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!


Q&A: Partnering Problems?

Q: I’m having a bit of a partner crisis and was wondering if you had any thoughts/advice on the situation.

My incredible partner has just graduated. We did very well competitively in the past year and I’m looking to continue to have success on the national level in the coming years. I need a new partner and unfortunately, my school is very small. My options are limited to converting an LD kid or poaching a PFer from another partnership.


Partnering is a complex thing. How people get paired works differently on every team, but here are the things you should consider as you move on.

1. Who usually pairs teams, debaters or your coach?

If your coach pairs teams, you should approach them to have a conversation. Ask who they are considering pairing you with and who you have considered for a partner. If your coach ultimately decides all conversations or thoughts should go through them.

If debaters decide partnerships, please consider the following questions:

2. Has anyone stepped forward that wants to be your partner?

Willingness to partner is a huge aspect of success. If there is someone who has shown interest and you think it could work, sit down and have a conversation about what kind of commitment you each have to debate. You want to have similar levels of commitment to work, competing, etc.

3. Is the LD person open to switching?

If someone is considering crossing over to PF, I would definitely consider this option. Again, willingness to partner is huge. Also LD skills can easily transfer into PF if the person is willing to learn and adapt.

4. Is the partnership you are considering breaking a successful one, both in round and partner dynamics wise?
The word “poach” is interesting because it has an inherently negative connotation. I think breaking up a partnership needs to be thought about long and hard. The reason for breaking cannot solely be your desire to succeed. Think about if the partnership is working and has been successful – if so, don’t touch it. If the team seems to be unsatisfied or unevenly matched, you should approach both of them with the idea. Remember, at the end of the day you will have to spend time with both partners.
I would suggest having your coach sit down with you and the partners to have the discussion. There should be an alternative partner readily available for the person who may soon be partnerless. Think about all the details before approaching this option.
5. Consider switching partners if things don’t work out.

When you find a new partner (unless you have broken another PF partnership), consider it a trial run. This should be discussed with the partner before you treat the partnership this way. You can always try and work things out, but if by about mid-year it feels like you are not moving in the same direction, consider trying a different partner. As a sophomore you do have some time to sort things out before you really need a committed partnership. I did not debate with my long term partner until junior year, and it was worth the wait.


In any partnering concern, remember that you are dealing with people- friends, peers, and teammates. Make sure you realize that partnering isn’t just a strategic game, but also that emotions and feelings will be involved. Tread carefully and think about the impact of your choices before making any moves. Always go to a trusted coach, varsity team member, or mentor to discuss your options.

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).

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.