“We said that!”

Debaters are frequently frustrated by post round discussions that go like this

Judge: I voted against you on X. You needed better answers, that would include saying something like A, B, C

Debater: But we did say that

Judge:… no, no you didn’t


Most debaters then leave the room convinced they got “screwed” by terrible judging. Some debaters will have 3-4 such losses at a tournament which is a lot of coincidental “bad judging” for just one team. While there certainly are a lot of bad judges out there, adopting the lens of “we lose debate because judges are bad” is not very helpful. Certainly there are some rounds you probably can’t win due to the judge. But even if that is the case it doesn’t help your improvement as a debater to just give up. In many cases doing things differently- reading different arguments, changing your delivery style- will actually allow you to get the ballot from these “bad” judges. Judge adaption is certainly an important skill, but is not what I want to address in this article. What I want to talk about are ways in which you can more clearly convey your ideas to ANY judge regardless of their argument dispositions. Judges often have different opinion- is the politics disad good/bad, how awesome is Brodrillard etc- but there are few if any judges who like it when debaters poorly convey their arguments, don’t explain them in depth, go out of their way to make it harder for the judge to flow etc. Many times the reason you are “getting screwed by a bad judge” is that you have not done a good enough job conveying your argument for them to understand it- what is perfectly clear to you is not clear to them. This article will focus on tips to overcome this problem.


1. Fully explain your analytic arguments. I was on a panel recently where the aff team thought they had clearly shown there was no impact to the disad the neg team went for. The decision was a 3-0 for the neg and the aff was very frustrated. In this debate the issue was basically something like this: The 1NC internal link card for the impact said something ambiguous that the neg interpreted one way, and the aff interpreted a different probably accurate way. This is how the debate played out


1NC: Impact

2AC: Their impact card sucks- it has no warrant

2NC: Explains what the neg team believes the impact argument to be in some depth

1AR: This impact card really sucks

2NR: They didn’t answer any of the explanation of our impact

2AR: This impact card SUCKS


The failure to communicate from the affirmative here is that they are not explaining WHY or what the argument is for why the negs impact is bad, they are just asserting it is bad. This is something that happens often. In some speeches claims like “no warrant” will be peppered throughout attacking the other teams point but not really explaining the argument for why its a bad point. “This sucks” or “no warrant” are not arguments in and of themselves- they are most closely just claims that need to be explained and argued. When you attack another teams evidence you need to get in deoth and explain why it is bad, not just assert it is bad. Take the classic Mead 92 economy impact. In order of progressive quality you could make these analytics


“Mead 92 sucks- everyone knows it”


“Mead 92 sucks- it has no warrant for why economic decline causes war- it just asserts it”


“Mead 92 has no causal explanation for why economic decline causes war, it just cites the great depression but anecdotes are not data- we’ve had 500 other economic collapses that did not result in war”


Even example 3 could certainly be beefed up/expounded upon, but ignoring that- example 3 is worlds of difference from example 1. Example 1 is the kind of thing debaters say and then don’t understand why judges didn’t give them credit for the argument- they didn’t give you credit because you didn’t convey to them a complete argument. This is a pretty simplistic example- everyone knows the Mead card/why its bad- so imagine how much more complicated this gets when the argument is a K or a tricky counterplan- the burden for how much you have to say to convince the judge goes up with both the complexity and the quality of the other teams argument. Making sure your analytics are well developed can often times be the make or break issue in your rounds. Take permutations as our second and last example. I have seen many neolib debates that go like this:


1NC: Ocean development is neoliberal

2AC: Perm do both

2NC: Perm links to our ocean development bad arguments, here are some cards that you can’t use pragmatic politics

1AR: Perm solves- its a double bind bro

2NR: the perm doesn’t overcome our specific links, and they didn’t answer prag bad

2AR: lol 2NR still doesn’t understand we aren’t arguing single bind, we are going DOUBLE BIND


Mot judges end up voting neg. Just saying “perm double bind” isn’t an argument that overcomes the negatives links or their generic permutation evidence. The aff needs to go deeper in explaining the perm. A complete 1AR on perm double bind would go something like this


“Extend the perm- if the alternative can fix neoliberal institutions in the status quo then it will be able to resolve residual links to the plan. The net benefit is our case- a small risk of a link is outweighed by the short term impact of our advantage/the fact that we solve it. The alternative alone may solve our advantage but on a much longer timeframe- a 5 year solvency deficit is a generous assessment of their revolution and even that is sufficient to outweigh small residual links like pragmatism bad- if you decide it isn’t, that prag links are too strong, than the alt fails because there are countless pragmatic political projects now that would similarly derail alt solvency. And evaluate perms using reasonability- we don’t have to conclusively win the perm is better, its the neg burden to win a meaningful disad to the perm-don’t vote in minute risks”


That is sort of needfully abstract so as to keep the hypothetical simple, but I think it does a few things

1. It sets up a FW for how to evaluate permutations

2. It better explains the “double bind”

3. Specifically it points out that perm answers t/out alternative solvency



These are things you can apply to any argument in any speech. Short analytics like “a rational policy maker could do both” or “the disad turns the case- war hurts the environment” are not just so short that many judges will miss flowing them, but they also don’t convey a complete argument. So while you may think those 8 words perfectly explain to the judge what you are trying to say, often times the judge is going to disagree and you will be frustrated with the decision.



