Debate Tip of the Week: 7 Tips to Improve Your 2ACs

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The 2AC is one of the most under-utilized speeches in TP debate, second only perhaps to the 1NR. It’s 8 precious minutes for the affirmative that’s often spent addressing the 1NC arguments with very little thought to the full length of the debate. 2ACs are frequently defensive, both in content and in tone, giving the negative team the rhetorical advantage for no reason at all. Giving a great 2AC requires being extremely prepared and involves advancing your position rather than just deflecting the negative attack. Here are 7 tips to make that happen.

1. Develop A Response Sheet

You should be recording every argument you’ve faced, discovered, or thought of against your affirmative case. Once you have a short list, build up your response sheet. Work with your partner to brainstorm every single response you can against each of those arguments. Order them from best to worst response and plug in the best card you have on each (if applicable). If done well, by the midpoint of the season this should cover 90% or more of your affirmative responses. It’s like debating on easy mode because you’ve already prepped everything ahead of time. Now all you have to do is mark down the responses you want to use and your brainpower (and prep time) can be spent on other matters.

2. Plan Case Extensions

Responding thoroughly to the 1NC is your first priority as the 2AC speaker, but if you have time after that (and you should with your succinct and powerful response sheet-enabled refutation) you should work on building up your case further. This does not mean simply reading more evidence that repeats the harms or advantages. Unless the negative team has cast into doubt the original evidence that makes that point, why bring up more of the same? Instead you should develop your argument further, perhaps with additional warrants or impacts. Additional warrants create redundancies, so if the negative team manages to take out the first warrant the second will still maintain the harm/adv. Additional impacts develop and intensify the urgency and need for your plan.

3. Plan Turns 

After you’ve prepped basic responses and extensions, turn your prep focus towards finding impactful, more difficult to find arguments like turns and spikes. A turn is an argument that says that the opponent’s argument is actually beneficial to your side. Typically they’re done to advantages or disadvantages, but I’ve seen them apply to all sorts of arguments. Turns are particularly potent on the affirmative side, because if you turn a negative team’s argument they cannot drop that argument without conceding new offense in favor of the affirmative. Normally the negative team can drop one of their own arguments without much consequence.

4. Plan Spikes

A spike is an argument that preemptively responds to an attack that has not yet happened. Spiking an argument can be risky, because if they don’t end up running the argument they thought they were going to run you’ve now wasted time on nothing of consequence. Normally I would not recommend spiking an argument unless you know for a fact that they neg is going to run it. However, if you can run an argument that functions as both a case extension and a spike, you benefit no matter what. This can be tricky to find, but once you’ve covered the basic responses you should not rest on your laurels and continue to improve your defense.

5. Understand The Negative Evidence

Most negative briefs are made relatively quickly without a deep understanding of the arguments. This is to be expected because everyone’s focusing on covering every case and not necessarily focusing on depth (or at least not for a while). This is an opportunity, in your affirmative prep, to gather and examine the negative evidence you hear in detail. Every time you hear a card that’s even the least bit concerning, write down the citation and look it up after the tournament. See if the source is credible. Read the entire document and make sure they’re presenting it accurately. You’ll be surprised what you find when you go in-depth and truly understand not only your own position, but your opponent’s. Also it’s really fun when you know someone’s evidence better than they do.

Next let’s move on to two things you should make sure you do in-round, starting with:

6. Make Sure The Round Is Clear

Unless your plan is dirt simple, the judge probably only has half an idea of what it’s about by the time the 2AC rolls around. I’m very good at flowing, and I understand the topic moderately well any given year, and when I’m judging a round half the time I’m confused about what the plan precisely is. Part of that is usually the 1NC’s fault, as that’s a chaotic speech and they may not fully understand it themselves. So if you’re the 2AC speaker, just slide in another explanation of the plan if you think there’s any chance at all people don’t know what it is. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, just include it as part of a response.

You should also make sure the organization of the round is clear. 1NC speeches can be messy, and if you don’t clean it up now it’ll only get worse as the round progresses. Sometimes that means being extra deliberate to signpost accurately and clearly for the judge. Other times that can mean re-organizing everything so it’s coherent. Try to maintain the organization of the 1NC as much as possible, but if your flow is messy, your judge’s will be also.

7. Prime Your Impact Calculus

It’s never too early to start setting up the 2AR by doing some impact calculus. Get in the habit of trying to work in some simple impact analysis in the 2AC. After responding to case arguments, point out that even if the judge buys the negative argumentation, it still doesn’t take away justification for your plan. Emphasize the case arguments they didn’t address or only weakly covered and give reasons why they’re so important. This will only make the 1AR and 2AR, usually more difficult speeches than the 2AC, easier. Your partner and future-you will thank you. As an added bonus, if you do this you’ll avoid the common trap of only talking about the negative arguments and never returning to your case. Too many debaters choose to allow the negative team to frame the rest of the round from their side and never recover.

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