We’ve all had those rounds. Your opponents brought up predictable arguments that you’ve heard a thousand times before, and you know exactly how to respond. Before the opposing speaker even begins wrapping up, you have all your responses written down complete with tags and impacts. They barely even finish speaking before you walk to the podium and begin your rebuttal.
To a lot of debaters, prep time is there “if they need it.” If they get caught off guard by a unique argument, they might use prep to consult with their partner, but otherwise they take great pleasure in announcing that they will not need to take preparation time and that they still have their full five minutes (or however many) left on the clock. If you’re like that, maybe this article will change your mind. I would like to take the stance that you should finish every round with not a single second of prep left on the clock. I’ll be covering the advantages, and then tackle the issue of why more debaters don’t do this.
The Reasons Why
First, why should you take all your prep? Well, the answer isn’t particularly groundbreaking: prep time allows you to make improvements to your speech. Every second of prep time not taken potentially means that a great illustration is never thought of or presented, or that you are disorganized and waste precious time scrambling for evidence, or that you blank and have to default to a generic opener. No matter how ready you are, there will never be a circumstance when taking extra prep will not improve your speech.
If you often take prep and find that you don’t know what to do with the extra time, it may be beneficial for you to make a “prep time checklist.” On your own time, assemble a list of things that you can check your speech for before you give it. This could include having a solid intro/conclusion, having good transitions, or having a few solid analogies. Anything that would improve your speech but sometimes slips your mind in the moment, write down. The benefit to doing this is that you can review your checklist to ensure that your speech has all the components you want it to, without having to rely on your in-round memory (which, if you’re anything like me, is practically non-existent).
The Response to Why Not
In my experience, there are two main reasons why debaters often choose to not take prep. The first is that they want to (as we in the industry call it) flex on everyone in the room. As everyone knows, nothing is more impressive to the judge than going an entire debate round with no preparation time. While this type of thinking makes sense, I don’t think it’s a powerful reason to not take prep time. For one thing, judges aren’t nearly as influenced by this assertion of dominance as you may think, if at all.
Think about it: your speaker comments may include insights such as: “great organization!” “maybe read a little more evidence,” or “professional in CX.” Can you remember any time when a judge has commented on how it was good that you didn’t take prep time? Probably not. If anything, the only comments you’ve received regarding prep time have been that you didn’t take enough! Some may argue that not taking prep makes you seem more confident, but I would respond by saying even if it’s true, this has virtually zero effect on the outcome of the round.
The second main reason for not taking prep is that debaters don’t want to give judges extra time to think about their opponents’ arguments, or extra time for their opponents to prep. The thing about this is that they are only problems if your number one priority is winning the debate round. In my opinion, having polished speeches (on both sides) and thus a solid, entertaining, enjoyable debate round is more important than marginally improving your chances of winning at the expense of such polish.
In conclusion, I think we could all benefit from taking more prep and further improving the quality of our speeches. Don’t leave time on the clock!