“Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining” (Turner). Cognitive scientist, linguist, and author Mark Turner makes an important point about the importance of stories and examples. Here, he explains that stories are our “chief means” of explaining. This lesson, while important in all parts of daily life, is particularly important in debate. Debate resolutions are built to expand your knowledge of complex topics and test your abilities to break them down properly in your cases. Considering this, it isn’t surprising that the first cases most people write are often confusing. Usually, their real position can get lost in their attempt to explain age-old positions in their own words. How do we remedy this issue? The most common solution I have seen is to explain these topics through the lens of a story, something that is clear and easy to grasp. Without a good story, or example, is it really possible to explain your position properly? While I would say it is possible, I would argue what Mr. Turner does here, that stories and examples are our chief means to proper explanation. I would like to explain this by answering 2 questions:
1 – Do you really need examples?
Okay sure you don’t need them, but they are extremely helpful in explaining complicated ideas to a judge. For example, in the NCFCA this year, the resolution is about rationalism and empiricism, which are both highly philosophical and complicated topics to explain adequately in a 45-minute debate round, so how can you make this understandable for a judge? The first thing you need to realize is that the judges have not put in the hours upon hours of research that you have, so throwing around complex terms and names is not going to mean anything to them. However, what will make an impact is explaining how those complex terms affect them in their everyday lives. You can do this by using examples. Tell them about how empirical research methods revolutionized medical studies as we know them, or how rationalist philosophers have changed the way humanity views their daily lives. Examples allow you to bring these terms out of the realm of the philosophical and into the perspective of the judge, allowing them to feel some connection to the topic at hand. If you can convince the judge that voting in your favor has a tangible effect on their lives, it will be very hard for your judge to overlook that when submitting their ballot at the end of the round.
2 – How do you use them effectively?
While any real-world example is beneficial to your case, the most successful examples I have seen are relevant to the lives of everyday people and you are passionate about the subject. When you bring up an example relevant to the lives of your judges and explain the positive result of voting in your favor, this makes a massive impact. Why? You have just given them a personal reason to vote in your favor, an emotional connection to the topic that they didn’t really care about only minutes before. Additionally, your passion for the topic makes you sound much more persuasive. When you can explain the real-world impact of your argument in a passionate way, it shows the judge that you care about the tangible impact of your argument beyond just getting another win. You appear far more understanding and personable when you can bring these philosophical topics back to the lives of everyday people and care about how your argument impacts them.
While examples aren’t absolutely necessary to be successful, they are meaningful tools that, at the very least, make it much easier to succeed. In my view, they are the key to making complex topics understandable to the average person.
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.