If you’re a veteran of speech and debate, you’ve probably heard of the exercise of “speaking to your grandmother” that your coach has taught you.
Essentially, the idea is to practice speaking your argument from a debate or a concept from a speech in a way so that your grandmother would be able to understand it if she had known no other information about the topic.
This exercise is so effective for various reasons (i.e works to reduce fast speaking, forces you to reduce the number of words you use, increases word economy, etc, etc). But I would argue that one of the most useful benefits of this exercise is relatability.
By stepping back and realizing that your judge is just a normal person and not some magical debate god who should know everything about debate, you can begin to understand the judge better. You can better adapt to them. You can explain your complicated debate theory to them in such a manner that allows them to easily and greatly understand it.
And that’s exactly what we’re talking about today, in the specific context of topicality. Here’s how you can win topicality with community judges and new parent judges.
 Review: The Structure of Topicality
Before we get into the weeds of topicality, I just wanted to quickly review the four parts of topicality.
- Interpretation: How you define the resolution.
- Violation: How the AFF violated your definition of the resolution.
- Standards: Why your definition of the resolution is superior to the AFF’s definition.
- Impact: What does winning your T argument mean? Perhaps it would be an auto-win, but how? The most two common impacts I used are (1) no enforcement (cuz the judge only gets to be the actor of the resolution and so a judge physically cannot pass an untopical case, they just don’t have the ability). And (2) Two NEG teams, the AFF has to uphold the resolution to win the round.
The part of topicality that we’re hyper-focusing in on here is the third part of topicality, the standards. In the next section, I talk about two standards and why combining them leads to an awesome story.
 Revere Osmosis + Common Man = Success
If you’ve taken high school chemistry, you probably learned about reverse osmosis. It’s the process of forcing a solvent to move to a lower concentration solution from the current solution it’s in.
Time to apply that chemistry to debate now! The reverse osmosis standard in a topicality argument in a debate round basically makes the argument that if you give the judge the AFF case, they should be able to determine the resolution.
You probably already know what the common man standard is, but in case you don’t, it’s essentially a standard that argues if we went on the streets and asked a common man who didn’t know anything about the current topic, they would agree with your interpretation of the wording of resolution rather than your opponent’s. Typically, this standard is used to respond to your opponent’s standard of “source superiority— which argues that they have the better PhDs and professors and experts who agree with their interpretation.
Combining these standards leads to a standard that tends to convince judges more often than not — some who may be biased against topicality. The new standard here is essentially arguing that the judge is the common man and that they should be given the case and try to guess what the resolution is. If the judge cannot do so, then
 Tell A Story
Okay so now that we have all the parts, how do we put this together? The answer is simple: build your story.
Start off the beginning of your first NEG speech with your standards, but do it in a way where you can explain it as a story to a judge — assume they don’t even know what the word topicality is, and in fact, it might be beneficial to outright never mentioning the term.
Here’s an example: “Before we get to some of the concerns we have with the affirmative team’s proposed plan, we’d first like to focus on the issue of whether it’s on the topic we all agreed to discuss. Judge, I’m going to read the AFF case’s mandates. As I’m reading it, write down what you think the resolution we agreed to come here and debate about is.”
Proceed to read the mandates and then come back and ask the judge to compare what they wrote down to the resolution that you give them.
In my senior year of high school debate, I applied the arguments I went over in this post to great success. I went from never ever winning a T press, to winning them at least once or twice per tournament. And it’s not just me, the best teams across the nation apply similar strategies to win their topicality presses as well.
Convinced? Disagree with anything? Either way, let us know in the comments and we can get a discussion going!
About The Author
Justin is a three-year alumnus of NCFCA and an honors student at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Currently a senior, he hopes to receive his degree in computer science with a concentration in cyber security and minors in criminal justice and math. In his senior year of high school debate, Justin went from never competing in a single outround to averaging semis or quarters at every national open, including 4th place at the 2021 NCFCA nationals, as well as averaging finals at regional tournaments. His philosophy is that debate is a game. Providing one is ethical, the most persuasive argument flies. At the end of the day, Justin argues you should honor God & have fun! Debate is not all about winning, it’s about how you win and the skills you foster in the process.
You can learn more about Justin by reading his bio, and you can book coaching with him over here. You can also catch more content from Justin by checking out his personal website and blog as well as subscribing to his YouTube channel.
What if your grandmother only knows German? Do I give my speeches in German? I hope this helps my debate skills.