How do you prep for a tournament?
I would normally answer “I don’t,” but here’s my real reply:
First, I figure out the least amount of prep I’m OK with doing. It always takes forever for me to prep bills, so I know that going in to the 1-2 day stretch before the tournament that’s all I’ll have done.
Then I look at the bills and put them in a spreadsheet. For example, here was my sheet for Bronx prelims:
I mark which speeches I value most highly, and which speeches the chamber favors. If the chamber doesn’t favor a bill I like, I know I have to push for it; otherwise, I just plan accordingly. I keep marking what I’ve written on, and mark speeches I’m unsure of/aren’t fully prepped on with asterisks.
Frequently, my approach to bill analysis is the following: find the thing no one else can find. I definitely perform significantly better in rounds on topics of technology, finance, funding, and foreign policy mainly because I know more about the topics, and thus can come up with more creative arguments. I’m no gavelenvy - I am not that good at healthcare, and I’m not a fan of education bills. Esther, I have healthcareknowledgeenvy.
(POINT OF CLARIFICATION: I AM AWARE ESTHER ALSO HATES EDUCATION BILLS. SHE IS JUST AWESOME WITH HEALTHCARE BILLS)
For instance, when my district had a bill on making Bitcoin a currency, I bashed the bill on the negation because I asked myself a series of questions. First, do I want Bitcoin to become a currency? Yes. Why? Because it would mean high-speed transactions that would be decentralized, more anti-Fed libertarian sh*t. What will actually happen if Bitcoin becomes a currency? It will become a currency. How? Um… let me look into that.
Turns out there’s a lot of things that are required of currencies when they get implemented - e.g. regulations, oversight, etc - and so making bitcoin a currency would actually kill the currency.
From there, the points nearly write themselves; I can then argue the values held by the affirmation on the side of the negation, flipping everyone’s arguments in the debate round while also seeming informed about the topic.
The High-Tech Evidence Safari
Now that I know what I want to argue, it’s time to find evidence.
My process for this is a bit different at locals than it is nationally, mainly since nationally evidence rules definitely apply and thus I always need to be prepared with the source itself, a full citation, and verification of validity. Locally, I just jot down this information, but for national preparation it’s important to have that all saved away somewhere where it’s easily accessible.
I’m a software developer, so of course I found a high-tech solution to this problem.
Using this web app, I search for the information that I need. The app automatically sorts and downloads the source’s full text and connects to the Inside.com API to generate source summaries that I can use within a round. Thus, when I’m flipping through sources to find ones to use, it looks like this.
I also search through think tank after think tank after think tank - yep, Brookings, Cato, New America Foundation, and Center for Democracy and Technology are in my bookmarks bar, as well as data analyst blogs like FiveThirtyEight and wonk blogs like Vox.
For national circuit tournaments, I generally don’t pre-write speeches but rather come in with several precut arguments/contentions. Given the originality of many speakers’ points and how well-versed my colleagues on the National Circuit are on any given subject, I already know it is very likely that even if I think my points are the bomb.com that they might be taken. However, for local tournaments, I generally pre-write speeches.
My speech format is pretty simple: I figure out what two contentions I am going to run, and then write the contention title (“Affirm because this bill will provide ISIS with more anti-US propaganda”), the intro line (“By affirming we walk right into ISIS’s trap”), data (“Ezra Klein, Vox, Jan 11, 2014”), impacts (“By aff —> more americans dead”) and conclusion (“With the aff, we show constituents we care abt. security in theory, not practice”). In round, I’ll generally insert refutation statements between the title and intro, intro and data, and data and impacts. I also put one contention on each of the two pages, so if one of my contentions is taken I can always tear that page out, keep the other contention, and write a new one in-round.
Introductions are almost always written in-round, because I like to keep them topical and related to the debate at hand. You’ll almost never hear me give a constructive (1st aff or neg) speech, mainly because I love to flip intros; for example, on the Bitcoin speech, I took one of my opponents’ intros on the affirmative that talked about how awesome Bitcoin is and basically restated it, before saying “Rep. _____, that’s why I’m standing firmly against this bill, because you’re signing a bill to kill the currency as we know it. Because unlike you, Rep. ______, I want to stand with bitcoin, I urge you all to fail this bill.”
Politicking/The Chats (I count this as prep)
I’m not referring to setting dockets, or setting round strategy, or anything like that. Congress, however, is a community of people. The best rounds for me, and generally the most fun ones, are ones where I can debate within a room of friendly people that know each other well; there’s a reason more jokes fly in finals, and that’s because finalists generally know each other so well they can slip in as many barbs as they want. One thing that differentiates Congress from other debate events, in my opinion, is how debaters aren’t quite so foreign in each round. When I competed in LD and Extemp, I got to know a lot of my fellow competitors but never really very well. It’s certainly possible to prep everything, have good speeches and never talk to anyone else and do well in Congressional Debate - but it’s just fun. One of my favorite parts about this event is the people I get to meet each weekend, locally and nationally, and many of my best friends are also competitors.
Regarding groupchats… I used to participate in them a lot more than I do now. Generally speaking, I don’t participate in many groupchats anymore. Firstly, they’ve become a tool that some competitors use to confuse others over docket proposals; I’ve been in chambers where one docket has been proposed but then someone messages me with “Hey, want to set this docket instead? I can get a majority to agree with X.” Second, many proposals often fail in round and if I’m ever operating under the assumption that there will be a particular docket, I’m kind of setting myself up to fail if the proposed docket fails. Lastly, groupchats lead to arguments and bad feeling that really aren’t necessary. It’s much harder to tell someone “I don’t want your bill” in person than it is online. It’s also harder to be nasty. Everyone has more empathy and care for other competitors in person, and so dockets and proposals should be decided in person as well.
So that’s how I prep. I don’t really have any ideas for a conclusion for this, so let me leave you with how I feel sometimes while parli-ing for novice tournaments: