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Out of the 5 speaker categories on every debate ballot, one of the most undervalued (at least in my opinion) is that of organization. While every original constructive speech has that sense of organization that every community judge loves, the organization tends to trail off in rebuttals, leading to the judge attempting to organize your responses on their own mid-speech, which takes the attention off of you (and your amazing arguments) and onto the judge’s own internal confusion. 

Even though rebuttals are almost entirely based upon what your opponent has said in their last speech, you can still have some sort of generalized structure going into the round and organize your responses off of that. One popular and effective structure that I have consists of 3 points:

1 – Framing

This consists of the basic things you have to address before you can move forward, such as definitions, values, facts, etc. These have to come first, but the disputed elements may change from round to round, so this general tag allows for flexibility with a sense of structure.

2 – Direct Responses

You should probably tag it as something more engaging depending upon the parts of your case your opponent is targeting, but this is the time when you would address your opponent’s key arguments as well as their responses to yours. You can have as many subpoints as you like (within reason), but this at least allows for some structure in a speech where there is normally very little.

3 – Impact

In different styles of debate, this will look different; for Lincoln Douglas, this would be dedicated to the value, whereas for Team Policy this could be re-examining the advantages of passing your plan. Overall, it is my strong belief that the first and last thing the judge hears in each of your speeches should be the most important thing. The introduction should be a statement of your affirmation/negation of the resolution, and your conclusion should examine the impacts of your arguments. The debaters who reserve time at the end of their rebuttals to impact their arguments back to the judge are the ones who, in my experience, often succeed.

While this organization is very basic, it offers a couple of distinct benefits. First, the judge now has a much-needed outline before you speak, so they know where you are going which is much better than just stating that you will be “going down the flow” of your opponent’s arguments, which is vague and offers no organization. Second, it also allows them to remember your arguments better. When you come up with memorable tags for these key arguments, the judges will recall them more easily when writing your ballot. Most importantly, this structure allows judges to remember their importance in the context of the round: whether it be under your framing, responses, or impact, this structure lets your judge know exactly where your arguments do and do not apply. Thirdly, it helps you come across as more prepared, which in turn boosts your credibility with the judge. A competitor with organization in their speech is far more likable to a judge who is on their tenth cup of coffee and what feels like their 100th debate ballot of the tournament. You are telling them exactly where you are going to go and then following that path, leading them to the conclusion of why you should win. Overall, this comes across as clear control of the round and preparation for any response your opponent could have. While organization may seem insignificant, it is one of the most fundamental tools any good debater has. Without it, your judge can get lost in all of your arguments that may very well be incredible, and if they are lost, the only thing that will register on that flow is their confusion. 

Hannah Cavanaugh competed in the NCFCA for 6 years, during which she earned national titles 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.

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