2. Whatever your argument is, you want to package it as well as possible so that people understand it. What I mean by packaging is that you want to arrange the words in a way that the judge can easily flow them and understand the argument. A simple example of packaging would be how to extend evidence. It seems like a small thing but this is actually really important. Most judges try to write down the first few things you say when making an argument- they hear them and start writing. Most debaters when extending evidence tend to do it in this format


“citation, claim, warrant”


This sounds like


“Extend Mead 92- economic decline causes war because… reasons”


What a judges flow looks like after a speech like that is


-mead 92

-royal 10

-Simon 96

-Zizek 98


Its just a list of names with no clue what the arguments being made were. To package evidence extensions better change the format to


“Claim, warrant, Citation”


This looks like


“economic decline causes war- empirics prove bad economies cause bad voting, citizens elect radical leaders like hitler because they are desperate- thats mead ”


Now hopefully what the judge gets down is the claim/argument you are making, instead of just a list of names. Obviously in an ideal world the judge would be able to flow both the outline of your argument and the citation, but you should always practice/prepare for the worst case scenario not a perfect court reporter judge.  To properly package and argument you want to do the following


-clearly differentiate between when an argument ends and a new one begins. Numbers are always best, but barring that use some sort of consistent transition word like “next”- consistency is key!

-begin each argument with an “argument flag”- a 4-6 word description that encapsulates that argument. “winners win” is much easier to understand/flow than if someone said “spending political capital on a wise investment results in a return of net more capital than one began with” even though they are saying the same thing. This can be taken too far sometimes when you see someone who has a 8 mn K 2NC full of 80 arguments like this “value to life DA, cooption DA, root cause DA” etc. Not only is that cliche, but just labeling everything a DA doesn’t really help to explain/improve judge understanding.

-Write blocks, then re-write blocks. For many, what they think is an awesome block when they wrote it at 3AM turns out to be basically gibberish. Being a good block writer is 10% writing blocks and 90% re-writing blocks. You want to rewrite to make sure things are as efficient and well explained as possible, oftentimes getting another persons perspective can be useful here- if your partner/coach doesn’t understand what you are trying to say odds are the judge probably won’t get it either. Try reading your K overview to your parents- if they are mystified you probably are relying too much on jargon to do your explaining for you.

-When you are reading your blocks use your speaking to emphasize key points or to signal the change from one argument to another. Usually when people bold or box parts of a piece of evidence its just so the cards look cool/cause they think it will impress judges to have lots of boxes. What you should REALLY be using things like that for are to indicate parts of the evidence or analytic blocks that should be receiving extra emphasis. You control everything about your speaking voice- your pitch, volume, rate of delivery- all can be changed to emphasize important points or just to explain transitions. If your entire speech is a complete monotone not only is that not persuasive it actually makes it harder to flow as judges don’t know when you are transitioning. Now, the other extreme is also bad- this isn’t duo so you don’t want to be overly dramatic in your emphasis. But in an 8 minute speech emphasizing 10-20 things would be appropriate.


3. Making important arguments a focus. Many times I will see a debater make an argument or even an overview where they say something like


“Oh my god this round is OVER- the other team has no answer to X and that is the most important thing in the round”


And then thats all they say- there is no more explanation of X, they never go back to it. This is not an effective tactic, it is like showing me a movie trailer instead of the whole film. If X is the most important issue in the debate you probably want to be talking about it more/explaining it. This is especially true in the 2AR- every camp lecture ever about the 2AR emphasizes how you need to pick and chose arguments and “sit” on a few things. This means explaining those things in depth, often times doing a lot of work to make up for thin 1AR explanation or other problems from earlier in the debate. When you explain a key argument you have to make sure that you not only explain it, explain its implications/impacts, and answer the other teams possible applicable arguments. You need to make sure you do all those things well enough for that particular judge. Some like more or less explanation, some like more line by line and less big picture, others are the opposite. Its not enough to do those things in a way that makes sense to YOU, it has to make sense to the judge as they are the ones deciding the debate. This is where reading judge philosophies and talking to your coaches about people becomes valuable.


When you are doing practice speeches, try and practice judge adaptation. How would I give this overview for Judge X vs Judge Y ? Should I go for reasonability with a specific judge or should I spend more time winning offense? You have to train yourself to be thinking htis way constantly if you want to be able to deploy it effectively in a round. Generally when you learn things you go through a few stages


1. Unconscious incompetence- you make mistakes and you don’t know why

2. Conscious incompetence- you know you are making mistakes but don’t know how to do it better

3. conscious competence- you know how to do things the right way, but it takes a lot of focus/mental effort to do so

4. Unconscious competence- you do it right without thinking


The goal is to get to 4- to do the things discussed above without thinking about it, so it becomes second nature. The only way this happens is through practice. Remember


Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement- Jason Statham


In order to learn things the most effective method is to “small chunk” it. This means practicing 1 or 2 small things at a time. Its too hard to sit down and say I’m going to practice 30 things I need to improve on in this speech- you won’t be able to work on them all/your improvement will be much slower. Its much better if you focus on small things one at a time so you can make sure you are doing it right and track your progress.






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