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“Wait, they are running a topical counterplan against us?  What do I do?”

I said something along these lines to my debate partner in an NCFCA policy round at a national open.  Arguing theory wasn’t popular in my region (I hadn’t debated a counterplan in two years), so my familiarity with counterplan theory certainly could have been, uh, better… a lot better.  Plus our judge was an alumni judge who did parliamentary debate and loved theory.  Great.

My theory-savvy partner tried to give me a quick crash course and said something along the lines of, “You’ll do fine,” and I found myself standing at the podium beginning my 2AC, still confused.  Befuddled, I decided to just take a stab at it by arguing what made sense to me.  The speech seemed disjointed, and I sat back down with an inward groan, only to hear my partner whisper something like:

“Great job!  You permed their counterplan!  Perfect!”

I did whatPermWhat does that stand for again?

PermAfter coaching for a couple of years, I now know that perm stands for permutation, which basically is taking a negative counterplan that does not exclude your aff plan and choosing to add it to your aff plan in the middle of the round.  Evidently, I did this at that national open—without realizing it.  Score.

We won the round, which helped our record, but the learning experience helped me even more.  Sure, I learned a lot more about counterplan theory, but more than that I learned a crucial lesson that all debaters can benefit from:

It doesn’t matter what it’s called as long as it makes sense.

Even though my understanding of theory was shaky, I was able to stay alive in that round because I stuck with what made sense—without knowing the terminology.

It’s easy to get so caught up in determining whether your case is goals/criteria structure or comparative advantage, or in perfectly structuring the six sub-points of your disadvantage, that you miss the big picture.  Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Why do I structure my arguments this way?”  If the answer is that the debate book you read your novice year said that you must, you have a problem.

You can become a better debater if you base your argumentation off of real-world common sense.  When the structuring you have been taught or have chosen to practice begins to get in the way of realistic, poignant, moving argumentation, it is time to focus less on the structure.

My challenge to you this year is to focus more on logical, compelling argumentation and to focus less on what you call it.  Stock issues, weighing mechanisms, parametrics, and other theory are important to understand because they help you better analyze and break down argumentation.  But when it comes down to actually delivering your arguments, your mind should be in the world of your judge—a world where common-man examples and witty presentation usually matter more that the latest theory innovation.  If you’ve thought up a compelling argument, but don’t quite know where it fits in the theory world, get up there and deliver it with gusto.  Don’t sweat.  Just debate.

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