In my last post, I laid out a clear case concerning why rebuttals deserve more attention from debaters, and listed five key fundamentals of national-class rebuttals. This post will look at the uniqueness of the rebuttal speeches, particularly in Policy & Lincoln-Douglas formats, and break down what I believe are the best strategic and persuasive uses for these speeches.

As I mentioned before, there’s no one right way to give a 1AR, a 2NR, etc. Talk about these strategies with your peers and coaches, and I try implementing them in practice rounds to find what fits your style best.

There are four main rebuttals in LD and Policy. Let’s jump right into…

The 1NR (Policy):

Before I get into some suggestions for the Policy 1NR, remember that this speech is the second half of the 13-minute negative block which precedes the 5-minute 1AR. Use this to your advantage by crafting a strong negative philosophy and tackling different issues in the 2NC and 1NR, either via shell-and-extend (my preference and suggestion) or splitting the neg block. If you have substantial overlap in these two speeches, it’s something of a lost opportunity, and you should work on in-round communication BEFORE the 2NC as well as fleshing out your arguments.

Let’s be honest though–the policy 1NR is an underappreciated speech. While the 1NC lays out the grand negative case, the 2NC brings up new lines of argumentation or extension of the 1NC, and the 2NR wraps up the negative case, the 1NR drifts in some sort of no-man’s land and can often be seen as dull.

I have one piece of advice for this speech–don’t wrap your case up here. Instead, continue the nitty-gritty attack.

Too many debaters begin to present ‘3 voting issues’ in the 1NR. Here’s why you should be continuing the line-by-line refutation with impact calculus interspersed, on arguments not handled by the 2NC.

First, your voting issues should be evident from the 1NC, through some sort of clear weighing mechanism and clear real-world reasons why the judge should negate the plan. Future speeches (with the exception of the 2NR) should develop the analysis and strength of these central points. Second, you want your 2NC and 1NR to be equally strong, with generally equal coverage to the points you shelled out in the 1NC as well as points brought up by the affirmative. This forces the 1AR to make difficult choices about what to address. Condensing in the 1NR minimizes the clear advantage of the negative block and allows the 1AR to more easily cover the arguments he or she needs to.

The 1AR:

This is arguably the most difficult speech of the entire debate. Like the 1NR, you don’t want to be condensing here; rather, you want to cover the most important issues with adequate line-by-line analysis to stay alive for the 2AR, which is limited in refutation capability. Then, you can solidly pull through your voting issues and outweigh via your framework. It is impossible to respond to every single claim, warrant, and impact of the negative block–you’ll need to make strategic choices grouping arguments, outweighing, and using concise word economy.

For Policy debaters, my biggest suggestion in the 1AR is to order your arguments in order of importance, and roadmap/signpost well. This requires you a) know what the most important arguments are, and b) know how to allocate your time to cover each adequately–do not waste the bulk of your time on a minor clarification point or explanation. Not only does this signal to the judge what the most important arguments are (99% of the time these are your advantages) because you place them at the top of the speech, but it means if you run out of time and can’t get to an argument, the damage is much less.

For LD, much of the same is true. A key is to develop a split between responding to the negative case and rebuilding your own. Too often the negative case and contentions are left untouched, which makes adjudicating the round extremely difficult. Win the framework debate, then provide sufficient responses to applications/contentions on the negative side (hopefully cross-applying your affirmative arguments), and then rebuild on your side. It’s too early for voting issues–you have to attack and survive for the 2AR.

Every debater (especially LD competitors) should watch at least the CX of the negative and 1AR from the NSDA 2004 LD final round, which shows how a strong cross-examination, clear designation of the important issues, and concise refutation can make the 1AR the standout speech of the round.

The NR (LD) and 2NR (Policy):

Though the NR in LD and the 2NR Policy have quite a few differences due to the length and structure of the debate formats, both require debaters to condense and frame the debate, to make an impact that withstands a powerful 2AR.

The key strategy in the Policy 2NR is to not spread yourself out too thin–it is far better to go for a single powerful argument than to split your time going after five separate voting issues and risking losing them all. Identify the key affirmative arguments, then soundly condense your refutation. Collapse onto the strongest negative offense (e.g. topicality, disadvantages, or a CP + another argument), then utilize impact comparison to outweigh any possible 2AR attacks. Finally, make the speech memorable, using visual imagery of the affirmative and negative worlds to give the judge an understanding of the tangible impacts of voting one way or another.

The NR in LD is not as cut-and-dry, and usually includes a split of line-by-line refutation and crystallizing voting issues. This speech requires the negative to sufficiently refute the 1AR, win framework and contention arguments, and withstand the voting issues of the 2AR.

Some debaters structure the entire NR around a few voting issues, which is a perfectly good strategy. However, I’ll detail my preferred approach of line-by-line followed by voting issues, and you can decide through practice which works best for your style.

Let’s say the 1AR has just presented new critiques to your NC and defended the main refutation placed on the AC. Around 4 minutes of rebuttal utilizing smart time allocation and word economy is sufficient to win the clash of the AC/NC and value framework. Then, pull forward the key voting issues and use impact calculus to show why you win the framework arguments and your applications, examples, mechanisms, etc. trump your opponents’. End with an evaluation of the ‘two worlds’ and a meaningful closer.

This approach provides the best of both worlds–clear and dedicated refutation on new points to shut down the 2AR’s voting issues, and crystallizing, big-picture analysis which presents the ‘two worlds’ of the affirmative and negative and shows how the negative outweighs in regards to the value weighing mechanism.

The 2AR:

The 2AR is very similar strategically to the 2NR. The only difference is that the 2AR has the last word of the debate. In a few minutes, debaters need to identify the strong points of the negative and mitigate them, condense onto the strongest affirmative material, and give reasons why those arguments are the strongest (yet again impact calculus–it’s important!).

Taking a step back, however, it’s important to acknowledge that rebuttals aren’t merely a technical science. Yes, you will improve if you work on the fundamentals I outlined in Part 1 and implement the strategic ideas I listed above. Rhetoric is an art, and being able to connect emotionally and succeed in the ‘softer’ aspects of speaking with a judge is just as important.

It’s the middle of the season–the brunt of your toughest tournaments are to come. It’s time to dedicate yourself to improving at the all-important rebuttal.