Many skills are useful in debate. Among them are sounding confident, speaking smoothly, thinking well on the fly, and effectively researching a case. You can and should attempt to improve your capability in all of those areas—they are all essential skills in debate (as are many others).
However, this article aims to convince you that one skill is the most useful out of all debate-related skills: argument efficiency. By argument efficiency, I mean the ability to present an argument in a concise yet compelling manner, maximizing impact while minimizing unnecessary words and distracting information.
Debate is a fundamentally time-constrained activity, especially for people on the Affirmative side of the resolution. In LD, the First Affirmative Rebuttal has a mere four minutes to respond to a seven-minute Negative Constructive. In TP, the First Affirmative Rebuttal has a mere five minutes to respond to thirteen minutes of NEG argumentation spread throughout the 2NC and 1NR.
The Negative team is often significantly constrained by time as well. Sure, the Negative Constructive in LD has seven minutes—but they are a short seven minutes considering that the Negative speaker has to both present their entire case and respond to their opponent’s case within this one speech. Consider also the 2NR in TP—wherein the speaker must summarize the entirety of the round through voting issues and respond to the essential parts of the 1AR (which is itself the busiest speech of the round).
The point is: In debate, you are always pressed for time; it often seems you can never have enough.
In this light, being able to articulate your points clearly and persuasively within the allotted time frame is a valuable skill. Argument efficiency involves distilling your ideas to their core, eliminating any superfluous information that may dilute the strength of your argument. The ability to take a one-minute-long argument and distill it into thirty seconds—without losing a significant amount of the persuasiveness of the point—is incredibly powerful. Indeed, I would wager that it is the most useful ability in debate.
Here are four tips that will help you practice improving argument efficiency:
1. Clearly Define Your Main Points. Begin the round by clearly defining the central points of your argument. These should be the pillars supporting your position. With those established, you can avoid making unnecessary responses; often, you will be able to simply gesture back to the main themes of your argument. In some cases, the judge will be able to guess your response to one of your opponent’s contentions solely because you have previously articulated your thesis in a clear and comprehensive way.
2. Use Concise, Powerful Language. Avoid verbosity—avoid unnecessary words and sentences.
3. Take Pauses. Stating an argument one time and then taking a pause to let it sink in is significantly more efficient (and sometimes even more persuasive) than stating an argument multiple times and then moving quickly on to the next point.
4. Master the Art of Summarization. Practice condensing your arguments into clear and impactful summaries of one, two, or three sentences. Know what your most essential points are and present them first. Then, if you have time, present the rest.
Mastering argument efficiency can set you apart as a formidable debater. It proves to the judge that you know what parts of your case—and of each individual argument in your case—are essential. It means you can cover more points in your speech without diminishing your audience’s understanding of your argument or the persuasiveness of your presentation. In short, if it is not the most helpful skill in debate, it is at least close.