Tips and Tricks – Adding Nuance to Arguments

At its best, debate is a space for open discussions. It inspires students to take initiative and learn about current events from a multitude of viewpoints. During rounds, speakers contribute to conversations that account for those perspectives, and each angle contributes to a different understanding of the topic. At its worst, however, debate can cause people to become defensive and unwilling to continue these conversations. As a result, being an effective debater also means knowing how to frame topics mindfully, especially when discussions include sensitive subjects. 

In every round, your priority should be to avoid alienating anyone in your audience; in the scope of a debate round, doing so could harm your chances of winning because your words could personally affect your judge and/or your opponents. 

Even more important, however, is the risk of causing people to close off from the discussion and possibly reinforcing the belief that they should avoid these conversations in the future.

Adding nuance to arguments is a key skill in preparing debate cases, and the following examples demonstrate how you can build narratives for your cases in an effective and respectful way.

For the middle school affirmative action topic:

Proponents of affirmative action believe that it increases diversity, partly remedies the nation’s history of racial injustice, and extends opportunities to minorities that they historically have been excluded from. Others, however, say that it leads to “reverse discrimination,” superficial diversity, and a continuation of stereotypes.

When discussing either side of this topic, please be mindful of your phrasing. Arguments surrounding affirmative action often tend to perpetuate stereotypes, such as the “model minority” myth for Asian-American applicants to universities. Make sure to also avoid misrepresenting your prop case as reasons why certain communities do not deserve to be granted preference; your arguments may want to advocate a position based on how affirmative action policies unfairly benefit some populations more than others, but saying that some people “do not deserve” something does not effectively convey your point.

For the high school 1619 Project topic:

The introduction of slavery to the colonies and subsequent organization of anti-slavery movements were a formative part of American history. As a result, it is important to begin your narrative in a way that acknowledges this rather than, for example, pushes for the topic of slavery to be excluded from school curriculums.

Historical narratives are constantly evolving, so you should familiarize yourself with not only the arguments but also the most common historical viewpoints supporting each side. When you incorporate these narratives into your points, represent them accurately because they can be nuanced; evidence for this subject may be less statistics-based, so make sure to avoid misrepresenting quotes and literature. Since the topic is open-ended, your team on the prop should also discuss specific, concrete ways to center social studies classes around the 1619 Project.

These two topics both explore multi-faceted arguments related to racial inequality. As always in debate, focus on the tone and implications of your assertions; the scope of your narrative extends past the timeframe of the round itself, which is especially true for discussions of racial inequality.

Your voice can only be a tool for change if you are able to convey your arguments effectively, so use it wisely.

Tips and Tricks – December Tournament

The Orange County Debate League is so excited to be hosting the Holiday Tournament on December 5th! Although virtual tournaments may still be a little unfamiliar, they offer a valuable learning opportunity for everyone. These tips and tricks take into account some lessons from the Scramble, so we hope that they will create the best debating environment for the upcoming tournament.

Tip 1: Heckle clearly

To accommodate for the delay in some of Zoom’s features, please make sure to unmute yourself, wait a second before speaking, and then heckle. Additionally, you can try heckling in your debate practices and ask your friends if they can hear you. Heckles are often drowned out by the other speaker’s voice, so practicing beforehand is the best way to ensure that your opponents and judge will be able to understand your point. Don’t let muffled heckles cause any confusion during your rounds on the day of the actual tournament!

Tip 2: Become familiar with Zoom

Since many tournaments will likely be online for the remainder this school year, it will greatly benefit you to have some basic knowledge of how Zoom works. If you attended the Scramble in October, you can review the concepts that may have been confusing or new for you during that tournament. Reach out to your coach, your parents, or the Internet to better understand video calls through Zoom to make sure that you know how to join meetings, join breakout rooms, and navigate the control panel to unmute and turn your camera on. 

It’s also very helpful to keep a document with important Zoom codes so that you can keep track of links to various calls. This will help you stay organized, especially if the tournament is held on multiple Zoom calls.

Tip 3: Be patient!

This form of debate is new to everyone, and your judges and coaches are all working to make the transition online as smooth as possible. If technical difficulties arise, however, please do not let yourself be thrown off. Tournament day is supposed to be fun, and the only way to make the most out of your debating experience is to be flexible.

Although we wish that we could be debating in person, online tournaments offer their own unique experience in that we are able to stay safe while continuing to participate in an amazing educational activity. The OCDL looks forward to seeing you soon!

Tips / Tricks for the Scramble Tournament

The start of a new season looks a little different this year–breakout rooms have replaced classrooms, and teammates and opponents alike sit miles apart from each other. As the first tournament of the 2020-2021 OCDL season, the Scramble on the 24th is a unique opportunity for both new and returning debaters to  gain debate experience and connect with other debaters in the league. Here are some tips to create the best tournament experience possible!

Tip 1: Reach out to people

  Debate is a collaborative activity, and since the Scramble’s structure places students from different schools onto one team, it teaches you both the skill of teamwork and that of networking. Especially this year, the Scramble will allow you to get to know others within the league who you might not meet elsewhere, so take this time to get to know your teammates!

Tip 2: Keep track of feedback

As you should do in every tournament, take notes on your judges’ constructive feedback. Keeping these comments organized in one place will allow you to refer to them consistently as you prepare for future tournaments, which is one of the best ways that you can improve your performance. Have a paper and pen out or keep a document open before your disclosures!

Tip 3: Complete a tech check

It is now more important than ever that your Wi-fi works properly and your devices don’t run into any issues. To ensure that no technological difficulties arise when you are giving a speech, try out different setups before the tournament and figure out what allows you to best transition between giving speeches, flowing, and possibly timing yourself. Familiarize yourself with debating virtually during your school’s practices, and check with others on the call to see if you are lagging or cutting out. If you do all of this beforehand, you save yourself from extra stress on tournament day and ensure that nothing distracts from your performance.

Tip 4: Ask questions!

Don’t fall prey to the dreaded silence of Zoom. Your judges are solely there to help you, so after rounds, if you have any questions, please ask. This information will most likely help all of the other debaters and make everyone else more comfortable to ask their questions as well. The most important thing to remember is that debate is supposed to be a community and that the only way to be an active member of that community is to take initiative and build your connections with your peers. 

The start of the OCDL season is always an exciting time, and the Scramble is the perfect opportunity to practice your public speaking, receive feedback from experienced coaches and judges, and meet other students within the league. These tips and tricks will help you enhance your debate experience so that you can make the most out of this opportunity. Good luck and happy debating!