At my first debate camp, I learned to debate within a structure that made my nerves go away and my confidence appear. At my first practice tournament, I argued within a framework that allowed me
to understand the complex ideas that I was discussing. And at my first tournament, I learned that this framework could actually win rounds. For the first year of my debate career, the framework of customs and guidelines was my lifeline. But in the years that followed, it would be the very thing that was holding me back. I had learned to debate within a box of ideas with limited speaking, and it would take me two years (and an Ethos camp) to finally figure that out.
It’s easy to stay within the basic framework of argumentation that we learn as beginners far into our debate career. In fact it’s completely normal to stick to the speaking quirks and organizational structures that we used early on to combat our nerves, but in doing so we unwittingly end up falling behind. By limiting ourselves to a capricious framework of argumentation and ideas we subsequently hinder our success and stunt our personal growth. For some of us, it’s key that we understand the danger of limited debate so that we can be sure to avoid it in the future. For most of us, the time is ripe to break out of our shell. Regardless, it’s time we all stop debating within a box.
In the last post in this series I covered topical counterplans and why they’re a 100% viable and defendable option (see that post here if you missed it). In this post, I’ll be covering the main speaking “rules” that we place on ourselves that limit our thinking and hold back our growth, starting with the idea of stock issues in speeches.
Stock Issues In Speeches
If you’ve ever been to a debate camp or club you’ve most likely learned of the debate stock issues of inherency, topicality, solvency, significance, and the arguable fifth and sixth stock issues, disadvantages and harms. And if you’ve ever been to a tournament, you’ve most likely also heard these stock issues used in speech rhetoric to keep things “organized” for the judges. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and guess that you’ve personally tried to use stock issues in your own speech rhetoric. Nearly all of us have gone through or are going through this stage, and all of us need to try and get out of it as soon as humanly possible. Why? Well, stock issues are not supposed to be used in speech rhetoric. In fact, they were never meant to be.
Stock issues have actually been around for a very long time, beginning with the greek doctrine of Stasis. In the doctrine of stasis, (a system designed primarily for lawyers), everything was broken up into four main issues: issues of fact, issues of definition, issues of quality, and issues of legal procedure. The thing is, these four original issues were never used in the verbal making of one’s case except to make a point to a fellow rhetorician who understood the terminology (and even then they were used very sparingly). Instead, the original greek stock issues were meant to be used in preparation only. Stasis is a state in which things do not change, and in the same way, stock issues are supposed to be area’s of argumentation that won’t change and will always be available to you as a speaker no matter what you’re discussing. They’re meant to be a method of organization for you as a rhetorician, not for your audience. They’re meant to identify potential issues of conflict to help you prepare, not to act as a framework for your speeches and audience to follow.
So how does this relate to debate? Well, debate stock issues are just a manifestation of the greek doctrine of stasis. They identify potential avenues of conflict and are designed to help you as a rhetorician prepare, not to aid your audience in comprehension. Because when debate stock issues are used to frame speeches, the round is almost always just confused further.
Now, this isn’t to say that debate stock issues can’t be used at all in speeches; they can definitely be useful. There’s nothing inherently wrong with running a topicality press, and in fact, I would encourage you to do so. The thing is, don’t call it a topicality press. Say that the affirmative team’s case is off subject or outside the topic. Use everyday terminology that your judges already have in their active vocabulary, and you’ll see a change in your audience’s comprehension.
Stock issues can be useful to label arguments if you use everyday words as substitutes, but they shouldn’t be used as the main framework for your speeches. Instead, your theme should guide your argumentation. Instead of starting off with “my first argument is an inherency argument”, begin your speech by talking about how the affirmative case fails the goal you set up in your standard. Something like, “my first problem with the affirmative case is that their plan is actually already passed, so there’s no additional innovation being created”, makes things much clearer to your audience and avoids the confusing terminology. Add on to the end a killer impact, and you’ve got yourself a winning argument.
Think of it this way: whether you’re aff or neg, your speech is making a case for something. Because of this, you should organize things in a syllogistic manner that fits with your specific case, not a set in stone, one size fits all framework that confuses 50% of your audience members. It’s perfectly okay to use stock issues to organize things in your mind, but it’s best to keep them out of speech rhetoric. Consider your audience and keep the stock issue terminology to yourself.
Speaking Customs (to stop doing)
We all have certain speaking quirks, but there are some main ones we tend to hold on to that limit our speaking time and drive our judges up the wall. Here’s a list:
1. Observations in 1AC
You don’t need this. Instead of calling it, “observation 1: justification 1: Economic Benefit”, just cut the observation part out and you’ve already saved yourself 3 seconds to wax eloquent at the end of your speech. Seriously, your judges won’t even notice. In fact, they’ll be thankful.
2. Saying “thank you” at the end or beginning of speeches
Believe it or not, you don’t need to thank your judges every time you approach or leave the podium. The fact is, they already know that you’re thankful; you tell them at the beginning and the end of the round. Instead of being overly grateful, just cut this out and you’ll instantly have a more impactful ending to your speeches. Think your judge won’t know when you’re done? A slight nod will easily do the trick.
3. “Today, I’ll just be going down the flow” and other similar sins
We all have done this before. In fact, most of us still do it. And we barely even think about it. But the fact is, your audience already knows most of what you’re going to be doing in your speech. Even if you have a community judge, they hopefully have guessed by now that you’re going to be responding to what your opponent just said (and if they haven’t, they’re probably sleeping). Instead of opening with such well known information, start off your speech with something your audience doesn’t know. Maybe it’s a quote. Maybe it’s a cool fact you learned about your case. Maybe it’s an open ended question to make your audience think. Any of these options will work, and all of them are better than telling your judge what they already know.
4. “For all of these reasons, please vote for ME”
It’s okay to give your judge a reason to vote for you; after all, that’s why we’re debating in the first place. But every time you end with this line, you give up a chance to actually impact your audience. Instead of concluding with a vague beg for a vote, end your speech with a powerful pre-scripted line that sums up the main argument behind your plea. And if you have the time, make it a train-stopping figure of speech (don’t know what a figure of speech is? Learn it from Kanye).
5. Telling everyone that you’re ready for CX
Make your opponents take the initiative here. We all know that you’re open, so just let it happen naturally.
Debate is about discussing ideas, and the basic idea of banning certain ideas or styles of ideas from our world of ideas goes directly against the very idea that is debate (phew). Essentially, we as debaters should strive to engage with and consider all opinions and thoughts. Instead of arbitrarily shutting certain methods of argumentation out of our box of possible options, we should instead consider every option at face value, and allow the debate to happen naturally, without any arbitrary rules and restrictions.
Open yourself up to the world of ideas, and you’ll never want to go back. I’ll leave you with this short poem.
Noah Howard is going into his 4th year of competitive debate. Having competed at the national level for the majority of his career, Noah believes that there’s more to an argument than just a list of impacts. Behind each simple piece of evidence, there’s a much deeper world waiting to be explored. In his eyes, debate is about immersing yourself in this world of ideas, and learning to convey your findings in simple, clear terms. He believes debaters should seek primarily to grow in their own understanding; only by diving headfirst into the world of ideas can you ever reach true mastery of rhetoric.