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Lecture on Points of information in debate – Sarina Selleck

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This is a lecture, delivered by Sarina Selleck at the North America Debate Academy 2013, recorded by Alfred Tuna Snider.

Today I’m going to talk to you about points of information, because they are good ways to stay engaged in the debate, to be engaged in the debate for the second bench before you get a chance to speak, and generally they can be sometimes a bit neglected, or kind of misused, or abused, so we are going to try and make sure that… A lot of this is going to be quite basics, but we want to make sure that you have the basics in place or they may serve as reminders in case you have been doing things that you’ve forgotten, and they would be much more effective to use as points of information.
Where we are going to start with points of information this morning is actually coming up with POI’s, how should that process work. When you are actually in a debate, the first thing you should keep in mind when you come up with POI’s is that you should definitely write them down. This has been a major problem that I’ve seen throught this week, that oftentimes people stand up and they are called upon to give a point of information, and this gurgly, mess comes out that is like “but maybe, right, guys, and you know that example that I said maybe”… And you go like ermmmm, NO. One way to actually avoid that is to actually write down what you are going to say, write it down on a paper, and this serves two purposes. 1. It avoids the mess, that ends up not making sense to the speaker or to the judge, and it is also a good way to confirm with your partner. Because sometimes in a debate you and your partner have different ideas on where you would like to take POI’s, but if you write them down and share them with one another, your partner can potentially cut them a bit down, so they are a bit shorter, and to the point. Or can say or point out that you guys really need to get back to the point of that argument, rather than coming up with some sort of rebuttal as a POI to give to that team. So when you write it down it is important to make sure, that they are short, and because you only have 15 seconds maximum to give this POI, but generally people expect them to be much less and they come off as much shorter and snappier and much stronger if you are able to make them much less than 15 seconds. So this is the first thing that you should keep in mind.

Prepare your points of information in advance
The second thing you should keep in mind when you are coming up with POI’s, is that sometimes it is a great idea to come up with POI’s in your prep time. Specifically if you are on first opposition. Why is this so? Because if you have some extra time in prep time, you can actually have one that is pre-written. But why is it particularly important for first opp? Because you want to make sure that there is clarity in the debate about the government’s model, so really what is important is when you are first opposition and you are thinking about prepping POI’s is to think “what would be beneficial from the first proposition, if they would leave it out of the model” or “what sorts of things are important to my case to include as a mechanism, or to my framework for the entire debate, that I either want to gain or make sure it is very clear, so that I can come up with a clear stance of my own”. Or you can just try and come up with something that is going to make them look silly, as getting them to think that UN would do it, when clearly the UN is not the one to make it. But what it comes down to is, they are the key for the rest of the debate, so that everyone knows what they are talking about when it actually comes to the model.
But it also can be something that is good for the strategy, for example I was looking at this debate that was called This house would establish a US federal court with the authority to approve target killing of unlawful combatants. On opposition there are two very different lines you can take. One is We hardly believe that killing unlawful combatants is ever good, the other being we think that it is really good, but we think that using a court system in this way would really bug down the process and it would not be good at all. So the important thing is that, if the line that you as first opposition would like to take is that We really agree with you, we want to kill people, that is good, then you have to make sure that you get that in before the second opposition gets a second POI, that is like Guys, but killing people is just really bad. Because then as first opposition you have to spend a lot of time to frame it out. But secondly it is also important because that way you give the prime minister the heads up, that he is not going to use half of the speech to speak about something that everyone agrees on and is now largely irrelevant. Which usually makes them look quite silly and gets you points on your side.
Of course you don’t want to give away your extension, if you are on the back half of the debate, and in this case, if you were second opposition, and you wanted to run that we also believe in killing of unlawful combatants, if that is the case then yes, you would like to give out your strategy to be able to run the case. But in other instances you don’t want to give away a specific argument, or an idea, that you would like to run, because particularly you don’t want to give it before the leader of the opposition has spoken, because they will have plenty of time as the first opposition, or as the first government, if you are second government, to steal your case and to write plenty of argumentation. It is less of a big deal if it is towards the end of the debate, like in one of the deputy speeches, but generally you don’t want to give out too much of it from the back half of the debate. It is much better, to give POI’s that are more of a rebuttal, that would actually make sure that you stay involved, but that you also still have things to say.

