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There is a fundamental principle that governs formal debate and public speaking in general: time signifies importance. Great orators are able to use this to their advantage, and without its recognition one misses out on a key part of the rhetorical toolbox. 

In debate, whatever arguments you spend significant time on are inevitably going to be perceived as more impactful than those that are not, even if outside of the round or in the academic literature it is not the case. This has many interesting implications, the foremost of which being that one can influence the perceived importance of an argument in a debate round by simply talking about it more (or less). 

In my opinion, debaters should think about this principle and apply it a little bit more analytically. What I mean is this: you should view time as the commodity of the debate round. It functions as the medium through which every argument is interpreted. Of course, you can’t win a debate round simply by talking about one argument for the entire round—the importance you give to the argument doesn’t affect its overall persuasiveness. But, assuming that you have good and persuasive arguments, the time that you allocate to them is pivotal to your strategic advantage in the debate round.

Applied correctly, the debater can gain a time advantage over their opponent simply by picking and choosing what arguments to spend time on strategically. The best and easiest way to do this is to make arguments that require your opponents to spend a significant amount of time refuting them. However, this is difficult to do consistently, and good opponents will be able to tell whether or not an argument is worth spending a significant amount of time refuting. 

Another way to gain a strategic time advantage in the debate round is simply to be as terse as possible when responding to arguments that you want to matter less. For example, if the affirmative team has waxed eloquent on the impacts of their plan, there’s no reason to spend the same amount of time responding to those impacts, when the message you want to communicate to the judge is that those impacts do not matter in the face of yours. This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice refutation; done right, you just use your words more efficiently and give less analysis. 

This tip can be applied to any speech in the debate round, and I would argue it is about equally valuable in LD, TP, and Parli. Viewing time as a commodity in a debate round may help frame your time allocation in a more strategic light, so I would consider putting these tips into practice in order to gain a strategic time advantage. 

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Nathanael Morgan is a sophomore at the Saint Constantine College in Houston, Texas. As an accomplished debater with 3 years of competitive experience in Stoa and numerous awards, he enjoys researching and coaching others. He is studying to be a cybersecurity analyst and currently works for a telecommunications company based in Wisconsin.
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