In the previous article, we discussed how you should “Give Your Opponent the Benefit of the Doubt” when it comes to dropped arguments and treat your point being unrefuted as “Additional Support, Not Standalone Proof”. In this article, we’ll be discussing three more guidelines and an additional tip about dropped arguments.
Only Mention It If It’s Meaningful
During the 2019 season, I advanced to quarterfinals at my NCFCA regional championship in Lincoln-Douglas. I was on the negative side and I gave my two contentions, two applications, and around eight direct responses. In my opponent’s affirmative rebuttal, he took a big picture approach and condensed my entire constructive into three points.
When he did so, I thought I had won the round: “He didn’t respond directly to the warrant of my direct responses or applications!” In my next speech I reemphasize the dropped applications and focused on the direct responses being unrefuted. In my opponent’s final rebuttal he again took a big picture approach and didn’t interact with the dropped arguments. I lost the round on a 2-1 decision.
The reason why the judges didn’t side with me was that each direct response my opponent technically dropped was only around fifteen seconds. A tagline and a one-sentence warrant. Meaning that even though they technically weren’t responded to, they were too short and briefly explained to sway the round in my favor. Debate isn’t just about filling the judge’s notes with ink, it’s about persuading them. If you emphasize an argument as being dropped, but you spent very little time on it to begin with, the judge won’t see the argument as very important.
My recommendation is to be wary about saying you win because of a dropped argument if you spent less than thirty seconds on the argument in your last speech.
Vary the Placing
If you discuss dropped arguments in your introduction, don’t discuss it again in your first point. If you discuss dropped arguments in your first point, wait until your third or fourth point if you want to bring it back up.
If you try to leverage a lack of responses from your opponent, pointing that out in a condensed time span will make it seem as if the only support you have is that your opponent didn’t respond. However, if you point out that something is dropped in the first minute, then argue something else is dropped at the end of the speech, it doesn’t feel like you’re harping on the same point.
Vary where you place your phrases about dropped arguments.
Keep it Short
Have you ever had someone explain a concept to you so many times that it becomes less clear? Spending more time on an idea doesn’t increase clarity, it can often decrease it. Plus, in debate, dumping too much time into an idea the judge already understands will come off as boring. Experienced judges have heard what a dropped argument is before. They’ve heard dozens of competitors rant about how important they are. Don’t drone on.
In my second year of speech and debate, I spent egregious amounts of time on telling the judge why dropped arguments mattered. Whenever a judge didn’t vote off the dropped argument I thought that I needed to say more so that the judge would agree with my position. That was the exact opposite of what I needed to do. The more time I spent on the dropped argument, the more it came off as whining to the judge.
The core of debate strategy is how you use your time. Spending too much time on dropped arguments means that you spend less time on refutation and building new logical links. Many judges understand the impact of dropped arguments going into the round and have preconceived beliefs on how important or unimportant a point going unrefuted is. It’s not strategic to pour excess time into dropped arguments when you could use that time to give multiple responses or introduce new analysis.
Mention that the argument has been dropped and move on.
My rule is to spend no more than fifteen seconds explaining a point hasn’t been responded to. Keep it short.
Additional Tip – Set a Limit
I call this an additional tip rather than a guideline because I wouldn’t suggest this for everyone. The following is designed for those like me in my second year who have a habit of using the dropped argument phrase too often.
The best way to break that habit is to set a limit for yourself of how many times per round you point out an argument as dropped. At the end of my second year, I set a maximum limit of using the phrase twice per speech and three times per round. Sit down with pen and paper, and set a limit for how many times you’ll use the dropped argument phrase per speech and round. If you want to go even farther, set a limit per tournament as well.
When you enter your competition room, repeat your limit to yourself and follow it. After a while, you’ll want to ditch this limit because there will be situations where it’ll be strategic to emphasize dropped arguments more than usual. If you’re focusing on improving and breaking that habit, set a limit, and stick to it.
After my second year of speech and debate ended, I spent countless hours analyzing what I needed to do to improve. Avoiding the overuse of dropped arguments was on the top of my to-do list. Fast forward to my third year – there was a significant and noticeable improvement in my win rate and speaker points from making those changes. It will take time and effort to follow these rules, but if you implement them, you’ll be far ahead of the curve.
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.