As we enter this next school year, it’s time to begin preparing for debate. I remember preparing for my first year of LD debate not too long ago. I found evidence, googled definitions, and printed many briefs. In fact, pretty much all of my preparation time went into writing cases and finding evidence. Generally, this is what we think of when we want to prepare. In the debate round, we need cases and evidence, so that’s what we should gather before competition starts. Right? Well, in my opinion, that’s only partially right. It’s certainly important to be prepared with these materials before your first tournament, but I don’t think cases and evidence represent the most important aspect of a debate round…
Every Monday morning, throughout the entire first semester, my LD debate club would host practice debates. One particular day, I was assigned to the Negative side. When it came time for my rebuttal I had no idea what to say. I found a random brief in some of my papers and decided to read it to burn time. I was about half-way through the paper, when I suddenly realized something horrifying. I was reading the brief for the opposite side of the debate! This particular piece of evidence was supporting my opponent’s arguments, not mine! I rambled through the remainder of my speech and quickly sat down.
What I learned that day is that the most important requirement for debating successfully, at least in LD, is understanding the topic. It doesn’t matter how good your cases are or how much evidence you have stored up if you don’t know what you are talking about. Having solid cases and evidence is certainly important, but that needs to come from your understanding of the topic. Knowing what you’re talking about comes first, and supporting the ideas you’ve discovered through evidence comes second. Had I understood the topic during that tragic debate round, I would’ve been able to spend my time refuting my opponents arguments, rather than wasting time reading a brief. And if I did decide to read a brief, I would’ve noticed it was the wrong brief immediately, because the evidence didn’t line up with the arguments I was presenting. Basically, the whole scenario could’ve been avoided if I had spent my preparation time differently.
I have been much more successful in debate now that I’ve shifted my practice time from reading and printing random stuff that I generally don’t understand, to pacing my living room debating the resolution with myself. I’ve used multiple different methods for gaining a better understanding of the resolution. I’ll share the three most helpful things I’ve done to prepare for each debate season.
First, I spend time rebutting arguments I read. There are many resources that provide information, including arguments, on the debate topic. Instead of copying their reasoning into documents for my own use, I’ve practiced forming counter-arguments to support the opposite case. Second, talk to others about the subject. You’ll probably hear this a lot, but if you’re anything like me, it’ll take a few years before you actually start doing it. Most of the people I talk to don’t know much about the topic, but I always learn from their perspective. This also gives me an opportunity to practice clearly explaining my reasoning.
Finally, I’ve probably learned the most from debating myself. Once you have a foundational understanding of the topic, you can deepen that knowledge by running practice debate rounds in your head. It sounds weird, but I’ve found this to be both helpful and fun. Think of an argument, then counter that argument with how you would reply on the opposite side. Continue rebutting the argument until you break it down as far as it will go. This has helped prepare me for arguments I might face in a round, and how I should respond to them. Doing this has revealed logical fallacies, faulty reasoning, and missing links in my own arguments, that I’ve been able to fix before entering a round. I’ve also found that it is a good mental exercise that has taught me how to refute arguments.
This is not an exhaustive list, there are many ways to gain a better understanding of the topic. I would encourage you to try different methods and see what works for you. The primary take-away is that the most valuable preparation comes down to understanding the topic.
Don’t forget our LD Guide is out!! That will help guide you to the perfect prep this season!!;)