Nov 21, 2010

countering The Spread

Some debaters can talk really, really fast. Beyond auctioneer fast. Beyond reasonable human being fast. Beyond propriety and decency fast. When you run into a verbal avalanche, an opponent trying to bury you with 20 contentions, what should you do?

Here's my advice for countering The Spread, as an expansion of a previous comment.

Before the Tournament

Learn to talk and listen faster.

  • Practice reading your case as fast as you can, while still enunciating. Have someone else listen to you so you're sure you're making sense.
  • Use the "pen trick." Hold a pen between your teeth, as far back as it'll go, flat on the top of your tongue so both ends of the pen stick out the sides of your cheeks. Then read your case, quickly.
  • Watch Policy Debate rounds on YouTube. Even if you don't understand the argument, practice flowing it. If you can keep up with Policy, you can probably keep up with an LD spread.

Learn to write faster.

  • Develop abbreviations.
  • Learn a form of shorthand.

Study up.

  • Have blocks, ideally 2-3 responses, prepared for all common framework choices, so you don't have to waste time thinking of refutations.
  • Keep your responses to bullet points--as clear and concise as you can manage.
  • Cards as blocks are okay, but they may take too much time.
  • Predict the weaseliest Resolutional Analysis and definitions you can imagine, and prepare blocks for them.

In Round
When flowing...

  • Focus on taglines; if nothing else, you'll at least be able to respond to the logic of their case.
  • Use arrows and symbols.
  • Use the abbreviations you've developed.

In CX...

  • Get clarity. It's not the best thing to do with your CX time, but it's better than going into your rebuttal without a clue.
  • As your opponent to provide the overarching thesis of their case. If they can't, you can go after them on grounds of consistency and coherence.

In your prep time...

  • Breathe. You're going to be fine.
  • Ask to see your opponent's case. If they're not just spreading because they're a jerk, they'll probably let you examine it.
  • Use most, if not all, of your time preparing for your first rebuttal.
  • Look for the overarching theme or thesis of your opponent's case. If you can, attack your opponent's case at the root: show how its framework is so flawed that the rest of the advocacy is immaterial, or how it's all predicated on a baseless assumption about human nature, the law, morality, etc. Note: if you're going to take this tack, you probably should just go with it and not do a "line by line" to hedge your bets. Otherwise, it'll seem that you lack confidence in your strategy.
  • Especially watch out for a priori arguments and burdens. Your opponent will argue that a drop in these circumstances is an automatic ballot for them.

In your rebuttal...

  • Go fast. Do not repeat yourself--there's no time.
  • Focus your efforts. Remember that a spreading debater is going to have to drop some points, too, so make sure any drops on your part are minor.
  • Group contentions like mad. Take out whole contentions (or more) at the same time.
  • If going for a wholesale attack on the case, or undercutting a key assumption, use the metaphor of sawing down a tree at the trunk to ensure that your judge "gets" your strategy.

Upon Reflection
Note that much of my advice is judge-dependent. If your judge says "Speed kills" and glares at your opponent during their constructive, feel free to employ arguments about fairness, education, and human decency.

Suggest tips or ask questions in the comments. What are your preferred strategies for countering The Spread?


Andrew Bailey said...

I found that working on word economy was the best way to counter spread; get in more points without speeding. Toward that end (pardon my policy-centric examples):

1. Work on eliminating verbal fluff. While speaking, have someone clap whenever you say "uh" or "just" or "like", or... In time, you'll eliminate these unnecessary words from your speaking vocabulary (leaving more time to say meaningful things).

2. To work on word economy more generally, it's helpful to write out an argument (e.g., a disadvantage or solvency argument). Write out the *entire* argument; evidence, citations, transition words, explanations, etc. *Ruthlessly* edit the argument for word economy, eliminating all unnecessary expressions. Then practice delivering it out loud. Doing this often and with a wide variety of arguments (three point blocks answering harm scenarios, DAs, counterplans, AT DAs, etc--everything!) will get you into the habit of eliminating unnecessary expressions from your speech more generally.

If you pull off the above two strategies, you'll be able to deliver the same number of "arguments per speech" but do so with far fewer words. Thus, you'll have room to slow down without feeling that you'll be missing out on something when it comes to content.

3. Finally, many complaints about speed can be eliminated by working on enunciation. If judges feel like they can *understand* everything you're saying, they'll be less likely to feel rushed or that you're going "too fast". Working on healthy breathing habits will also make you *appear* less rushed, even while speaking at a quick pace.

Jim Anderson said...

Excellent additions, Andrew. The emphasis on word economy will not only make for better debaters, but better writers.

Anonymous said...

Good Post! To simplify kind of what Andrew said, go normal speed on important words and go fast on unimportant words therefore you get your point with saying your good cards

debaterookie said...

While I was reading and when you said pen trick some random thing came into my mined,the debate flip. I was wondering if you could post a post saying how to do the, debate flip. It intimidates me and I wanna intimidate other people so please post one with how to debate flip.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, I think Andrew was more focused on cutting out as many of the unimportant words as possible--but your advice, about slowing down a little to emphasize key phrases, is good advice.

debaterookie, I thought about that after I published it. I have no idea how to perform--or teach--the "debate flip." I'm sure there's someone who reads this blog who does, though...

Anonymous said...

This is kind of random, but I'm a novice and I would like to know where I can find the definitions of some LD terminology. I knew what a spread is, but there are a lot of other words used in LD that I just don't know. Could you direct me to a place where I can find definitions for this terminology?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, it's a huge (98-page) document, but the NFL's free introduction to Lincoln-Douglas debate includes a decent glossary. It's the first link here.

MNadon said...

I think pen drills are extremely helpful for learning how to speak more clearly, and learning how to speak faster. Also, reading cases backwards or with "a" between every word are both helpful for getting better at spreading.

These things can be done with any piece of literature, too, and it helps to practice on material that you are unfamiliar with - it teaches your brain to work faster. So, spreading your chemistry chapter out loud while reading it for homework is actually useful. Although it is kind of weird, I will admit.

As far as learning to handle spreading opponents... flow drills are the absolute best. Listen to lectures about really boring, unfamiliar things to you and just flow them, find policy rounds online or have a teammate read a weird, fast case for you to flow at practice. Do these things EVERY DAY. Eventually, one does get used to it, and it becomes easy.

Andrew Bailey said...

MNadon is right. If you do the drills often enough, handling spread can become totally natural. It's just a matter of acquiring the right habits.

And for what it's worth, I can say from personal experience that it's well worth the effort. Unlike some academics I know, I have little problem replying to objections on the fly (even when there are a lot of them!) when I teach or give academic presentations. I credit my debate experience for this, especially the time I dedicated (via drills) to thinking, speaking, and writing swiftly and concisely.

C said...

Spreading does seem to have become more common in ld. actually the whole thing has become pretty policy-esque. I can't remember the last resolution that wasn't policy related.

I dont mind people speaking fast but I hate it when people spread against me, not because its too fast, but because its incomprehensible. Quite honestly 75% of spreaders just slur their words so badly that you simply cant understand what they're saying. Its frustrating for me because now I have to ask for the case and skim it in prep time which takes time away from preparing arguments.

Next time I face a spreader I think i'll do what they do in policy. Just get up and stand next to them, observing the case while they spread it and have them hand me the page when they're done with it.

Jim Anderson said...

C, go for it. It's certainly no ruder than incomprehensibly speaking.