Category Archives: Skill Development

Six Lessons Debaters Can Learn From AOC’s Cross-Examination of Mark Zuckerberg

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an excellent cross-examiner. Most congressional hearings are mind-numbingly boring, but AOC’s ability to dismantle witnesses has generated many productive and entertaining exchanges. Debaters can learn a lot about effective cross-examination by studying her strategies and techniques.

One powerful example of AOC’s prowess as a cross-examiner that I have often shared with debaters occurred during a House Financial Services Committee Hearing on October 23, 2019. In just five minutes, AOC effectively posed a series of challenging questions that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg struggled to competently answer. Their exchange received a lot of media attention and likely contributed to Facebook’s decision a few months later to amend its political advertising policy.

Below the fold, I will identify six lessons that debaters can learn from this cross-examination. Before continuing, I suggest that you watch (or re-watch) the video of AOC’s exchange with Zuckerberg; it is embedded below. A transcript of the hearing is also available; the relevant section begins with “The gentlewoman from New York, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, is recognized for five minutes.” If you aren’t familiar with the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, it might also be helpful to read this Vox explainer (or at least click through this short Wired piece).

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Positionless Debate: A New Philosophy For Determining Speaker Positions

The day before this year’s Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Eduardo Escobar from the Arizona Diamondbacks. An All-Star for the first time in 2021, the 32-year old Escobar had appeared in 1,080 games in eleven seasons for the White Sox, Twins, and Diamondbacks. A versatile player, Escobar had played in 567 games at third base, 329 games at shortstop, 137 games at second base, and 45 games as an outfielder. He had even appeared in one game as a pitcher and another as a catcher.

The one defensive position Escobar had not yet played? First base. He hadn’t even played there in the minor leagues. But in just his second game for the Brewers — and with only a short pre-game practice session to help him prepare — that’s where manager Craig Counsell penciled Escobar into the lineup.

This was an admittedly unorthodox move for a first-place team, but Escobar seemed unfazed. “The most important thing for me is to help the team win,” he said. “I’ve never played first base but for this team to compete for the playoffs or make the World Series, you want to be out there all the time. I will come early and work at first base. I’ll be ready when they need me. I’ll try to make the manager’s job easier.”

Counsell downplayed concerns about Escobar’s ability to handle the transition to a new position: “He’s a baseball player. We’re not sending a baseball player into a basketball game here.”

The Brewers’ decision to acquire Escobar and play him “out of position” was a good example of a significant, recent trend across many professional team sports: positionlessness. Whether positionless baseball, positionless basketball, positionless football, positionless soccer, positionless hockey, or positionless lacrosse, the concept is similar. Instead of accepting pre-defined positions and assigning players to play them, coaches in positionless systems assess their players’ individual skills and design strategies to maximize their chances of success.

This philosophy focuses on what players can do well rather than what they can’t do well. Each player still has a role based on their particular skillset, but those roles don’t correspond to pre-defined positions. In basketball, for example, this approach has allowed atypically skilled and sized players like Draymond Green, Zion Williamson, and Ben Simmons to thrive even though they don’t fit the traditional standards used to distinguish between guards, forwards, and centers. Across all sports, this makes teams more versatile because it allows coaches to define roles based on each player’s skills rather than to define the skills that each player needs based on their assigned role.

It is my contention that the philosophy of positionless sports can and should be applied to debate. The rest of this article will make the case for that conclusion.

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How To Research Topicality: Suggested Sources and Search Terms

Topicality research is difficult. Because topicality is a semantic issue, the type of supporting evidence required is different than the evidence debaters typically offer in support of their other positions.

For one thing, it is often from “reference” sources: dictionaries, encyclopedias, “explainer” websites and articles, background sections in journal articles, etc. These are not good sources of evidence for most other debate arguments; their purpose is generally to document “facts,” not to argue in favor of a particular position or perspective. For the same reason, these reference sources also tend to describe the context of a controversy without taking a position on it.

