Games are one of the most integral parts of our modern society. Between sports, video games, and even the many applications of game theory to business, politics, and various social issues, many problems can be solved by examining how best to use the rules of the game to your advantage. Debate is no different. One of the most integral parts of debate is taking advantage of your time. Of course, while conveying points to the judge takes time, so does crafting and phrasing those points in an effective and persuasive manner. Because of that, and because I constantly see the issue of prep time being avoided in discussions of debate strategy, I wanted to take some time today to discuss the various ways to maximize those vital two minutes of prep time.
Take All of Your Prep
This one is self-explanatory, but I see a lot of teams avoiding it for one reason or another. Every second of prep time not taken is another second that could have been used to write out responses, read evidence, communicate with your partner, or just collect your thoughts before a speech. Don’t get me wrong, teams have won rounds with a minute of prep left on the clock, but those rounds were never particularly close. Rather, effective and complete use of prep is one of those small skills that separate the octo-finalists from the champions, and the 45th speaker from the 9th. When you get past a certain skill threshold, these things start to matter.
Flip Second (Yes, Every Time)
One of the most important aspects of prep time in debate is that, while teams have their own individual timers and are each allotted prep time that they can use whenever they want, both sides of the debate are allowed to work during either side’s prep time. This is important, and one of the reasons why going second is truly so powerful in debate. Aside from the myriad of other benefits that Caspar recently covered, flipping second means that every time your opponents take prep, you get to use that prep too, and so every second that benefits them also benefits you. In contrast, your opponents don’t get to take full advantage of all your prep time. Speaking of which…
Always Take Prep Before Second Case If You’re Speaking Second
This one is weirdly uncommon, despite how truly broken it is. The symmetry of prep time being usable by both teams gets destroyed when, as soon as your first-speaking opponents read their case, you take 20-40 seconds of prep. During this time, your team can decide upon your strategy for the second half of the debate, communicate responses, and call for evidence, while your opponents have absolutely nothing to do. They don’t know what you’re running yet, so they can only twiddle their thumbs and make awkward eye contact with the judge while you plot their downfall. Muahahaha.
Take Prep Before Second Final Focus
In the same vein, waiting until right before your second final focus to take a large portion of your prep means your opponents also don’t get to take advantage, since by then they’re done with all their speeches. Importantly, if your second speaker uses 30 seconds of prep before second case and 30 seconds before second final focus, you’ve effectively reduced your opponent’s available prep time for the whole round from 4 to 3 minutes. Imagine if you had a full minute of rebuttal more than your opponent, and you’ll start to see that these small things make a difference.
Cut Down On ‘Fluff’ In Prep Time
This is more of a broader category, but it’s where most prep time gets wasted. A lot of prep gets spent reading evidence, either because you didn’t follow your opponents’ case or because you want to look for holes in your opponent’s arguments. This is a fine strategy, but one that doesn’t need to waste time in round. If you do more research before the tournament, you can build enough topic knowledge to avoid this in most rounds. Instead of calling for six cards and wasting 60 seconds, you can instead just recite the indicts you already knew about this evidence from prior research.
Along that line, make sure that you clear the broad strokes of your late round strategy with your partner before going into the round. Changes can be made when the situation calls for it, but if you both know how you want to handle the last two speeches, your narrative will be stronger and you’ll have more prep to deal with emergencies.
Ice Your Opponents (The Bilal Butt Special)
This one is kind of mean, but there’s no rule against it and it’s very strategic. A lot of the confidence that debaters build up comes from being able to take command of a room, to have everyone intently awaiting their upcoming speech. If you can break that confidence, even momentarily, you can really throw your opponents off. If you find yourself with more prep than expected when your opponents are about to go up for a speech, use it against them. When they ask if everyone’s ready (often a rhetorical question), stop them. Say you’re not ready and take 5 seconds of prep. You knock them off their rhythm and they have to adjust. If you time it effectively and aren’t rude about it, it could cause your opponents to stumble and lead them to make mistakes they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Take Time To Think
If you find yourself ready for final focus with 25 seconds left on the clock, or if as a first speaker you still have more than a minute of prep left, take a bit of time to collect yourself. Take a deep breath, look over everything on your flow, and focus less on specifics and more on the general flow of the round. It’s good for your mentality going into your next speech, and it looks really cool if you’re just mentally preparing for your last speech by reading everything over instead of frantically scribbling to the last second.
With these tips, you can hopefully get a bit more of an edge in your future debates. As always, what’s much more important than utilizing any of these particular skills is knowing when their use would be most helpful to you, which comes with experience. Keep your timer at the ready, maximize those edges, and get out there!