Now that I have talked a bit about prepping POIs and strategies about when to offer them, I think the POI itself is something that you should think about.
Make sure that it is less than 15 seconds, as we have already discussed, and you should also make sure, that you don’t offer them too close together, because there is actually, according to the rules, you are only allowed to offer one every 15 seconds. Which hasn’t actually been a big deal at this camp, because to be honest, you guys have not offered so many POIs, but if you run into someone that offers them too often, you can, if the judge does not restore order, you can be like, Please stop bothering me, I’m not going to take you.
But more importantly, to the POI itself. It should not be a YES or NO question. This is something that more advanced debaters will definitely take advantage of. If you are going to go “don’t you believe this” they will be like “NO, moving on”. And then you don’t get anything in your POI and it is quite a waste. There are very few instances, where a YES or NO question would be a smart thing to do, when there is something that maybe you want them to concede but they have to be very likely to concede it, so it’s usually not worth it to risk it.
They also need to be very to the point and the shouldn’t be too terribly reactive. Because generally if your gut reaction to something is just like OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO NOT TRUE, that’s not factually accurate, its usually not going to gain you a lot of points, because if it is that absurd, the judges also sit in there with the look on their face like NO. That’s not particularly persuasive. So it is kinda a waste of a POI to be so reactive in that sense. And you generally don’t end up getting a lot of points.
When you are actually standing and offering a POI, there are a couple of strategies. People sometimes promote, to get yourself taken. There is one particular in favour, if you are in a very small room where the first opposition is sitting in front, there are some strategies to say that as the first teams you should try to strategically place yourself so that if the back half is giving a POI and you are at the same time, you block them out, so that the speaker can’t see them. Which is something, some people like to do, and sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. If the speaker is very on top of their things, they will definitely be looking for the back half of the table.
Another thing when you are actually giving a POI, you should definitely say something, and by that I think if could be Sir, or Madam, On that point, but you should not flag it, which is not a problem that I’ve seen at this camp, but something I figured that I would mention. It was fashionable for a time, maybe not fashionable, but people were doing it, it’s called flagging your POI, they would be like On Women, or On Gay people, and you should not actually give away some of your POI before you have been actually given the floor to give your POI. But more often than not it is good to say something, because that is going to distract the judge and make them look up and pay attention. And this is important because judges are keeping track of how engaged you are being in a debate, they would keep flow on their sheets of how many times you stand up, so if they don’t hear you stand up, and there are judges that like to bury themselves in their notes, then they are less likely to have a more accurate note on how many times you’ve been engaged in a debate.
Another thing that is important is that you should actually raise your hand, when you are giving a POI, which is something that some people feel that looks very silly, but it does catch the attention of a speaker and it helps lead them down your arm to your face and they are more likely to take you if they look at you in that manner. So that is something to think about as well. You don’t really have to hold your wig, if you see anyone doing this, that is what they are doing. It is something that, my partner Becca, she does not do it as much anymore, but she would always do it. So people would do this and it comes from older times, when in parliamentary debates the parliament speakers would wear wigs, so they would be holding them when they stood, so they would not fall off. So that is what people are doing, when they look silly like that.

As to taking POI’s, you should pay attention to the debater briefing, because different tournaments have different standards, as to how many POI’s they think you should be taking in a debate. Generally it is usually two to three per team, meaning that each speaker needs to take one, two maximum. But this is something that varies by region and varies by tournament, so at the beginning of the tournament, they will give you a briefing and they would be like this is our stance on POI’s and this is how many we think you should be taking. But definitely don’t take three POIs in a speech. Because when you take POIs, you conceded the floor, you are giving up your time to speak, so it is taking away from your abillity to put in more information, but it also makes you look weaker as a speaker, as you don’t actually have control of your seven minutes, that you have been given in a house. So, from the strategy point of strength, you should definitely try not to do that.
Furthermore, another thing you should not do, which I have seen as a very bad habit of some people here, is you are mid sentence, mid argumentation and suddenly someone stands up and for some reason you are compelled to take them, even though you are literally mid sentence and you are explaining to me your specific arguments and I’m waiting to write down your explanation and suddenly you take a POI. And I’m like, Ok, I switch pens, because I write POIs in different pens, but more importantly you are likely to be very distracted from your argumentation and you are unlikely to return to it, particularly if it is a very damaging POI, or something you are not expecting, or something about the argument you were just explaining to me before hand, you may get completely derailed from what you were currently explaining to me. So think about how many POIs you and your partner are going to take, and also, think about where you are going to take these POI’s and make sure you are not taking it in a place that is not advantages to your self. In which it may turn you off, make you to forget to fully explain your argument, or lose time in explaining it. So some of the best places to actually take POIs are transitions. Transitions between your argumentation because they really make sure you have an even flow throughout your speech, that everything makes sense, make sure you take everything you would want to take and then you can make sure that you complete your thoughts, which is really important. But if you do end up taking a POI because maybe your time management was off and it is getting close to that six minutes mark, and you are in the middle of your last argument, you should make sure to make a mental note of where you were or even if you have a pen at the podium, make a note where you were so that at the end of the POI you should then remind the judge. Just go like “we have been talking about this before, I’m going to return to this, this is where we were, this is how I’m going to explain.” So it really draws the judges attention back to the argument that you have been explaining and being like This is that we are going back to, let’s focus on this now, because this is really important. Make sure that the judge is reminded, make sure that they actually connect the rest of your argumentation together.

