The 1AR presents a unique challenge: responding to two speeches in one. It’s probably the most difficult speech to give in a debate round, but it can also be the most fun. I’ve been the 1AR for most of my time in debate, and it’s my favorite speech by far. Sure, I have 1AR horror stories but at the same time nothing compares with the exhilarating feeling you get after delivering your best 1AR of the season. So, to equip you for the best, I thought I’d share some tips on how to prepare for the 1AR.
Pick a case that can be explained quickly and clearly. I know it sounds basic (because it is) but choosing the right case is where preparing for a strong 1AR begins. My partner and I learned the hard way that if you have to spend most of your speaking time explaining what your case is, not why the judge should pass it, it’s not a good case. During Stoa’s “banking, finance, and/or monetary policy” year, our case was a “good” case. We had evidence and experts on our side, but we struggled to win our affirmative rounds, especially later in the year. Finally, it dawned on me that while my partner and I had put in hours of research in order to understand our case, the judge hadn’t. The majority of our judges didn’t have the head knowledge on the topic that my partner and I had (and I don’t blame them, there are very few individuals with a deep passion for banking policy and this is perfectly normal). As a result, our best attempts to explain the topic during the round often failed. The most confusing speech was the 1AR, because many of my responses took too long to explain and I spoke too quickly, muddling the judge’s flow. The fact is, judges aren’t going to vote for a side they don’t understand. Having short, concise, but powerful responses in the 1AR is what will win you the round. If you have a “good” case but all the responses to the common arguments against it take a long time to explain, you might want to consider switching your case.
Reference evidence from earlier speeches to save time. Often when I research for evidence to put in the 1AC, I think about how strongly the evidence supports my side, if it’s worded well, and how recently it was published. These factors are all very important to consider, but there’s one more thing you should think about: how well can the evidence be used later in the round? You should choose evidence for your 1AC with the common arguments (or what you think will be common arguments) in mind. Of course, you shouldn’t make your 1AC all about preemption because this will only confuse your judge. But if you can head a few common solvency arguments off at the pass with the evidence in your own solvency points, do it! The same goes for the 2AC. This can make responding to the 1NR much easier during your 1AR, because you don’t need to bring up new evidence for your point, you can just reference back to a sentence or two in your 1AC and move on.
Limit how many responses you give to each argument. When inspiration strikes while you’re preflowing your 1AR responses during the negative block, it can be very tempting to give four or five responses to an argument. Don’t do it. Don’t be an overachiever who tries to pack too much content into too little time. You have to limit the number of responses that you deliver in the 1AR. It isn’t possible to give four responses to every argument, and if you try to, you’ll spend too much time on some arguments and too little on others. As you write down your responses to each argument, think about how long it will take to give each one and budget accordingly. If there’s a lot to cover, you should never give more than two responses to each argument.
Research responses and practice responding. It might sound counterintuitive, but the more you know about a subject the easier it is to explain it quickly. When you have more information, it’s easier to pinpoint which parts are more important, and which are not. In your 1AR, only the most important issues deserve to be elaborated on. It’s your job to know what’s important and to prioritize those points over everything else. Read through your evidence so that you’re familiar with it and know which parts need to be read, and which parts don’t. An entire paragraph might support your case beautifully, but if you have to read evidence in your 1AR, only read the sentence that specifically applies to the argument you’re making, because that’s what’s going to be important to the judge. Prepare responses to common arguments against your case, and then practice delivering them as concisely as possible without talking too fast. Set a timer and give the response in 1 minute, then try 45 seconds, then 30 seconds, then 15 seconds, and so on, while still including all the necessary information.
Work as a team. While you’re getting ready to give your 1AR, have you ever wondered what your partner was doing? Because I’ll let you in on a little secret: if they aren’t helping you prep, they probably aren’t really doing anything. I know it sounds harsh, but think about it. Their last speech won’t happen for a while, and there’s not a whole lot they can do to prepare for it before they know what the other team is going to say. Why am I telling you this? Because when you are prepping for your 1AR, your partner’s only job is to help you prepare. If you need evidence, don’t go searching for it. Have your partner do that! If you can’t think of a response to an argument, ask your partner to do some brainstorming! I’ve watched plenty of rounds in which the 1A is sitting at the table prepping furiously while the 2A stares at a paint chip on the wall. Don’t forget that you are a part of a team and that you should be working together!
Use prep time to review your speech. Even if you have all of your responses flowed and ready to go, you should still use prep time. Why? You’re about to attempt to respond to the most arguments in the least amount of time, and you need to have a good grasp of what you’re going to say, when you’re going to say it, and how long it’s going to take. Take out any one of those factors and you’re going to run into trouble. Granted, you probably already know what you’re going to say, since you have all or most of your responses on your flowpad already. But I’d encourage you to take thirty seconds to a minute to take a few deep breaths, flip through your flow pages and review what responses you’re going to give, figure out which ones you should spend the most time on (a highlighter can come in handy here!), maybe cross out a response here and there that is redundant or that you don’t have time for, and get a better overall understanding of the speech you’re about to give. Rushing into your 1AR is a great way to ensure you’ll rush through your 1AR, confuse the judge and mess up the flow before blurting out “forallthesereasonsI’durgeyoutovoteaffirmativethankyou” and sitting down breathlessly. This is a situation I’ve found myself in a million times, and it’s not fun. If you have the same trouble, you’ll be shocked to find out how much using a little prep time to get your head wrapped around what you’re about to say pays off. It not only helps you see the arguments more clearly but also gives you a few moments to slow down and appear more calm, confident, and collected to the judge when you stand up to give your speech.
In conclusion, preparing a persuasive 1AR is all about practice, preemption, and prioritization. And teamwork, but it doesn’t alliterate. As you improve in those areas, you might be surprised at how seemingly small changes can make a big difference in a round.