Let's get it started.... LD styles.
My name is Marcus Viney, Head Coach of Cheyenne East, and this is, Episode 2: Getting Started in LD!
Last time we talked about what Lincoln Douglas debate is. This time we’re talking about how to get started. When you first begin, LD can seem super complicated. People talk about things like subpoints, weighing mechanisms, and dropped arguments. For now, you can ignore all of that and consider that no matter how complex or competitive it may get, LD boils down to just three simple things: making arguments, asking questions, and attacking arguments. That’s it. And notice the third thing, attacking arguments, is really just a version of the first thing, making arguments. Novice or national finalist, this is the secret. If you get good at these three things, you can earn trophies bigger than your head. Okay, yes, debate is also about things like flowing, research, and cutting cards, but it’s super helpful to focus on the simple before you get to the complex. At the end of this episode, we’ll talk about three activities for practicing these three skills.
But first, there’s something else that might get in your way as you begin LD: the content. If you took my, in-retrospect-sort-of-ambitious, advice from last time and tried to watch the full 2010 National Final Round, you may have felt a little confused. Consider the resolution alone: Resolved: Compulsory inclusion of non-felons' DNA in any government database is unjust. Whaaat? Even for someone halfway informed, that sentence is a mouthful. But here’s the secret: separate the skill from the content. The content is what you debate about, while the skill is how you debate about it. Often novices watch more advanced debaters and say things like “well I could never do that,” or “they are way smarter than I am.” It may be true that a debater knows more about a topic, but that’s just because they’ve read and researched more. You’re not dumb because you don’t know what they’re talking about yet. Focus on the skills first, and the content will come later. Remember, it’s all about making arguments, asking questions, and attacking arguments. You do that already, and you’re going to get even better at it.
One last thing before the fun. Most people view debate as an intellectual (and let’s be honest, nerdy) activity. There’s no doubt that debate will present you with mental challenges, but it’s also important to recognize that it will present you with physical challenges as well (and I’m not talking about how to cram into a tiny bus seat, which you will have to do). A great debater will master both body and mind. That’s why it’s important to practice like you compete, and always think about how you present yourself physically. Part of this, of course, has to do with putting on your Sunday best (also a great song by the way), but more to do with how you control three things: voice, body, and face. Quick tips include standing up straight with your feet planted firmly on the ground, speaking loudly and clearly without fear, and smiling before you speak to signal calmness and comfort in everything you’re doing. You can practice these things while building your debate skills with these three activities.
First is “30 Second Clash,” a slight variation on 30 Second Arguments. This time you need two debaters (or one with a split-brain) who flip for affirmative or negative on a randomly drawn topic. The affirmative goes first and argues for the topic extemporaneously for 30 seconds, followed by the negative, arguing against, under the same rules. You can pick a winner with a show of hands, or keep it light and talk about what each debater did well. This activity is great for building confidence in making arguments. Next is the “Yes/No Game,” which I learned from Jeff Pope. Two students stand shoulder-to-shoulder facing the judge. One debater asks questions and the other answers, with a timer set for one minute. The questioner asks any set of questions, but the person being questioned may not answer “yes,” “no,” or any variation like “yeah” or “nah”. If they do, they lose. If not and the timer runs out, they win. To make it fair, the person being questioned also can’t hesitate or stall for too long, at most 3 seconds. This exercise helps with the physicality of questioning in debate, but also trains students to be intentional about their questions and answers. The final activity is “10 Random Things.” In the simplest version, one debater reads 10 random things out loud at a relatively normal pace while others “flow” or take notes down the left-hand column of a piece of paper. After, you can test everyone to see if they got the 10, in order, correct. For a harder version, argue that each of the 10 items is the best thing in the world, and have another debater, item-by-item, attack these arguments with some of their own. Have listening debaters flow these responses as well. You can even go back and forth for a couple of rounds if you want. Remember, the arguments don’t have to be good yet, we’re just warming up. Materials and examples to help with these activities are included in the handout for this episode. But that’s enough for now, we’ll talk to you next time!