Debate Tip Of The Week: Use Prep Time Wisely

On more than one occasion I’ve seen debaters treat prep time as the only time in which they can prepare, and it’s baffled me. Don’t fall into that trap.

Think of “prep time” as “extra time”. In reality all time you’re not actively giving a speech is prep time. Here are some tips to use this time to the fullest.

Let’s start with LD because there’s less to talk about here. Policy people get a huge advantage because they have partners they can cheat off of. When you’re all by your lonesome, just you and your values, there’s nowhere to hide. That makes pre-tournament prep all the more important. More than getting an understanding of the resolution and its many branches you should develop methods of explaining the most complex ideas in the simplest possible ways. Take notes, develop briefs, and enter each tournament truly prepared.

In-round I think it’s probably better to front-load your prep time in LD in most cases. The biggest issues I see with judging LD are problems of clarity and clash. It’s significantly harder to fix those issues at the end of the round than at the beginning. If you spend the extra time making sure that you’re explaining your position clearly and demonstrating how it clashes with the opponent’s arguments at the start of the round the rebuttals should be easier.

Policy debaters, the rascals, have more tricks up their sleeves. On the affirmative you get one speech for free, so your prep time is only divided over three speeches. I’ve found that all three of those speeches can warrant prep time, so using time wisely is simply a matter of prepping at all times and being a good teammate. During the 1NC the 2A should be spending their efforts assembling their speech, and the 1A should be taking a fantastic flow (so the 2A can find anything they miss) and figuring out their cross-x questions.

Flip the script during the negative block. The 2A needs to be the keeper of the best flow while their partner focuses on developing the 1AR. The 2A also has cross-x and should be noting anything of particular importance that should be included in the 1AR. Ideally plenty of time is left to leisurely walk into the 2NR. Also remember that cross-x is valuable prep time! Usually you can pay, at most, half-attention to what’s going on there. If anything exciting happens a good partner will let you know back at the table. Usually I kept a lazy ear out for one or two admissions I needed for my speech and otherwise ignored it.

On the negative side, assuming a negative split (where the 1NC and 2NC cover different material), prep time is only really needed for the 1NC and 2NR. Why? The 2NC has literally 30 minutes of speaking and cross-x time they’re not involved in to formulate their speech. The 1NR has 11 minutes but they’re not making up new arguments, but refutations of what they’ve already come up with, which is a bit easier.

Of course we can manipulate things with more granularity from there. The 2N needs to be the keeper of the best flow of the 1AC as the 1N scrambles to find briefs, pay attention to evidence wording, and otherwise panic. After that the 1N can relax a bit as they’re simply having a mini-debate with the 2A speaker before their active work is over. Other time can be spent helping their partner and getting a great flow of the 1AR. Saving some prep time for the 2NR is important as I find that is the most collaborative part of the debate, where both partner’s arguments combine for (hopefully) an effective impact analysis to close out the debate.

If you’re having trouble with running out of prep time, the best solution is to brute force your way out of relying on it. For the next few practice rounds give yourself no prep time. It’s a bit like throwing yourself into the deep end of the pool and learning how to swim but the threat of a painful death (or losing a debate round) tends to be motivational.

Finally, if you’re not in complete scramble mode to try to get anything to say during your speech, what should actual prep time be used for? The three most important tasks, in descending order of importance, are thus:

  1. Pre-tag and number your arguments. Get all tags on your flow, make sure everything’s in the correct order, and make sure your evidence is easy to access at the proper time. The difference between a debater making tags up on the spot and one with tags neatly ordered on their flow is night and day. Force yourself to not stand up to speak until all tags are down on paper. The imminent threat of running out of all time in the first speech is, again, persuasive.
  2. Get out of the weeds. Taking a little bit of time to look at the big picture of the debate, especially in the middle speeches, is incredibly helpful. I find that debaters stay focused on line-by-line argumentation far too long in the round and figuring out what’s actually important to the win sooner than later will make your speech easier and result in more victories.
  3. Know what the first two sentences out of your mouth will be, verbatim. No more generic dull openers. Find something direct and interesting to say from the top. Get the judges’ attention, get them to focus on what’s important, then jump into your groove.

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