Another general note, which seems like most people know intuitively is that when you are answering these POIs you should try and keep your answers short and very sassy, if you can. Because that gets you extra points with a judge, I’m not going to lie. As I told you not to ask YES or NO questions, but feel free to answer with YES or NO, because this usually makes you appear very strong in your position and you can quickly move on and go right back to your argumentation, which is excellent for you as a speaker.
Make sure that you are not turned off by this POI, like if you need to, take a drink of water, like this is a great time for a break, as long as you listen to what they say, it does not really matter what you yourself are doing at the podium. There are many speakers that use taking of a POI, as a chance to relax a little bit. And if you look like you are relaxed, and having a good time at the podium, it is going to help your style points and you as a speaker.

Something that is important to know which happens in some regions is that some formats allow speakers to actually approach the podium in their speaking style and it is often very encouraged. For example Abda (?) likes to do that, and so what they will do is when they are actually giving you a POI or when you actually call on them, they will start walking towards you which can often throw speakers off, that are used to British parliamentary debates, where that should never happen, and we are very much you stay on your side of the room and I will stay up here, this is my space, this is my bubble. So often times debaters do not like to respect that space because that is not what they believe on their circuit. So they will often approach you and don’t let this throw you off if this ever happens. And just kind of wave them down, you can even call them silly for not being in the right format.

Points of clarification
Another thing that I am going to talk about, if we do not have any questions or did you guys come up with any questions? No? A thing that is not all that common in some regions, but it is very common on the East cost is Points of clarification. I don’t know if you guys know what they are. A point of clarification should only be given to the Prime minister from the opposition bench. What happens in a point of clarification is you are clarifying the framework, the context of the debate, and really you are just going to be asking questions about the model. These should only be about these things. About the framework or the model, that is is. They should be give it like in the first thirty seconds after the bang, can already be too long. You should give it immediately, you should not wait, because it is considere courtesy to take someone, when they offer you a point of clarification and then as the prime minister if you wave a point of clarification down, and you have said something that is utterly absurd, and not clear for the debate in your model, it is going to make you like really silly because you did not take this point of clarification. The point of it is to make sure that everyone knows right from the beginning what everyone is talking about and to avoid the mess, when everyone starts talking about the model or mechanism, and no one likes to watch those debates. 

This is a way to sneak out of that and as the opposition you should give them right away. Some people fly their point later on in their speech, as points of clarification, sometimes the government likes to do that, which is very non traditional, and you probably should not take them if it is like it to opposition whip at the end of the debate. But use your judgement, if you think that everything that you have said is very straight forward and very clear or the model of the debate was essentially in the motion maybe you don’t want to take one, but more often than not it is safer to take one as long as it has been given immediately within the one minute mark of your prime minister’s speech. If you are a different speaker than the prime minister, and for some reason someone offers you a point of clarification you don’t need to comment or be like “What are you doing, this is out of place”, just wave them down, don’t waste your speaking time commenting on them being silly, the judge will also think they are silly and that they are out of place, because that’s not what points of clarification should be. And the last thing about them, as I talked about prepping points of information, you can definitely prep points of clarification as first opposition or as second opposition to make sure that there is clarity in the debate and you know what you are talking about.

Question from the audience: If you stand up for a POI and the person speaking neither waves you down or says not at this time, how long should you remain standing up?

