Loose Nukes Because every debate can be improved with a little highly-enriched uranium.

9Feb/119

CONFESS, HERETIC!!!

You've just finished a fantastic speech, and your opponent is getting up to cross-examine you. Renowned for his brilliant, probing questions, his reputation alone would make any self-respective debater quake in fear. Not you. Over the course of your career you've become a master at eloquently avoiding questions, not conceding points, and generally wasting the other team's time. You have nothing to fear. You're great at taking CX.

Wrong.

I argue that you should do two things:

  1. Answer every question directly and accurately.
  2. Intentionally make your answers as concise as possible. Say only what is neccessary to make your point, and then stop talking.

This is a radical proposition. Not only am I telling you to answer all the questions, I'm essentially telling you to give the other team as much time as possible. "But wait," you may say. "Am I just supposed to lay down and let them walk all over me?" Not at all. If anything, responding directly increases your ability to defend yourself in cross-examination.

Answers are power

Evasive CXes are, simply put, tactical attempts to avoid arguments. This is entirely the wrong approach: the point of debate is to beat arguments, not sneak around them. The other team is handing you an opportunity to respond on a silver platter. Use it, and just crush the argument. Seriously. A concise, clear rebuttal is infinitely more powerful than a jumble of slippery weasel eggs. If your arguments are sound, you have nothing to fear from answering questions frankly; if they aren't, you need to change your arguments, not give tricky answers.

Brevity is wit

Basically, don't try to waste the other team's time. There are several good reasons to keep your answers as concise as possible:

  1. Your judges will like you. Judges love clear, simple rhetoric, and will consider you more articulate and professional. I've seen this theme consistently across innumerable ballots and conversations with parent, alumni, and community judges.
  2. Your opponents will like you. There are few things more annoying than a longwinded answerer. If they don't constantly have to cut you off, CX will be less aggressive. If nothing else, this will help keep your blood pressure down.
  3. It's good practice. In contrast to CX, brevity is at premium during speeches. Learning how to concisely respond in CX is excellent practice for concisely responding in rebuttals. In contrast, getting used to rambling can form bad habits.

Note that by "brevity" I don't mean "leaving out information" (unless the information is unnecessary, of course.) I merely mean "not rambling on endlessly when you could make your point in a few words" - cutting out the fluff and getting straight to the point. ("No, our second mandate says the program will be canceled if that happens." Quick and neat.)

A final note

One final issue I'd like to address: what about the other team trapping you into saying something that they later turn against you? This is a legitimate concern, but avoiding questions isn't the solution. You will still say things that your opponents can use against you. Learning to give powerful, straightforward answers has helped me avoid slipping up much more than avoiding questions ever did.

Done right, answering CX questions can be just as powerful as asking them. You'll come away with your arguments clearer and your credibility enhanced. Use your answers to answer, and your ballots will thank you.

Extend-o-tron 5000: A video example

Bonus: Here's an quick example to illustrate what this looks like (national champion Patrick Shipsey being cross-examined at NCFCA Nationals in 2010.) While a few of his answers could be a bit more concise, it's an excellent example of the general concept I'm talking about. Notice how the Affirmative spends more time asking the questions than he spends answering them - and how she completely fails to get any useful concessions out of him.