Caspar Arbeeny — Case Western Reserve University
No matter how good you are, how long you have been debating, or what school you go to, every PF round begins with a coin flip. The dynamics of the coin flip are simple, whoever wins can choose to either speak first or second, or to debate on the pro or the con. Despite having all four of these options, every debater should almost always choose to speak second. Here’s why:
Speaking second gives you significantly more time to prepare your speeches. This occurs through a few mechanisms. First, you can prep while your first speaker reads your case. During the second constructive, the second speaker has the ability to write down how the will respond to the other case without having anything else you should pay attention to. You don’t need to listen to your partner reading case because chances are you have heard it before. This gives you four full minutes your opponents are forced to flow while you can write your rebuttal. Second, you are guaranteed to be able to use all of your opponent’s prep time. Considering you always have a speech after your opponents, you can always use their prep time while they are. While your opponents are preparing for first rebuttal, you can prepare for second rebuttal. The same goes for summary and final focus. Third, you can use your prep at two points that are useless to your opponents, thereby denying them prep. These two places are before the second constructive and before the second final focus. The former is effective because you haven’t read any arguments yet, thus they can’t prepare to respond to them, and the latter is effective because they don’t have another speech to prepare for. The final advantage in terms of prep time is that you can prep for your next speeches during your opponent’s speeches i.e. you can prep during first summary for second summary. While all of these sound like small advantages, they add up and culminate in significantly better speeches.
Having second rebuttal gives you a few options that you don’t have in first rebuttal that enables you win the round a little easier. The first and clearest advantage is that it enables you to respond to your opponent’s rebuttal to your case if you so desire. This not only clears up the round earlier and makes sure you have sufficient case offense to win the round, but also enables you to ease the burden on your first speaker by responding to the rebuttal for them, making the summary speech significantly easier. While this isn’t necessary in every round, it is incredibly useful to have the option to if needed. The second advantage is that you know what your opponent’s strategy is and can establish a more effective counter-narrative in rebuttal. When you know what all your opponent’s offense (case and turns included) you know what all their avenues to the ballot are, and can plan accordingly. If it’s obvious after first rebuttal that they need to win their second contention to win the round, speaking second enables you to adjust and respond to their second contention more than their others.
In my experience, this is the largest benefit to speaking second. An effective second summary can end the round in ways that a first summary never could. This advantage is so large in fact that some people are advocating to make first summary three minutes long while keeping second summary two minutes long. There is one main reason why second summary is so much more effective than first summary, which is that first summary must cover more ground than second summary. In first summary, the debater must boil sixteen minutes (two cases, two rebuttals) of argumentation down to 2 minutes. Anyone who has given this speech in a highly competitive round will attest that it’s incredibly difficult, and in some rounds downright impossible to cover everything you need to. Comparatively, second summary has just had the entire round boiled down for them by the first summary. The first speaking team can’t talk about any offense they didn’t mention in summary in final focus, so you know that any offense they didn’t extend in summary doesn’t need to be answered. This allows you to answer all the offense they can go for and gives you the ability to develop any offense you want, while they don’t have the same opportunity. This makes the hardest speech in the round significantly easier to give, and enables a good first speaker to simply put the nail in the coffin against an only ok first summary.
Second Final Focus
This is the advantage that is most commonly complained about in public forum rounds, often articulated as “THEY WENT NEW IN THE TWO!”, which is when debaters bring up new arguments in second final focus. This is incredibly frustrating because the first speaking team has no opportunity to respond to the second final focus, so if your judge doesn’t recognize that those arguments were new, you are probably out of luck. Beyond giving you the ability to break the rules of public forum with almost no repercussions, second final focus enables you to clean up the round in ways your opponents can’t. In first final focus a team is forced to put all their cards on the table. After that happens second final focus can go up, answer everything they just said, and then weigh and win an independent piece of offense, with no ability for the other team to respond. In many rounds, giving an elite second speaker second final focus is a death sentence for this reason.
These are the most common reasons debaters choose to speak second. There are few if any advantages to speaking first, let alone flipping first. Some people advocate for flipping first in front of judges who require you to frontline your own case, but I can tell you from experience that speaking second is still better. The other three advantages mentioned above still far outweigh the “disadvantage” of needing to frontline in rebuttal. At the end of the day, speaking second is the largest advantage that any team can have in public forum debate, take it any chance you can get.