Sarina: I think it is actually up to the person standing up. You can stand up as long as you like. If you have already given your speech, and you are giving a POI to the back house, feel free to stand up as long as you want and just stand there. If it is getting really long, if it has been like a minute and you still have no answer, you can even revoice the fact that you are standing. Go like Sir, Madam or I’m still here… Oh, maybe don’t go I’m still here, just remind them that you are still standing. But if you have got more important things to do like you have to work on your speech, I would say that stand up for as long as you feel comfortable and then sit down and get back to what you need to work at. Because what it comes down to it, maybe they are ignoring you, maybe they are trying to waste your time, so it advantageous to you as a speaker to balance your time and worry about the things that you need to worry about. There is not really a standard for how long you should remain standing. And it makes the speaker look even more silly, because they are obviously not paying attention to what is going on in the room and they are just leaving you standing there.
Any other questions about points of information? We can try to do an exercise about POIs.

Watch the video of the lecture:

Lecture – WUDC – Points of Information (intermediate) – Selleck – North America Debate Academy 2013 from Alfred Snider on Vimeo.

Lecture on debate argumentation

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This is a lecture from IDAS 2012, that Filip Dobranić gave on Debate argumentation. This is a transcript of the video, recorded by Tuna. You can watch the video at the end of this article

So, what we are going to be doing, is we will talk about argumentation, whatever that is. Before we even start, to set things straight, I will try to explain stuff to you, which means, that the result should be you knowing and understanding more, that you did x minutes ago. Which means that if in any minute, my explanation becomes a non explanation, you should ask questions. Because most probably everyone else in the room probably has no idea what is going on either, but they just don’t dare to ask. Please, please, please have a conversation with me, ask questions, so that at the end we can say you all learned something.

Argumentation, because we even get into any kind of advice in terms of how to build your argument, what to do with them, a couple of things that we need to set straight. Number 1. is the fact that you are always going to have a goal. I think that people often forget, that there is a certain purpose, there is a reason why you do things in a debate. Whether that reason in winning, or smashing the other team in the debate that is entirely up to you Or weather there is a higher reason, but at the end of the day, everything that you are going to do during a debate, and especially during your speech, should serve a purpose. That means, that when you are giving definitions, you are not giving definitions just because someone told you should give definitions at the beginning of the first government speech, they perform a role, there is a certain function why we want you to give us the definitions. And that reason, most of the time is, that everyone in the debate knows what we are talking about. It is a very simple reason, but the moment that you forget, why the definitions are there, the moment you forget the reason you are doing it is so that everyone knows what you are talking about, weird things start to happen. People start defining almost every single word in the motion, there are definitions that last almost a minute and a half, there are incredibly scientific explanations of what different word mean. That is not the point of definitions. As long as we all know what we are talking about, we can move on. What I want you to do is to approach argumentation and in fact any part of your debating experience, in the same way. Which means, when you are going to be making arguments, you first and foremost need to be sure, why you are making them, what is the point of those arguments, why are you doing them and why are you doing them in that exact moment. Which I know most of you aren’t going to follow most of the time, because the way we do construct arguments, at the end of the day, we panic for fifteen minutes and then we come up and start saying stuff, but in a perfect world, where you would actually sit down and do some preparation, you should know, why you have those arguments in there. And if you know that, if you have the answer to that question, I would even say, that is worth more than having an argument prepared, that you know is an argument, and you do have some structure, but you have no idea why it is usefull in your speach. Because if you are going to know what you are going to do and what you are going to achive in your speech, even without something we call “argument” you will be able to persuade someone to vote for you, you will be able to at least take people by their hand, and lead them to a certain point wich is essentially your goal. And this is very, very, very, very important. Know why you are doing things in debating.