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Strategic Plan Writing in Policy Debate

I have recently been thinking a lot about plans. When I tried to formalize a set of plan writing suggestions for current debaters, it led me to undertake what became an unprecedentedly thorough (I assume) exploration of the history of plans in policy debate. I think the resulting series of articles and its accompanying research is worth reading in full:

  1. The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 1: The Early History
  2. The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 2: The Plan in the Age of the Disadvantage
  3. The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 3: Extra-Topicality
  4. The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 4: Topical and Plan-Inclusive Counterplans
  5. The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 5: “Normal Means” PICs and Process Counterplans
  6. The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 6: Policy Testing, Planicality, and Hypothesis Planning
  7. Plan Writing In Policy Debate: Example Plans From 1970 to 2021
  8. “‘Planning’ Your Way To Victory”: Plan Writing Advice From 1982
  9. An Analysis of Plan Texts from the Elimination Rounds of the 2021 NDCA and TOC

However, I’m sure many students would rather skip to the tl;dr, please-give-me-a-checklist version. Below the fold is my attempt to provide that kind of formalized plan writing guide, although it still is not quite a plug-and-play checklist. As is often the case, it’s not that simple.

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Headspace: Suggestions for Debaters

I’ve mentioned before that mindfulness training can be an effective way for debaters to improve their mental toughness and perform better in high-pressure contest rounds. One of the most popular tools for practicing meditation is Headspace, an app that provides guided meditations and other mindfulness training programs. For debaters seeking to improve their mindfulness in preparation for competition, I strongly recommend giving Headspace a try. To help students get started, I’ll share some debate-specific suggestions below the fold.

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How Fast Do “Fast” Debaters Speak? A Study

Competitive policy debaters speak very quickly; critics have complained about it for more than 100 years. But how quickly do the fastest debaters actually speak?

In the past, I’ve estimated that “fast” debaters speak at between 280 and 340 words per minute (WPM). This estimate was based on my experiences over many years working with high school debaters to improve their speaking, often including formal tracking of their WPM rates over time. It was also based on anecdotal reviews of debaters’ speech documents. When calculating WPMs, nearly all elimination round-caliber debaters seemed to speak somewhere in that 280-340 range.

While I was confident that my estimate was relatively accurate, I decided to attempt a more authoritative investigation into debaters’ speaking speeds. My goal was to answer two questions: (1) How quickly do “fast” debaters speak?, and (2) Have “fast” debaters slowed down for online debate?

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New Videos: Speaking Practice For Debaters Series

Over the last few days, I’ve published several more videos in my Speaking Practice For Debaters series. All of the videos in the series have been compiled into a YouTube playlist.

I suggest starting with “An Introduction To (Fast) Debate Speaking (And How To Practice It)” before moving on to the videos about specific drills: The Two Color Highlighting Drill, The Auctioneering Drill, The Dynamic Highlighting Drill, and The Blackalicious Drill.

The playlist also includes “How Eric Arceneaux Can Help Debaters Improve Their Speaking Deliveries” and two versions of my “The Art of Speaking Efficiently” lecture (from 2014 and 2013).

Additional videos will continue to be added to this playlist; if you want to be notified when new videos are posted, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

New Videos To Help You Train To Improve Your Debate Speaking

I’m working on a series of videos that attempt to help debaters train to improve their speaking deliveries. In addition to the previously-mentioned “How Eric Arceneaux Can Help Debaters Improve Their Speaking Deliveries,” I recently published “An Introduction To (Fast) Debate Speaking (And How To Practice It)” and “The Two Color Highlighting Drill (Speaking Practice For Debaters).” My goal is to produce several more videos that explain additional types of speaking exercises; look for them on my YouTube channel over the next few weeks.

For your convenience, the “Introduction To (Fast) Debate Speaking…” and “The Two Color Highlighting Drill…” videos are also embedded below.

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Video: How Eric Arceneaux Can Help Debaters Improve Their Speaking Deliveries

I published a new video that explains why and how Eric Arceneaux’s voice training videos can help debaters improve their speaking deliveries. Arceneaux is a popular vocal coach whose training videos indie rock luminary Stephen Malkmus recently credited with improving his singing.

The video references and describes a curated playlist of the Eric Arceneaux videos I recommend for debaters along with a list of six general tips for making the most of Arceneaux’s training videos.

The video is also embedded below the fold.

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Lesson Plan: Intelligence Squared Phone Surveillance Debate

Intelligence Squared hosted a debate about phone surveillance at the National Constitution Center on October 7, 2014. The topic for the debate was Resolved: Mass collection of U.S. phone records violates the Fourth Amendment. For students preparing for next season’s surveillance topic, this debate is an excellent introductory resource. This article outlines a lesson plan based on the debate that can be assigned to students regardless of their experience levels.

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