It’s fairly often that I’ll make an argument and practically be wiped across the floor by my opponent’s response. Does that mean I’m a bad debater? Not at all! As much as we would like to believe otherwise, not every argument we make in debate rounds is 100% correct. This isn’t an article about how to gracefully be annihilated by your opponents, it’s an article about a time management technique.
A Quick Definition
For clarification, collapsing means to completely drop arguments that you’ve made earlier in the round that deem to be weak or unimportant later on. In essence, you’re “collapsing” to your stronger/more important arguments.
Why Would I Ever Want to Drop an Argument?
Excellent question. Debaters often stress more about dropping arguments than they would dropping a caseless phone, so why would collapsing ever be a useful strategy? I can think of three scenarios, each with their individual reasons for collapsing.
Scenario #1: Your opponent’s response completely destroys your argument… by using recent events or evidence that you didn’t know existed, or maybe even by simply having a brilliant response that you didn’t think of and have absolutely no response to. In this scenario, you only have two options. A) Restate your argument and ignore the amazing response, or B) Realize that you’ve made a mistake, concede the point, and use the extra time to extend your stronger points. In TP, you can do this at any time on Neg… there’s no consequence for dropping an argument. On Aff, you can collapse by conceding an advantage or disadvantage, but make sure that you use Impact Calculus to show why your other advantages outweigh and still warrant your plan’s passage.
Someone out there is screaming at me that there is always a response, no matter how good your opponent’s argument was… and I would agree. However, sometimes we have to do our own calculus: is spending time thinking of a response/running a complicated argument/having an unpersuasive response worth the time that you could simply spend extending the arguments that you know are good, or responding to arguments that are going to have more influence on the judge’s decision? More often than not, you’re better off collapsing.
Scenario #2: You have limited time. In this scenario, you’re not losing any arguments, but you don’t have enough time to fully develop on all of them. In this scenario, you once again have two options: A) Spend a little bit of time on a lot of arguments, B) Spend a lot of time on a few arguments. Ultimately, there is no blanket answer to whether you should choose A or B, as it largely depends on your particular situation. I think there is a case to be made that B is generally better (maybe a good subject for a future article). Regardless, I thought that this was worth highlighting simply because many debaters forget that B is even an option. That’s why I’m here to encourage you: don’t be scared to drop arguments that you’re winning!
Scenario #3: The 2AR. This last scenario is highly specific, but I think it’s equally important to look at. To explain, I want you to think about the debate round as a whole: many, many arguments have been presented, and been bounced back and forth and then back and forth again. By the time we reach the final two rebuttals, are we still talking about every single argument? Chances are, the answer is no. The 2NR will probably collapse (consciously or unconsciously) to just a few arguments. In my opinion, there’s no reason for the 2AR to address any arguments but these. There’s no need for you to decide what the most important arguments are… Neg has already done it! Don’t waste all 5 minutes responding to every argument throughout the entire round. This sounds obvious, but it’s pretty surprising how even teams who fall more into the “spreading” category don’t carry every argument through to the end. If you’re the 2A, you need to be paying careful attention to the 2NR so that you’re not responding to more than you need to.
The final thing that I would like to make clear is that you shouldn’t just drop arguments, leaving a gaping hole on your judge’s flow. Make it very clear when you concede a point, and be quick to remind the judge why it shouldn’t affect their decision. If you drop arguments you’re winning, it doesn’t hurt to tell the judge why you’re not going to continue pursuing them (time). This helps maintain your credibility. And as for the last scenario, I always like to remind the judge that Neg dropped every argument except the few they discussed in the 2NR. That way, I can at least mitigate the risk of the judge who votes off of an argument that was brought up in the 1NC and went unaddressed since then.
Well, there you have it! Don’t be afraid to collapse. Far from being a sign of weakness, it shows an understanding of the truly important issues in the round.
My only criticism of this article would be that Scenario #3 precludes addressing arguments dropped by the opponent. I doubt that was more than an oversight, but using dropped opposition arguments (if they’re relevant) to enhance your claims is helpful. The time it takes to mention them and tie them to your flow is worth it, in my opinion.
Good point! If you have the time, it certainly doesn’t hurt to use dropped points as an offensive argument. (Just to be clear: as addressed in my “Concluding Remarks,” I never advocate for anyone to completely ignore dropped arguments. However, the amount of time you spend addressing dropped points should be dependent on the amount of strong arguments you still have on the flow.)