Now. Debating is essentially arguing in a nice way. So what we do in debating, is we would get a motion and then we would get a position, we would have to either speak for, or against that motion. We have something put in front of us, and we have either to show that that is true or right, or wrong or logical or moral, or beneficial or practical, whatever. There is something, that you have to prove. There is a certain goal, you want to achieve. Now, apart from the fact, that all of your arguments need to have a function, there is something else that you need to remember. That you are talking to actual people. Number 1. you are talking to people, to the judges, not at the judges, and secondly, that you are having a conversation with an actual person, when you are debating. Which means, a couple of things. Number 1, the measure of a good argument is not how logical it is, it isn’t how structured it is, it is how persuasive it is. You are in the business of persuasion. The worst thing that can happen to you is you forgetting that. Your arguments first and foremost need to be persuasive, that is why after the debate, stuff like “but I said all of those things” or “no, I did explain that” or “no, but we did have 5 sub points in our argument, how did the person not understand that”. No, those things are not excuses, you’re only job in a debate is to make someone believe something else. Everything else is secondary. All the structure stuff, all of the other pieces of advice that we give you how to debate better, it does not serve the purpose of you being persuasive. That is very important. So don’t think about, or if you did, stop thinking about arguments in terms of logic, in terms of pure mathematical structure that you can put dont on paper, they are tools to help you persuade people.

Essentially, arguments are reasons why. Whenever you are going to make an argument, you are going to answer the question why. So why is that good, why is this bad, do I think this makes the world a better place and there is more rainbows in the world, it does not matter, but all of your arguments are going to answer the question why. If they are not, they are probably bad arguments.

In order for you to answer that question, you need to be able to ask it. Which means, that anything we are going to teach you here, especially a lecture of argumentation, can not stand on itself. I invite you to incorporate everything you are going to hear in the next hour into everything else that you heard at this IDAS or anywhere else. Because simply making arguments is not going to make you win the debate. You are going to have to make strategic decisions, you are going to have to destroy the arguments of the other teams, you are going to have to be able to debate at the end of the day and to speak for seven minutes. But please remember, that the arguments that you are making and the stuff that you are doing, should always be done in relation to the other things that have happened in the debate. And this is especially important, you should always debate the debate not the motion. This is very important. People often times forget. Your job is not to debate the motion, it is to debate the debate. If you are the opening team, your job is to set up a debate, but then for everyone else, your job is to win that debate, not to show me that the motion, the way you understand it, is something that is either true or false. So keep that in mind.

Now, with arguments, there are different ways of constructing arguments, of thinking about arguments and argumentation, there are a couple of standards, there are a couple of things that debaters would always follow, and there are certain ways of us explaining arguments. We are going to use one model of constructing the argument, there is at least a hundred of models out there. Why I like that one is, because it is simple and to the point, but at the same time, before we go into that, there is something that you need to know. And that is for when you become brilliant debaters, something is going to happen. Whenever I give lectures like these, at one point or another there is a question, something along the lines of “Oh, but the brilliant debater I was at final X at tournament Y, in that debate, when people were making arguments, they didn’t have argument names, explanations and illustrations” and “they didn’t have an introduction, I didn’t see that, they were just speaking, how can this happen, why is this ok?”. Well at the end of the day all these schemes, or stuff that you have to say are little lies, that we tell ourselves or internal maps, that are going to be useful to you, if you are going to construct an argument well, or if you are going to write an essay brilliantly, noone is going to know when your introduction started and when it ended or when your conclusion started, the essay is there. And its good. And it starts and it ends. And it starts appropriately, and it ends when it should. And there is no way a regular reader is going to recognise where the internal map of the person writing that was. The same goes for speeches. But at the end of the day that person writing that essay still somewhere had a piece of paper, when that structure was laid out, even though they masked it. So please, even as you get better, do use these tools, that we are about to give you, because they are useful and they do make a difference.
Now, an argument is the reason why and there are different ways of you explaining why. Now probably, the best way to do that, in terms of that being simple and effective, is that arguments should be sexy, and this is courtesy of Jens Fischermann.
SEXI – yes it’s a german spelling.
So your arguments should have a Statement, it should have an EXplanation, and it should have an illustration and we will get to what these mean in a second.

So there are three parts of an argument if you would like to make it an effective argument. First, you need to tell me what the argument is about. What the arguments is trying to prove. What is the statement of that argument. And this is something teams forget to do all the time. In the beginning you should have a couple of words, or you should give your argument a name, a title, it does not really matter what word we are going to use. SOmething that is going to tell me what is going to happen in this argument in about ten seconds. I think that should be you upper limit. So you have ten seconds to tell me what is going to happen in that argument.

