One thing I’ve noticed in my short time on the other side of competition is how useless cross-examination often becomes. In my experience, it is usually used as a short conversation to get to know your opponent, to have them repeat what they just spent the last 6-8 minutes saying, maybe to get something helpful, but only to leave it in cross-examination and never speak of it again. This is tragic; not only is cross-ex helpful to you, it can make the difference between winning and losing the round if you play your cards right. To use your hand effectively, there are 3 things to remember
1 – Don’t push the elephant off of the cliff in cross-examination
While this is an odd way to say it, this is how my debate coach first taught me to handle cross-ex. Picture this: you’ve just gotten your opponent to agree to something that contradicts one of the main contentions they brought up in their first speech. You are so excited about the prospect of this contradiction that you bring it up right then and there, giving them the immediate opportunity to respond. This is counter-productive, as it allows your opponent to immediately break down your logic and respond to the judge in your cross-examination, bringing up their credibility and lowering yours. If you wait to bring this up until your rebuttal, you can explain it clearly to the judge uninterrupted, and it sits in the judge’s mind and on their flow during the rest of your speech and your opponent’s prep, putting your opponent’s arguments even more in doubt every minute they take. Do not push the elephant off the cliff until your rebuttal; good things come to those who wait.
2 – Do not ask open-ended questions
This one is pretty self-explanatory but surprisingly hard to avoid. I ran into this problem more times than I can count: that unfortunate moment when you accidentally allow someone to use all of your cross-examination time answering a question that really could have been answered with a yes or no. This is why you must, whenever possible, ask questions that require only a yes or a no. First, it allows you to utilize all of your time effectively. Second, if your opponent attempts to use up your time by answering a question that only requires a yes or no, the judges can tell and will respond accordingly. To use your time effectively, you need to be able to phrase your questions properly.
3 – Do not ignore cross-examination
As I discussed earlier, a lot of debaters just use cross-examination to clarify one or two things and to get a concession or two that they never use. This is a mistake. Cross-examination is the time you have to get your opponent to say exactly what you need them to say, and wasting that opportunity only makes it harder to persuade your judge in the end. However, if you can effectively gain even the smallest concession, you can make that seem like a massive hole in their case in the rebuttal. Speaking from my experience as a debater (and as a judge), concessions gained in cross-examination, win rounds when used effectively. Do not waste that opportunity.
Hannah Cavanaugh competed in the NCFCA for 6 years, during which she became National Champion in Lincoln-Douglas Speaking and Moot Court. She is currently studying Law and National Security at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. If you want to book coaching with Hannah, Click here.