Q&A: Less than ideal partnership?

Q: In general, how do you recommend dealing with a partner situation that is less than ideal?

I don’t want to feel limited by my partner in the coming years. I want to do as well as possible in debate and I need a partner who can help me achieve that level of success. Debate is an area where I can’t really have a “c’est la vie” attitude – I just care too much.


Never enter a partnership expecting to be best friends. If this happens, consider yourself lucky. It is healthier to expect someone with whom you can work hard, both in round and in trying to improve your debating. Partners should have similar expectations for debate. This means similar commitment levels to your program, to attending tournaments, to traveling, and the amount of time spent preparing for debates. Sharing these expectations will protect your team for unnecessary conflicts. Conflicts will surely arise if you do not agree on these things.

If you do have conflicts, make sure you talk about them – best if you can have a neutral third party (a coach or team mentor) be present for the conversation. Things can get personal fast with just two partners and you want to keep things civil.

I do believe you should aim to partner with  someone with similar debate experience. Debate experience includes all forms of debate, not just PF. When possible, match yourself with someone with an equal number of rounds under his or her belt. Poorly matched pairs end up being mentorship relationships rather than teams.

You want to be a united front even if your team is struggling in round or with relational issues outside of the round. For the time of the round, lay down any swords you’ve raised at each other. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches and mistakes that will happen in round – together. Work to highlight and maximize each other’s strengths. Work on making your team a unit: have traditions, pump-up music, superstitions, special binders or flow pens, matching ties, or whatever else makes your team “you”. Your partner is not just a debater, but also a person. You are more than a debater to your partner. Do not take yourself or debate too seriously!

WHAT IS Decision Calculus?

If you can successfully argue Framework and do Impact Calculus, you have reached what I like to call Decision Calculus. The combination of the big picture perspective and the internal comparisons make voting an easy process. Both tools instruct the judge on voting. With preparation and practice, the right combination of Framework and Impact Calculus will help a good debater become a great debater.

A friendly reminder: Framework is different than Impact Calculus. Framework concerns why the judge should adopt a certain perspective on the round. Framework can shape Impact Calculus by articulating what should be the most important considerations when comparing impacts. Framework does not, however, prevent you from making impact comparisons that do not fall neatly into the Framework.


Decision Calculus is when you use your Framework to encompass your impact comparisons and present the judge a complete picture.

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.

February 2014: Resolutional Analysis

On balance, economic globalization benefits worldwide poverty reduction.

Three very important words might slip your mind as you debate and research your topic.

On balance

This phrase asks for a cost/benefit analysis; this means you MUST compare impacts. The impacts are the possible costs, or negative effects, and the possible benefits, or positive effects. Don’t be fooled – this isn’t solely quantitative analysis. A cost could come to safety just as easily as there could be an economic cost. Just because you can quantify an impact does not give it inherent priority. In your Framework, prioritize the types of costs and benefits that will be discussed during the round and explain to the judge how to measure these impacts. Define what types of impacts should be prioritized throughout the debate.


While this underscores that “on balance” requires cost/benefit analysis, I want to point out that this verb is in the present tense. Not the past tense, or the future tense.

I believe this means that any analysis and/or evidence presented about past economic globalization and past worldwide poverty reduction must be put in context with the present motive. Here are some papers to start building your understanding of the long term trends that define the present state of economic globalization.

When did globalisation start? The Economist (2013)

Two Trends in Global Poverty from Brookings (2011)

Globalization and Inequality: Historical Trends from the National Bureau of Economic Research (2001 – surveys 150 years of globalization)

Make sure your arguments are located in the present – and make your opponent do the same. Scrutinize all evidence for the time of publication AND of the date itself.