Why do you need to do that? Because you want to prepare me, for the explanation you are about to give to me. You want to somehow seperate that explenation from everything that is going ot follow, and at the end of the day you want to make it memorable. You want to give me something, that is shour and snappy, and that I can remember and whenever I will remember that, I will remember the whole argument. So esentially it is something that matters. However, people often do it wrong. A statement is not a thing. Naming an argument, things like freedom, or freedom of expression, or police brutality, or the role of the Government, these are not statements, these are not argument names, they don’t tell me nothing. These are things. If you come up and tell me Dear judge, what I am going to talk about is Honesty, I will have aboslutely no idea what you are going to say and the stuff that you just gave me, and the name of the argument that you just told me, is useless. Your goal should be, that as you finish giving me the statement, I should have an idea what is going on or what is going to happen in your argument when you are going to explain it to me. It serves a purpose. It is not there just beause it will have a better structure, or because the argument will look preatier, it is there because it serves a certain function. At the same time, the reason I think debater are fairly bad at giving agument names is because the do not think clearyla about their arguments. I think the way people aproach arguments, and I’m guilty of that as much as the next person is that we have got 15 minutes in prep, you get a motion, let’s say, THB that capitalism has failed, so we have a motion and we are thinking about that motion, and then you come up with ideas. You dont come up with arguments, you come up with ideas. You’re like, ok, capitalism has failed us, capitalism is bad, capitalism is bad because it destroys the environment, because it abuses the work, because it puts them in an unfair position, and you start writing stuff down and the things that end up on your paper, is Environment destroyed, worker rights, and then you don’t make a second set of notes, but you come up and start speaking to the judge and go like “Mister speaker, capitalism – Environment, we are going to talk about environment first. And then we are going to talk about workers, and then we are going to talk about rights. “ And you have just spent your introduction, and I as judge still have no idea what is happening. I think that at the same time, you don’t have an idea what is happening, because constructing a good argument name, or construction a good statement take effort, but more importantly it takes someone who knows what their argument is about. Forcing yourself to write down a good statement for your argument is going to force yourself to think about that argument more clearly. I actually think that the problem people have with their names, with their argument names, is the fact that people don’t know what exactly needs to happen in that argument. And you know that you need to talk about choice or freedom, and then you talk about freedom or choice, and then you say things that do not lead anywhere and you give me explanations that only lead me half way there, and that is essentially going to be a bad argument. If you however force yourself to firstly come up with your statement and then commit to that statement in the beginning of your explanation, then you are going to force yourself to explain everything you need to explain to me to get to that point. Because if you are going to tell me “mr speaker, this is a debate about capitalism, now we are going to talk about workers”, you can talk about anything you want. You can talk about vacations, and you would still be talking about workers. And at the same time you can say as many or as little about workers, and you would still satisfy the fact that you call this argument workers.
However, if you come up a statement, if you tell me “Mr speaker, I’m going to show you that capitalism structurally, disproportionately, harms certain percentage of the population and there is nothing they, the state or anyone else can do about that, because the reason is embedded into capitalism as a system itself”, I as a judge know what is going to happen and at the same time you are now forced to give me the explanation that you have committed to. You are not simply talking about workers of fairness in capitalism, you have a goal of what you are trying to achieve. YOu need to show me now, and you have committed to that, that capitalism is structured and functions in such a way that always, no matter what kind of laws we write down, is always going to disproportionately harm a certain percentage of the population. And it is going to force you to make a better argument. So even if you get a bit anxious before the debate, stop using bad argument names as an excuse for bad thinking. Force yourself to actually make that argument, and I think that at the end of the day, telling me as a judge, that beginning part, telling me where you are going to get me, is going to be worth more to me, that you telling me I’m going to talk about workers, and then talk about a bunch of stuff about workers, and at the same time telling me that as well. But I’m going to get much more value, if I’m at least going to know where you’re headed. Everyone else in the debate is going to get much more value, if they are going to know where you’re headed. The opposition is going to debate better, your bottom teams are going to debate better, everyone gets a better debate as long as you are clear in what you are trying to achieve. Does that make sense?

Explanation is step number two. After you give me a statement, and after you telling me where you want to take me, you need to do some explaining. You need to tell me how exactly that works. We are going to get to the explanation, unfortunately this is the part where things get a bit confusing for people, because, to be completely honest, I don’t think anyone is quite clear on how to do this.

Then there is that last part of the argument, that we call Illustration. Which should be an example or some kind of hard evidence, that actually makes me believe that this argument works. The problem that people often have is … Because there are no signs in these two last parts, as long as you nail the statement, as long as you know exactly where you are going, your own thoughts and your own language are going to force you to get there. And you are going to know whether or not you made a good argument. You are not going to need a judge to tell you whether or not you have shown me that capitalism is structured in such a way, that always a percentage of population is screwed over and that they are always worse off. You know what you need to do. If you are going to talk about workers, then yes, you are going to make a bad argument.

