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The 1AC is important. But I’m sure you already knew that – or at least, think you know that. Which is why I’m sitting here wondering why almost everybody thinks of the 1AC as “an eight minute speech with a plan text”. Those who run counter plans might add “the first speech of the round” to their description of the 1AC, just so it doesn’t get confused with a 1NC.

office-583841_1920We view 1ACs as boring. Nobody really pays much attention to them, unless the judge happens to be flowing or the negative team has never heard the case before. 1A’s launch into a well-rehearsed, traditional eight minute speech. 2A’s skim over their favorite cards, doodle on their legal pads, and glance at the negative team to see if they’re paying attention. The 1N skims through negative files, planning the next speech. The 2N keeps one ear attuned for words like “funding”, “might”, and dates of evidence that make for a killer cross-x. He may or may not remember to ask for the 1AC, but as long as the 1A says “I don’t know” or “I guess so” more than once, the cross examination will be considered a success.

What’s the problem here? The 1AC was wasted time. The affirmative might as well have just read their plan text and sat down. The structure was traditional and boring. At least a third of the content was pointless. The evidence will likely never be mentioned again. For all intents and purposes, the 1AC is a plan text and the 1NC is the first “real speech” of the round.

Aside from spending three paragraphs on an introduction, what’s my point? Wake up, affirmatives. 1A’s, don’t make yourself rehearse a speech full of “observations” and one-liners from those experts in the field. Don’t make the judge wince at the thought of writing out all your definitions and give up on flowing altogether. Don’t give the negative 8 minutes to sip energy drinks and strategize. This speech matters, make it count.


Three tips on how to do this:


1. Identify what you want to talk about, and talk about it.

Those of you who think you can check this off the list because you picked a case topic, you can’t :P. If you attended ethos camps or follow the blog, you’ll know how important it is to have a “big idea” behind all your arguments. Let’s apply that concept to the 1AC. Anything that does not drive home your big idea needs to go.

Do you really need your definitions? Unless your case is sketchy on topicality and you’re hoping the negative won’t notice your creative take on “reform”, please take this section out of your case.

Do you really need your goal? Yes I did just say this! And here’s why: some goals make the case. They are the big idea. Some affirmatives skate through their rounds on their value framework, outweighing all the other arguments and establishing impressive moral imperatives and policy standards that practically guarantee an affirmative ballot. Other affirmatives wish their cases were like that, so they insert a wordy paragraph about “the most important issue in the round” and “the measuring sticks that determine which side is better,” hoping that judges “will consider it when making their decisions at the end of the round.” Did they really just say it’s the most important issue in the round? Because nine times out of ten, it won’t be. Nine times out of ten that goal won’t resurface again until the 2AR, when the speaker makes some vague reference to the “importance of upholding international security” or how “we have to save lives.” And if it does come up before then, it is probably when the 1N spends 10 seconds presenting net benefits as a counter goal. The affirmative will accept this (Of course, because they have much more important things to argue about then their goal! [this, by the way, is an excellent indication that your goal contributes nothing to your case]) and the goals disappear from the round (and the flow).

Do you need observations? I tend to think no (it’s like saying the first section contains a section with subsections. That’s great that you have sections with sections and subsections, but you jolly well could have just jumped into the first section and called it a justification or a plan or a background point). But some people have grown attached to them and feel their case would be incomplete without observations. That’s okay (I guess). My point here is that the style and structure of your 1AC needs to work for you. Are you (at least, in a debate round) the traditional, polite, predictable type? Would you feel uncomfortable cracking a joke in a debate round? Do you always start your cross examinations with “how are you doing?” If so, then go with a more formal, impeccably organized case (that doesn’t mean boring, by the way). But if you aren’t, don’t adopt an artificial, stiff style for the 1AC and abandon it as soon as the timer beeps. 1AC’s can be witty. You can present your main points in whatever order you want. So experiment a little. 1As should enjoy giving the 1AC.

Communicate your big idea. I’m not going to elaborate on this point much because it has more to do with your overall debating style than with the 1AC. My goal is to get you to the point where you eliminate the boring, useless material from your case – the point where you have available speech time to dive deeper into your winning arguments.

