Preparing for Worlds 4: POI

Preparing for Worlds: Post 4 Points of Information

This comes from the same handout I took the "debating on first principles" post from. I used it for a quick prep with some worlds teams a couple of years ago but now I am not sure where I pulled all the info from. I'm sure I didn't write most of it but I don't know where it came from. Probably a mailing list somewhere. Apologies to the person who did write it for not crediting them. UPDATE: After some comments and e-mails I think the bulk of this came from Dan Neidle's guide from the British Debate mailing list. Dan was a Worlds finalist so he knows what he is talking about.

Tomorrow: Roles in a debate

Don't be afraid of Points of Info. They are an attempt to attack you but they are also an opportunity for you to deflect the attack back.

When to accept points
- Accept two or three in a seven minute speech. Never accept more or less than this.
- Don’t keep accepting points from the same speaker, particularly if they’re strong. On the other hand, don’t ‘cut out’ and ignore speakers you are worried about - it’s normally quite transparent when people do this.
- Obviously, if you think you’re on flimsy ground with an argument, then don’t accept any points until you’re back to safer territory.
- If your opponents are sitting quietly and you’ve got an argument for which you’re sure they can’t answer, a neat tactic is to say ‘And I’ll take a point of information from them now if they can explain why......’. Whether they choose to sit tight, evade or attempt to answer you should have the better of it. A bonus to this is that it safely ‘uses up’ one of the two points you’re obliged to take. It’s particularly useful in summations, where you can press for answers to points that have been ignored by all the previous opposing speakers.

Answering the point
- Don’t ignore a point. It won’t go away by itself. Lines like ‘I will get to that later’ irritate judges, even if they are true. ‘I have already dealt with that’ is similarly unsatisfactory. By all means say you have made, or will make the point - but at least summarise it in a short response.
- Don’t get distracted by a point. Spend a few lines responding, and revert to your structure.
- Ideally you will have a proper response to the point. Should words fail you, be prepared to fall back on a standard dodge such as:
i) Witty put downs. My most memorable and effective witty put downs come to me two days later in the shower. Some less scrupulous debaters come to competitions armed with lists of pre-prepared spontaneous quips.
ii) If confronted with an uncomfortable fact/statistic, damn its source (or the lack of one).
iii) Answer another (easier) point that’s close enough to the question for no-one to notice.
iv) Agree with the point, and say it either makes your argument or is completely irrelevant.
v) Be patronising (‘We’ve made this point half a dozen times by now. Let me make it slower and in words of fewer syllables.’) and hope you think of an answer before you get to the end of your spiel.

- Keep the flow of points of information constant - although always be careful not to descend into intimidation (‘badgering’).
- Never let a point become a speech - if it can’t be put into two short sentences, it’s not a point of information. Plan what you’re going to say, and hone it down to the shortest and most succinct form possible. That said, don’t gabble - pause for a couple of seconds to get everyone’s attention and then make the point slower than you would a normal speech. A controlled delivery will also help to break up a speaker’s momentum.
- Work with your partner - never compete against each other to make different points. As either of you thinks of a point, write it down so you have an agreed list of points you will both make. Don’t waste the few chances you will get. Resist the temptation to prioritise a spontaneous rebuttal (satisfying but better in a speech) above one of your pre-planned points.
- If you’ve got a superb argument that will be the centrepiece of your speech, never ‘flag’ it in a point of information. You may well lessen the impact of the point when you come to make it - and run the risk of giving your opponents advance warning of what you’re going to say.
- Carefully note down responses to your points. Often a speaker will say something unplanned that will contradict or hinder their case.

There are probably four types of points of information:

i) Genuine points - i.e. responses to a point the speaker makes. The general rule should be not to make points like this: the speaker has the last word, so your best result may be a stalemate. Rebuttals are best kept in speeches. Only make rebuttal points of information if you have a reply you think is unanswerable to a central point of your opponent’s speech.

ii) Repetition of points from your (previous) speech that the speaker is ignoring/misunderstanding. Be especially quick if you think you are being misrepresented - here it’s particularly effective if your partner corrects the speaker (as in ‘My partner never said X... his point was Y’.).

iii) Pre-prepared points and statistics you have designed in advance to throw a speaker.

iv) Killer facts (see below).

Killer facts
Much in fashion amongst spin-doctors, a killer fact or argument is one to which there is no rebuttal. In some debates, there may be points from either side that simply have no answer. If you can identify one, then use it in your speech and keep on pressing it - in as many different ways as you can.

The classic use is for the first speaker in a team to make the point, and challenge the opposition to answer it. The second speaker then slams the opposition for not answering it. Throughout each subsequent opposition speech, they are then regaled by points of information along the lines of ‘But you have still not said how...’.

Some common killer arguments are ‘no alternative’ where a team defends their proposed solution by demanding an alternative from the opposition (e.g. Northern Ireland, welfare reform) or ‘causal link’ where a proposition is repeatedly challenged to provide a causal link when it’s clear that the link is unprovable (e.g. movie violence and crime, pornography and violence, monetarism and growth).

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