Are you a sucker for spontaneity? Do you thrive on the exhilaration that arises from making a spur-of-the-moment decision to move to Australia and become a geologist? If so, my friend, you are in luck. While yes, a fundamental hallmark of debate is being prepared, you must also learn how to think on the fly. Going off-script is a beautiful marriage of these principles. It is my contention that being able to go off-script is a sign of true preparedness.
What are the benefits to going off-script? You will be able to tailor your round much more neatly to the specifics of your opponent’s points and the philosophy of your judge. Direct refutation is often neglected because of a lack of flexibility. If you have pre-scripted rebuttals or a pre-scripted 1NC it is nearly impossible to have poignant refutation. However, if you have a simple outline containing arguments you feel are beneficial to your side that can be rearranged, you will have the ability to choose how exactly you deliver your case. You will also have a more conversational tone when speaking because it will be off the cuff. On a practical level, as you prepare to go off-script, your goal should be to have a deep understanding of your material–both your evidence and argumentation.
Memorize your evidence, but do not stop there. You should also analyze exactly why your evidence is relevant to the resolution. Ask yourself the following questions: What types of arguments stem from the facts you are presenting? Why is this information pertinent to the academic world? What does this material mean for the opposing side of the resolution?
Once you have a thorough understanding of your evidence, you should be able to talk about it in a variety of contexts. That way you will not be bound by the restraints of your pre-constructed contentions. Once you have this broader understanding of the application of your evidence, practice talking about it with people from different demographics, e.g., friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, etc. See if you can explain the meaning and significance of the evidence to them in a coherent and succinct manner. The ability to relay information to others is the final stage of the trivium of classical education. It shows you comprehend the ideas you are studying. Mastering this will push you to a point where you are prepared to communicate these ideas to anyone regardless of the context.
Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the support you have for your arguments, your next task is to pare down your actual argumentation in your constructive speech to bullet point form. Write out your arguments in their entirety and then become familiar with their logical structure and flow. This will be your guideline for how to break down your argumentation. You should aim to simplify each logical step you take to one simple tag line. Once you have that, attempt to give your case comprehensively with just the outline. This will give you the ease of transitioning quickly from point to point even if you decide to give your arguments in a new order.
With this newfound flexibility, your ability to comprehend and concisely convey your arguments to your judge should improve. Challenging yourself to go off-script is an excellent way to grow as a debater because by preparing more, you will have the ability to play with what you have mid-round. This type of calculated spontaneity should lead to a more engaging round for you, your opponent, and your judge.
Allie Satterfield competed in the NCFCA for four years, and she was the 2023 NCFCA Moot Court National Champion. She is currently attending Patrick Henry College, where she competes in collegiate forensics and is pursuing a major in Political Theory. If you would like to book coaching with Allie, Click Here.