Illustration is a piece of evidence, a piece of data, some statistics, something that is going to make me believe, that your explanation is true. Essentially the idea is this, that you can tell me a story that paints a certain picture of the world, you can tell me a story and at the same time I don’t believe you yet. Because yes, rainbows do have treasures apparently, at the end of them, that’s what you explanation told me, but I’m going to need some kind of hard evidence, that I’m going to believe that. And that’s what we call illustration. The problem that people have, is that firstly they try to follow this model and say “this is our statement, this is what we are trying to prove, and then they go into explaining stuff and then the try to give me information at the end. Which makes sense to a certain point, however it becomes more complicated, when people start asking questions like “well sometimes, I think as if I need to do an illustration before I do my explanation, can I do that and how do I do that”. And I think, when questions like this pop-up, you are thinking about the problem in the wrong way. These two things, explanation and illustration, are always going to be intertwined. You are going to need hard evidence in order to explain stuff to me. What’s more, I would say, that while you should still follow this structure and while we would always explain the argument this way, I think the argument actually works the other way around. I think it work bottom up.

This is going to be a math example. If you and I, both have the same knowledge about the world, if we have the same information, if we inhabit the same world, so if we both know what we are dealing with… We have two and two. This is our world, this are our illustrations, our hard data, and if we make the same connections between those pieces of information, we have to, we absolutely have to come to the same conclusion. This is what any kind of argumentation is betting all its money on. And essentially, you show me that the world that we live in is one that makes sense, or conforms to the explanation, that you gave me beforehand, which is why I have to agree with whatever you said before. However the human brain is curious in such a way that you should still explain stuff to me in that order.
So you first tell me what you are going to do, you tell me this is what I’m going to show you, this is what I’m going to prove, you then give me the explanation of that and then I can either believe you or not, then you have to convince me, that this explanation actually makes sense in the real world. If we are talking about international relations, this then concerns the question of whether or not the practice of international law is going to allow something like that, whether or not this is some idealism, or whether the countries are going to do it. All these things, even though your explanation before that is completely correct, all of these little things then in the end, that do concern the real world, are possible objections to why this might or might not happen in the real world, are the things that are really going to take your argument home. And I think that you need all of these things in order to make an argument successfull.
Does this make sense? Are there any questions about this? Because this is fairly important, this are the things that you will be doing all the time.

Question: In the illustration part, should we use an example of comparative degree, for example this is smaller, this is bigger, or a case with another case?
Answer from Filip: I think that you should choose what works best for that argument. I can’t really give you an answer that is always going to be true. In the illustration, what you need to do is to convince me that what you are explaining, isn’t a fairytale, but actually works in the real world. Whatever information you are going to need to convince me of that, is the stuff that you should use. Yes, sometimes you should be comparative, and that is the thing that is going to help you because we are going to be talking about harms, or moral harms, and monsters, and people who are bad people. But sometimes a comparative is not going to help you. For instance, if we are discussing an invasion of country X or a preemptive strike of a country X, analogies might be useful at the point “well this killed a lot of people, and this killed a little less people” the information becomes useless. You need to approach your illustrations and the fact that this works, or the arguments that you make, will work in the real world in a different way.

