Mechanics of Cross X – Asking and Answering Questions by: Samuel Hand

I hope you found the last installment (purposes of cross-examination) helpful! Of course, understanding what you should aim to accomplish in CX is crucial to actually being effective in your rounds — but head knowledge means nothing unless you can actually implement it. The first question of implementation is this: how should you conduct yourself in cross-ex?

Always: be courteous and confident.This should go without saying, but whether asking or answering, you should be courteous and confident. In addition to its more obvious purposes, CX serves to establish rapport with the judge. It’s the only time that you and your opponent interact directly once the round starts, and in establishing good rapport with your judge and audience, two qualities are of primary concern: courtesy and confidence. You must be able to treat your opponent graciously while standing for what you argue. CX is not a time to be a bulldog, nor is it a time to be a pushover; finding the right balance takes practice.

Asking: leading questions are your friend.You may have heard that leading questions are frowned upon/not allowed in a court of law, but in CX-based debate, leading questions are your friend. In fact, in court, leading questions areallowed in CX; it is in direct examination (DX) where they are not. If you aren’t aware, a leading question is one in which the answer is implied. In other words, a leading question has the questioner’s desired answer embedded within it, and the questioner essentially asks the answerer to agree to the premise. For example: “Isn’t it true that all men are created equal?”

Yes, it’s true that any debater (or person in general) in their right mind would answer such a question affirmatively. Nonetheless, it illustrates the structure of a leading question. Embedded in the question is the suggestion that all men are, in fact, created equal; the questioner is asking the answerer to agree to that suggestion. Leading questions can be worded in the positive (e.g., “We agree that [insert premise], correct?”) or in the negative (e.g., “Isn’t it true that [insert premise]?”); neither is necessarily better than the other, and it largely comes down to personal preference and/or what sounds good.

This brings us to another merit of the leading question: generally, asking open-ended questions in cross-examination is a bad modus operandi. It invites your opponent to take a longer-than-necessary amount of time to explain herself , and you only have 180 seconds. The leading question necessitates a yes or no answer. “Isn’t it true that?” and “We agree, correct?” only can be answered sensically by a “Yes” or a “No.” If your opponent wishes to clarify her answer or provide a caveat, then I advise you to let her. It will improve your understanding of her answer, and you appear rude if you try to cut her off. However, even if she qualifies her answer, she is fundamentally required to answer “Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know.” A chain of such questions will make your opponent more likely to agree to the point you’re going to make in your speech, and usually takes far lesstime than would be required if you used open-ended questions.

Answering: stand for what’s important. Newcomers to debate often mistakenly believe that their opponent(s) will spend their 180 seconds of cross-ex trying to bash every single thing that they said into the ground, and nothing else. Usually, this is not true (and if it is, they’re doing CX wrong *grin*). When answering questions, don’t be afraid to agree with your opponent. Once again, a balance must be struck: agree to the questions you can agree to, but don’t let it look like your opponent is getting you to agree with everything she says. So where do you draw the line, and how do you do so tactfully?

Before I answer this question, let me briefly tell you why you don’t want to disagree with everythingyour opponent says/asks in CX. There are two primary reasons.

1. First, most debaters lay groundwork questions, such as the question about all men being equal creations that I mentioned above. It is a verywidely accepted truth that all men are created equal, all men are entitled to rights, etc. Unless you have a superb reason for saying no, you will look foolish, and this is something we generally try to avoid.

2. Second, agreeing to things that you can agree to makes it more impactful when you do disagree. If you agree to some questions, but then your opponent asks something you cannot agree to and you say, “No,” the judge is inclined to think, “S/he didn’t agree to that particular question — I wonder why? S/he must have a good reason. Hopefully it’ll come up in her/his speech.”

When it comes to drawing the line, and doing so tactfully, you mustknow your case well. You should know your case anyways, but to know where to draw the line, it is crucial. You must be prepared to know which questions pose a threat to your argumentation, and which ones do not. Not every question poses a threat to your arguments, nor is every question intended to. It takes practice and discernment, but with experience and a knowledge of your case, you will acquire the skill of learning when to draw the line. Draw that line with gracious speech, and stand on it confidently, and I guarantee the judge will be looking for you to return to the line you drew when you next stand up to speak.

Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse, but I want to return to what I said at the beginning: courtesy and confidence are your keys to cross-ex success. Don’t be afraid to agree with your opponent, but also don’t shy away from drawing lines where they need to be drawn. Do what is required to know your case, and trust your gut. As they say, plan the work, and then work the plan. Deliver lines of questioning confidently and graciously, and answer in the same fashion, unafraid to draw lines where they are needed.

Samuel Hand was born and raised in the Raleigh, NC area and competed for five years in speech and debate. After a year of speech-only participation, he embarked on what would become a four-year Lincoln-Douglas journey. He competed in all categories of speech (limited preparation, platform, and interpretative), and was a member of NCFCA’s pilot moot court program, placing 4th with partner Noah McKay at the 2017 National Championship. Samuel has earned 1st-place rankings at multiple national-level tournaments in both speech and debate in NCFCA and NSDA competition, and has coached several debaters who have succeeded at regional and national levels. “Communication is an art that requires constant, intentional effort to refine — never forget that excellence requires effort, and never forget Whom you do this for.”