Throughout my career in Team Policy Debate, I’ve always tried my hardest to brief every case I could and figure out all the cases at the tournament as soon as possible. I’ve spent late nights after tournament competition staying up to research cases and trading information with other teams I know. All of this is to try to avoid going “impromptu negative” – doing a team policy round without a brief.
However, I’ve realized that it’s not possible to brief every single case. Going impromptu negative isn’t something to avoid – it’s a skill to learn.
I’d like to explain why it’s strategic to intentionally go impromptu negative. I know of many LDers who scramble to learn of their opponent’s applications, value, and contentions before rounds, this advice will apply to Lincoln-Douglas debaters as well.
1. You Won’t Be Able to Brief Every Case
Having to impromptu negative at some point in the season is inevitable. Even if you brief every single case you can think of, people will create new cases and run arguments you’ve never seen before. At Stoa’s Inland Club Challenge in 2020 for instance, both of the teams who made finals ran an affirmative no one had used at a prior tournament before.
Most debate resolutions are so broad that people will stumble across ideas you never found before. The key to going negative in team policy isn’t to brief every single minor case, the key is to learn how to debate effectively even without a brief. The only way to learn that skill is to practice.
2. It Could Save Your Career
At Nationals in NCFCA one lost outround means the end of your season, if you’re a senior, it means the end of your career. Stoa isn’t much different, two losses in elimination rounds and you’re finished. Nationals is the tournament where most people run new cases. Everyone is trying to gain an edge, so people try to create new surprise cases to throw-off their opponents.
Nationals is the single most important tournament of the season. With so many people running new cases at nationals, experience going impromptu negative is even more important than normal. In speech & debate, the first time you give an impromptu negative is always the hardest. Novice’s who’ve never debated negative without a brief before often panic and don’t know what to do.
However, as you gain more experience debating the negative side without a brief, you start to learn common flaws with many affirmative cases, general tactics for impromptu negative, and gain confidence in debating without evidence. In high-stakes competition, having experience debating without a brief could make or break your speech & debate career.
3. It’ll Boost Your Speaking
Debating without a brief can boost your speaking in two ways. First, in the round itself, you’ll sound less canned. Many judges look for a “conversational” tone in debate rounds and reading off a brief you wrote months ago can easily sound pre-scripted and fail to connect with the judge. Arguments sound the most conversational when they’re fresh and you just thought of them.
Some of my highest speaker point team policy rounds have occurred when I didn’t have a brief and just gave the arguments I thought of on the spot. The delivery sounded fresh and conversational because the argument wasn’t canned.
Second, going impromptu negative more often also benefits your speaking style in the long run. Other speech & debate events such as Apologetics, Impromptu, Extemporaneous, and Parliamentary require you to have limited preparation. Improving at debating without prior knowledge of the case will make you more comfortable and confident with other limited preparation events.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t research at all. You should definitely research major cases you come across and trade briefs with other teams.
Here’s How I Suggest to Practice:
I have two suggestions.
First: Intentionally practice against teams whose case you don’t know. If there’s a team at your debate club who is testing a new case, schedule a practice round against them. The beginning stage of learning to impromptu negative efficiently is difficult and the best way to begin is during a practice round instead of a tournament. At tournaments you want to give every round your all, you never want to handicap yourself. If you’re uncomfortable with going negative without a brief, intentionally schedule practice rounds where you’ll have no evidence.
Second: In practice rounds, don’t ask for the 1AC prior to the round. I’ve seen many competitors practicing online asking for their opponent’s 1AC prior to the practice round. If you’re doing the round just for practice, consider going in without knowing the opposing case.
Intentionally doing more of your practice rounds without a brief will train you to be effective at going impromptu negative when everything is on the line during elimination rounds at actual tournaments. Practicing the skill of going impromptu negative is one of the best ways to improve yourself as a debater.
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.