My last post detailed how to prepare for parliamentary debate by expanding your knowledge base. But with that knowledge on hand, how can you best use your precious minutes of prep time?
Generally, your prep sessions are best divided into three sections. Giraldine Duff, a seasoned debater at my university, offers these wise guidelines:
Initial Self-Brainstorm: 2-3 minutes
Resist the temptation to talk. As you are walking to your room, do this independently:
1) Define tricky terms. If you have no idea what the motion is talking about, you can look up terms. Don’t get caught up in googling arguments for the motion though.
2) Frame the motion. Why did the tournament staff set this motion? What kind of motion is it? What is the problem, who is involved, where does it take place, what does the action of the motion look like?
3) Find the heart of the debate. What is the major point of clash going to be on both sides?
4) Define burdens. What will it take for you or your opponent to win? What will they need to prove?
5) Outline initial arguments. These should fulfill your burdens/weighing mechanism. Who are the stakeholders?
Discussion and Division of Labor: 7-8 minutes
Once you’ve done that, THEN you can discuss things with your partner. Talk about your individual brainstorm and what your main arguments are going to be. Who will cover which arguments, and what are the strongest points in opposition to you? This will set the ground for the individual preparation that follows.
The strongest teams maintain a team line throughout the debate which focuses their argument onto a clear thesis, while providing unique analysis that drives forward that thesis. The PM or LO clearly frames the debate and provides strong initial argumentation. Second speakers should seek not just to recapitulate their leader, but also provide unique analysis and positive material (in addition to rebuttal) that adds onto the team line with tremendous depth.
Individual Preparation: 10 minutes
Each person should flesh out their main arguments, whether these include positive points or refutation. You can look up information to bolster your points, but you will grow tremendously if you rely on the critical thinking it takes to develop your own arguments based on your knowledge base (this incentivizes you to expand your knowledge base as well). You and your partner should be in communication to ensure you are maintaining a consistent team line and can build on the analysis of the other. Always ask yourself “why does this matter?” and “why is this true?” to develop your analysis and build up your warrants and impacts.
Your parli prep doesn’t have to be full of panic. As with any new skill, repetition, review, and critique will be key in improving in this area. The next time you’re faced with a difficult motion, take a deep breath and methodically prepare using these tips. You’ve built up your knowledge base—now it’s time to use it.