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

27Apr/111

Educationally speaking…

In which we learn that judges are not extraterrestrials. Also, how to talk to them so they actually pay attention to what you are saying.

Clarity outweighs strength

Really? Yes, really. To illustrate this, let's look at two (fictional) plans, presented as a community judge hears them. Which would you rather vote for?

“We propose carrying out a forsolith transform using micro-ethicalic nodules. This has something to do with pollution. Here's some evidence saying this is a really great idea.”

“The government currently has a blank fund where they put taxes paid with invalid Social Security numbers. This fund currently has $138 million in it, and it's not being used for anything. We propose using this money to improve water treatment in rural America; this could potentially save up to 20,000 lives every year.”

If you're like most people, you would rather vote for the second plan. It's simple, it makes sense, and it sounds like a good idea. The first plan sounds decent - for all you know, it could be fantastic - but it's inherently less appealing because you don't understand how it works.

Judges are the same way – they inherently prefer plans that make intuitive sense to them. This effect is so strong that it can override the actual efficacy of the plan. After seeing a lot of weird decisions, I've become convinced of a simple rule:

Most judges would rather vote for something they understand than something flawless.

This is so important, I'm going to say it again:

Most judges would rather vote for something they understand than something flawless.

The conclusion is straightforward: Explaining your arguments well gives you an automatic advantage. Why? I don't really know. I suspect a large part is memory – if the judge understands the route to a conclusion, the conclusion itself will be much more memorable, and hence more important in the judge's mind.

We three kings

Okay, so you should explain yourself. End of discussion. Right? Wrong.

There are three basic mindsets of argumentation. Pretty much any competent debater will fall into one of these categories:

The first mindset is The Debater. The Debater is all about argumentation and proving the point. The Debater tries to win on the flow (even if it requires reading an H subpoint to their fifth disadvantage.)

The second mindset is The Talker. The Talker is all about presenting the point well. He talks smart, looks smart, and walks smart. The Talker tries to win through surface persuasion - the "this guy sounds like he's right" effect.

"Hmmm... I behold a plan..."

The third mindset is The Teacher. The Teacher knows he's right, so winning the round is simply a matter of educating the judge until he or she recognizes the fact. The Teacher tries to win through knowledge.

Which is best? Think about how you are persuaded: you learn the facts and come to a conclusion. Judges are not extraterrestrials - they think like you do. Both The Debater and The Talker presuppose that information is conveyed, but The Teacher is the only mindset that starts with education, and uses speaking and argumentation structure as tools, instead of the focus. Talking like a teacher ties directly into the "persuasion" part of the judge's brain.

One size does fit all

You might think that these mindsets are for different types of judges: The Debater for flow judges, The Talker for speaker judges, etc. That's a mistake. Because The Teacher ties into fundamental brainwork, all you have to do to adapt it to different judges is change what knowledge you presuppose.

Let's say you're got a super-strict former-NFL flow judge. He already knows what it means when you "drop", "extend", or "perm" something, and what "prolif" entails, so you can start at a very high of education - like speed-reading Khalilzad.

Switch to a parent judge, and you have to start a little lower. You can assume that he or she generally understands how to evaluate your arguments, but you'll need to take some time explaining exactly how (for example) the plan causes inflation, and why that's bad. (Instead of just saying "mandate 2 presupposes inflation cross-apply 1NC Smith 09 equals economic collapse which goes global Mead 92 nuclear war, next point.")

Community judges require you to start even lower, with basic concepts like "why it matters that I quoted an expert on this, and they didn't," but the argument explanation itself is similar.

But what about speaker judges? Is there any hope? Well, yes. Clarity overrides many flaws - most judges will think you speak a lot better if they understand what you're talking about. (Learning is interesting. If the judge is learning, they'll find you interesting.) At any rate, good speaking is a skill to pursue regardless of what mindset you hold.

The bottom line

People are persuaded by knowledge. If you start with the basic idea that debate is about educating the judge until they understand why you're right, your ideas will stick.

Instead of trying to debate, try to teach.

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  1. GREAT ARTICLE! Makes so much sense!

    Thanks!


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