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In my second year of speech and debate, I had a favorite phrase: “My opponent dropped my argument.” Whenever my opponent ignored the slightest bit of my analysis, I harped on it and even made it a voting issue. I wrote an elaborate script that I’d give every time my opponent didn’t respond. But as the season went on, I started to notice that I turned a useful phrase into an overused one. I witnessed my consistency go down and hit a plateau by the end of the season.

This is the first of a two-part series about dropped arguments.

If you’re new to debate, you might be wondering: what is a “dropped argument”?

A dropped argument is something someone said in a round that hasn’t been responded to. If you give an application under a contention in Lincoln Douglas Debate, but your opponent doesn’t mention it, the application is considered “dropped”. If you have advocacy evidence in Team Policy, and the negative side never contests it, we’d label that evidence as being “dropped”. The phrase “my opponent dropped my argument” is synonymous with “my opponent didn’t respond to my argument”.

Just like any type of argument, leveraging the fact that your opponent hasn’t responded can be overused. The majority of competitors make one of two mistakes: saying something is dropped when it has actually been responded to or overusing the dropped argument phrase to the point that it loses its meaning.

In my second year of debate, I advanced on a 6-0 score at the NCFCA Illinois National Mixer. I was the highest seed and one of three people who advanced without debating directly to quarterfinals. I knew my opponent’s case before the round and brought up arguments he’d never seen before. He ended up not responding to a single response I gave to his constructive speech.

I walked up to the podium for my rebuttal, started my timer, and opened by ranting about the dropped arguments. The middle of the speech was about the dropped arguments. My voting issues were about the dropped arguments. I went home that night confident I won. At 9 AM the next day everyone crowded into the auditorium for announcements. I sat with my friends in anticipation. One by one, the tournament director announced the winners of the quarterfinals rounds. My round was announced last.

I didn’t advance.

I lost the round on a 2-1 decision and every single judge had a common theme on their ballot: I spent too much time saying my opponent dropped my arguments. I was devastated by those results – it was the last national mixer of the season. Eventually, I realized that something needed to change. Since then, I’ve created five guidelines to use dropped arguments effectively. 

We’ll be exploring the first two guidelines in this article and guidelines three through five in part two.

Give Your Opponent the Benefit of the Doubt

Your perception of whether something has been responded to or not is likely to be different from the judge’s. The judge doesn’t have to worry about preparing cross-examination, working on voting issues, or writing responses. All they have to think about is the speech that’s currently being given.

Even if your opponent doesn’t directly say “in response to my opponent’s contention one…”, the judge could think that one of their contentions cross-applies to your contention. You could have been busy writing a response and your opponent gave a response so brief that you didn’t write it down. Lots of what we as competitors see as unrefuted, has been refuted in the judge’s mind. 

Because of that, you only want to call something dropped if you are one-hundred-percent sure that it truly is dropped. Examples of this are if your opponent admits in cross-examination they didn’t respond or your opponent gives a two-minute negative constructive.

Saying something is dropped, even though it’s not, will damage your credibility. The judge will be hesitant to believe you even if you point out another argument that truly has been dropped. It’s not worth risking that harm to your connection with the judge. Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt.

Additional Support, Not Standalone Proof

There will be rounds where you’re absolutely sure one of your points has gone unrefuted. Leverage that advantage to its maximum by pairing the fact that the argument has been dropped with your original logical analysis. Don’t say you win the argument solely because it’s dropped.

Compare these two arguments…

Argument A. “My opponent dropped my second contention. Since there’s no reason to reject the contention, it stands in today’s round. Therefore I win the argument and warrant your ballot.”

Argument B. “In my last speech, I gave a contention explaining how the negative side of our topic will lead to millions of deaths. I gave you two applications, and multiple philosophers supporting that view. My opponent didn’t respond. I want to call you back to the original logic that hasn’t been contested: The negative side will increase inflation, which leads to greater poverty and lower quality of life.”

Notice the difference: in the first argument, the sole reason to vote for me is that my opponent didn’t respond. In the second argument, I point out that my opponent didn’t respond, but the core of the point is the original logic and analysis.

I suggest this approach for two reasons:

First, you give the judge a reason to vote for you, not just against your opponent. If you want to achieve high speaker points and success in late elimination rounds, you need the judges to recognize that you’re a top-of-the-line competitor. You don’t want them to vote for you because your opponent made a mistake; you want them to vote for you because you had superior analysis.

Second, it’s strategic. If you point out an argument is dropped in the final negative rebuttal, and your opponent responds in the final affirmative rebuttal, then all the rhetoric about the argument being dropped becomes null. While it’s considered unethical for an affirmative speaker to respond to a new argument in the 2AR, it happens sometimes, and leveraging the dropped argument alongside your original support will mean the judge is more likely to vote for your argument even if your opponent gives a new response.

Use the “dropped argument” phrase as additional support, not standalone proof.

In the second half of this series, we’ll be exploring three more guidelines to utilize dropped arguments to their full potential. 

About the Author

Kyle Lee has competed in both NCFCA and Stoa. His accomplishments include over fifty top-three finishes, the record for the most first places won at a single NCFCA tournament (seven firsts in one go at the 2020 Bothell WA, NCFCA Qualifier), first place Lincoln Douglas debater & speaker at the 2020 NCFCA Online National Championship, and first place Team Policy debater & speaker at the 2020 Stoa Online National Championship.
Outside of speech and debate, Kyle is an avid rock climber, holds a second-degree black belt in Karate, and enjoys writing music in his free time.

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