews whenever you can!
  9. What is the application process? Make sure you note what type of application process exists for the camps you are considering! It would be horrible to miss the deadline to sign up.
  10. Check out my camp reviews in the coming weeks. I will be looking at camps across the country by location (West, Midwest, South, and East) and breaking down the facts for you: Dates, Deadline to Apply, Price, Practice Rounds. Topics Covered and My Thoughts on the camp.

Let me know what you need to know so I can give you feedback on your camp selection process. Remember all emails go to beyondresolved@gmail.com. If you have any questions regarding the SNFI experience I will field those as well.

Best of luck selecting your summer camp!




Using Roadmaps

Roadmaps are spoken outlines of your upcoming speech. They are used to help alert the judge where the speech is going. Roadmaps traveled over to PF from Policy. In Policy roadmaps are very necessary as the order of arguments varies round to round and many different types of arguments are made. In PF they are less necessary.

I am of the opinion that roadmaps are useless, especially “off time roadmaps.” These usually alert the judge to the conventional order of addressing issues. I advocate not using roadmaps unless you are doing something abnormal in your upcoming speech. The most common roadmap is the pre-rebuttal “I will go down my opponents’ flow and if time permits, readdress my own case.” Well, this is what everyone does. This is redundant and can exasperate judges used to judging.

I advocate giving preview statements, or spending the first bit of your speech telling the judge the main issues you will discuss.

However, a fellow wise instructor pointed out some times you would want to use a roadmap and use it well. Here are some thoughts on when roadmaps are appropriate.

  1. If your judge asks for you to give roadmaps, then by all means, give one every speech! Part of judge adaptation is meeting the judge’s needs.
  2. If your judge starts time when your opponent offers an “off time roadmap” take this as a cue not to give a roadmap. Also watch their facial reactions for any discomfort.
  3. If you choose to give a roadmap, make sure everyone is ready and check in before the roadmap. Checking in after the roadmap makes it seem like you were trying to buy yourself extra time.
  4. If you are in front of a judge you know has never judged before (as in they have told you), you may want to ask politely, “Would you like to know the order in which I will be addressing arguments?”

If you give a roadmap…

  • Keep it short, for the sake of everyone.
  • Know if the judges puts it on time – if so your timer will go off after theirs and you should account for that in your speech.

If you don’t use a roadmap…

  • You should always know your roadmap for yourself. This means you know the way you will organize your speech and prioritize arguments BEFORE you ever start speaking.
  • Use clear transition language throughout your speech to help the judge follow you. This should be standard practice whether you choose to use a roadmap or not. Signpost, give tag lines, reiterate the most important issue at the end of the speech, etc.