Throughout life (and especially in debate), the biggest improvements are oftentimes made with the slightest of changes. And usually, those changes have to do with the way you think. Change your mindset, and you can change the way you play the game.

So what does this have to do with going negative?

Picture this scenario: CX of the 1AC/AC has just finished, and despite a solid line of questioning by the negative speaker, the audience is still pretty strongly in favor of the affirmative. And that’s okay, because as everyone knows, the negative speeches are where the real shift is supposed to happen. Except it doesn’t. Sure, the negative speaker runs good arguments and enunciates clearly, but his points are all unrelated and, while convincing individually, do little to penetrate the mass of persuasion that was the 1AC. And the second and third negative speeches go the same way: lots of technically correct points made in a seemingly random order to little effect.

Sound familiar?

Well if it does, that’s because this is what virtually all negative teams do at some point or another: run lots of unrelated arguments, trying to argue against what the affirmative says. To fix the problem, most debate coaches prescribe individual short-term changes that do little to fix things and leave teams trying to remember a list of rules like, “use four point refutation” or, “make your points impact to each other”. Do these rules work? Sometimes. Is there a better way? I think so.

Act affirmative when you are negative.

The concept is simple: though you may not realize it, anytime you go negative you are running a case. A case that has advocates, a theme, and a mandate just like any affirmative case. And every time you go negative, you have the exact same responsibilities as any affirmative team. You have to prove that your case is a better choice than the alternative, that you have smart people who agree, and that the passing of your plan won’t mark the beginning of WWIII with North Korea. The only difference is that your mandate is the status quo instead of a new policy.

So what does this look like? Here’s an example from one of our writers, Anna Johansen:

“I was Neg, debating against a case to reform accreditation. Instead of running a few separate solvency points and three DAs, I started out with a sort of resolutional analysis. I re-cast the round and pretended like I was Aff. I set up a goal for the round: educational quality. I explained how the real end goal of higher education is to prepare students for the real world. Then, I asked this question: how can we best achieve educational quality?
From there on out, I treated my Neg position (the status quo) as the best policy for achieving educational quality.
I talked about how accreditation is necessary for assuring quality, how it assures employers that a degree is worthwhile, and how it creates a standard of comparison between schools when transferring credits. Even my DAs and solvency points were delivered in this context.
At the end of the round, the judge wasn’t faced with ‘Doing Something (Aff) or Not Doing Something (Neg)’. Instead, they got to choose between two competitive policies.

You can see another example of what this unified approach might look like here.

Thinking like this will fix a lot of problems for you.

Having trouble making all your points cohesive? Think like an affirmative team. On affirmative you almost never make totally unrelated points, because everything you talk about just naturally upholds the reason you advocate your plan in the first place (the theme/standard).

Having issues impacting effectively? Think like an affirmative team. On affirmative, you’re constantly impacting, because you’re constantly advocating your case to the judge. If you think like an affirmative team on neg, impacting to the round, standard and resolution will become second nature.

Having problems knowing which arguments are important? Think like an affirmative team. The only arguments that matter are the ones that directly disprove your case as the best option in the round. Anything else is a waste of time.

Now, I know all of this is very simple, but in my experience, it works. Not only have I seen my students improve on negative using this (Jedi?) mind trick, I’ve experienced the change firsthand as I saw my persuasiveness and cohesiveness go way up without any additional drilling or rule-setting. So instead of arguing against everything the affirmative team says, try advocating for your own case whenever you go negative. It can work wonders.


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