  1. Identify what you need to preempt, and preempt it.

Anticipating negative arguments and “spiking” them is one of the best ways to make your 1AC matter in the round. You have eight minutes here, so build up a case that’s strong enough to withstand the 1NC. The 2AC shouldn’t have to “rebuild” the case, 2A’s should be able to run with the case and take the arguments deeper. How to do that?

Utilize good evidence. The 1AC shouldn’t be stuffed with one or two sentence cards. Quote credible sources and recent articles. The 2AC should never have to waste time responding to source indictments of the 1AC, or explaining why the last half of sentence three wasn’t underlined.

Read warrants. This is primarily how you spike negative arguments, and often these warrants are so subtle the negative team won’t notice them. If your case centers around one big idea, you’ll start to notice that a lot of your argument responses link together. Your plan advocates have noticed that too, and many of their warrants will link together. In building up a 1AC argument, you could be defeating the assumptions behind the 1NC.

Know your evidence. Your beautiful 1AC with impeccable evidence won’t do you much good if you don’t realize the value in it. 1A’s should know all of their sources, the basic methodology behind all the studies, the relevant statistics, and all the warrants in the case. 2A’s, you need to know this too.  Last year at nationals, we had a beautiful 1AC (we really did, it was lovely). Our coaches had edited it and offered style tips, we had experimented with all sorts of tag lines and formats, the timing was perfect, and Peter knew all the cards and statistics forwards and backwards (along with a couple extra cards and stats he liked to cram into his cross examination answers for cool points). Something we (or at least, I) didn’t fully realize was that our cards were stuffed with warrants. Warrants that spiked common negative arguments, linked some of our arguments together, and established reasons for our plan that we had never even thought of. I didn’t realize we had these warrants until I read the 1AC out loud the day before our rounds began. I was just reading it for speaking practice, and it suddenly hit me that half of the arguments I refuted in the 2AC were addressed in the 1AC. I was able to refer back to (unaddressed) 1AC cards/warrants/statistics, read additional evidence when necessary, and spend more time analyzing/weighing and refuting the stronger negative arguments.  The 1AC shouldn’t just be beautiful. It can contain arguments, catchy phrases, and warrants that will save your skin in the 1AR and win the round in the 2AR.


3. Identify what you plan to win, and win it.


You know those cases with three inherency points, four harms, two solvency points, and four advantages? Do I understand why affirmatives cram so much into their 1AC? No, I really don’t. But I do know that they don’t have to nail all four harms to win the round. As affirmative, you might not even have to win half your arguments to carry the round. Don’t try to win all four advantages – you’ll give yourself a heart attack in rebuttals and give the judge the impression that you’re desperate (and losing).

Win your big idea. Just win it. Give the negative team their source indictments or net benefits goal or disadvantage 6 link 3. Just win your big idea. That means you have to know what your big idea is, and you have to make it matter in the round. (No “Surprise! We have a big idea!” in the 2AR) If the judge doesn’t know what your big idea is, and the negative never refutes it because you didn’t ever clearly establish it, you didn’t win it.

Set up your (strategic) plan in the 1AC. Don’t be sneaky about your strategy. If you’re running a comparative advantage case, or a case with four justifications where you are only planning to win one, say that in the 1AC. That way the judge knows upfront (Don’t be the 2A who says, “You actually didn’t have to flow justifications 2-4, sorry about that. Let’s just talk about the first one now.”) and the negative team has a chance to “clue in” to what’s happening (better clash). This strategy works because it clearly establishes your big idea and your strategy for winning that idea. In the 1AC, you basically force yourself to argue your case properly. Don’t get lost in arguments that don’t matter, set up (and win) the ones that do.


So what does all this mean? Pick a case with a big idea. Write a 1AC that communicates your winning arguments (eliminate anything that doesn’t link to your big idea). Experiment with different styles and formats to find what works for you (outside advice can help a lot). Know your cards, and your case, forwards and backwards (1AC cards should be relevant in the rebuttals. If they aren’t, pick better cards). Make your 1AC matter. It’s not just an eight minute speech with a plan.

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