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“Yes, and…” is one of the most crucial debate phrases you can ever learn.

The phrase, “Yes, and…” is one that is highly encouraged in improvisational skits. The principle is one of cooperation and team-building. The idea is that one person introduces a concept, phrase, character, or setting, and the other members of the team work to take that concept to its next step, hopefully concluding in something resembling a funny situation. “Yes, and…” is a foundational building block of improvisational comedy among a team.

What is discussed less is the “Yes, and…” that an audience has to engage in for improv – or performances of any kind, for that matter – to function properly. In terms more familiar to debate, you need your audience to agree with your arguments. On the most fundamental level, winning a debate round means that one or more judges agreed that your arguments had merit. Having established the most basic of debate premises, I want to introduce one that builds off of it: your most valuable teammate is your judge. Even in individual debate, your judge is your most valuable asset for “Yes, and”-ing in a round. Let’s explore that a bit further.

Having the judge as your teammate is not simply being nice to your judge. That should be a given if: 

  1. You are a decent human being.
  2. You want to win the round.

Instead, having the judge play “Yes, And…” with you is a question of specific strategy. It’s about piling agreement upon agreement from your judge until everyone in the room realizes it would be intellectually dishonest for the judge not to vote for you. It’s about building a castle out of handfuls of wet sand over the course of a round. How do we go about doing this? There are multiple strategic elements to doing this, such as picking a running thesis, arguing strategically, and effectively using round vision. Each of these deserve their own article.

Most importantly? Invite your judge to build the sandcastle with you. Find something small and incontrovertible in every argument you make. This could be as simple as citing their argument properly. Pile up grains of sand from every argument that the judge will have no choice but to agree with. This paves the way mentally for the judge to agree with your later conclusions as to why you’ve won this round. This is the key to being more persuasive in-round. Every argument and response you make should be walking your judge through the museum of arguments you’ve created and showing them that the only honest contribution they can really make is a ballot in your favor.

Don’t have the judge do the work for you. Do have the judge on a chain of agreements with you, one leading to the next, leading to your inevitable victory.

Nathanael is a senior honors student at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, studying for a bachelor’s degree in history. Nathanael believes that debate is first and foremost about cultivating strengths to export out of debate. Nathanael argues one should win such that even their opponent is happy for them. 
You can learn about Nathanael in this short bio. You can also book coaching with Nathanael here.

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