Question: Could you give an example of an explanation?
Filip: Capitalism has failed us is the motion, the statement is that capitalism is always going to mean that a certain percentage of people will be worse off, because of the way it is structured. For you to believe that I’ll have to explain a couple of things. Firstly I’ll need to show you what capitalism is. For that I think we have definitions that I most probably have told you already in my speech, where I probably told you that capitalism is a system, where people can own private capital and do with that capital, which is essentially power to make decisions, whatever they like. In capitalism one can invest that capital and then take profits from that investment even if that person does not do any kind of work. Which essentially means, that if I own a hundred thousand dollars, I can give those 100 000 dollars to someone, and they are going to create a company, and they are going to work in that company and make it work while I am simply going to either take away interest or either take away a bit of the profits after the company is going to be profitable. When a system exists, that allows that sort of behaviour, it essentially creates a world, where I don’t have to do absolutely anything, and I keep getting money. So just by virtue of the fact, that I have X money, I get more money. There is nothing else, I need to do. I just need to make the “hard decision” of where to invest that money and I’m somehow entitled to the profits of that money. However, because we live in the real world, any kind of value of any kind of thing, is determined by two things. 1. by the raw materials used to make it, so as far as this bottle is concerned, for aluminum and some plastics, and 2. the amount of labour, that needed to be put into that. So all of the resources, needed, plus the energy that I need, plus the time and the work of a human being, that it took for us to make this bottle. This is the only value that we’ve got, or that we can assign to anything. In capitalism, things apparently, have value on their own. Extra value can be created without anyone actually putting any labour in it. In a system, where you allow people to create fake value, that what this essentially is, because when I invest $100 000 into someone, I’m not doing any work, I’m just giving them money, I’m giving them power. When you allow people to create that kind of fake value, you are going to get more and more disparities between people, because now their worth and the worth of their product is not determined by the work that they actually do, but by some fictitious force, which is essentially controlled by the people who hold larger sums of capital in their own hands, because they have more power to control how this value is going to be produced. We think that then, when you have a system, which predetermines your success based on this fake value that you either possess or not, some kind of superpower, that this money gives you, we think that structurally and it does not really matter if you write socialist laws in a country or not, because of the structure of how capitalism works, some people are always going to be left worse off. Because they are not going to be born with $100 000 in their pockets. They are going to have to work before they are going to get anything. In order for them to work, they are going to need someone with $100 000 in their pocket, and that person can go on smiling because they just got free money.
That was a very long explanation, I made two circles in it, so it could definitely be made shorter, but that is essentially something that you need to do.

Question: So the explanation can include a lot of examples?
Filip: Yes, it should include lots of examples, this is what we are going to get to now. As I said the explanation and illustration points are more or less always intertwined. They always come together. But the job of the explanation is to explain things. I think there is absolutely no other way for you to think about this. If you have explained it, you can stop, if you didn’t, keep on talking.

Question: I have a question about the very beginning of a speech. We are used to say “I will give you three, two or five arguments” and how do you label them, because should it be short, or … ?
Filip: I think having this names short can be a benefit, but nothing matters if I have no idea what is going to happen in your argument after you finished giving me your statement. I think that your purpose when creating an argument is to explain stuff to me, to tell me something new. In your statement you should tell me what you are going to explain to me and that is it. At the end of the day, even though judges are sometimes going to tell you try to keep this short, that advice is essentially useless, because it is always very practical to the debate that they just witnessed. For that exact debate, yes you might be better off giving us a bit more in your statement, or you might be better off saying it a bit shorter. But at the end of the day, the only metric that you should be concerned about was “did I get a preview of the argument, did I know where are you going to take me” and if you need 100 words to do that, get better and use 20, but if you use 50 or 25, I don’t really think it really matters. So don’t be preoccupied with the question if you should keep it shorter or how exactly to do it, I think you should have one mission, and one mission only, giving me a preview.
Question: I didn’t mean the statement but the structure of my whole speech.
Filip: I think that in that structure you need to tell me what is going to happen. Ask yourself, why do we do a preview of the speech? Why?
Answer from the audience: To make it for the judge easier to understand.
Filip: Ok, but that is a non-explanation, it does not tell me anything. Yes, it is to make it easier for me to understand, but that does not give you any useful advice on how to structure your introductions.
Audience: Yes, but you can still take more time, and the judge will know what you will speak about later.
Audience: You are preparing him with this, what you are going to talk about.
Audience: And to make it easy for yourself and the other speakers.
Filip: Exactly and if you achieve all these things, you are done. Nothing else really matters, at this point it does not matter, whether or not these things are short, or long, you should have something in the beginning, that is going to tell the judge and the audience, what you are going to do with your speech, and that is going to help them understand what you are going to be explaining to them. And as long as that purpose is fulfilled, you are done. Some people can do it with a story, some people will never have to tell “I’ve got three arguments that I’m going to explain to you, 1, 2 and 3.” They are going to tell me a story and I’m going to know what is going to happen in their speech, and I’m going to be extremely happy. Some people are always going to come out and say Mr. speaker, I’ve got two points, 1…., 2…. It depends entirely on style. But don’t get distracted by that style, as long as these people do something, that makes me understand and prepare myself for what is going to happen, then they did a good job. And nothing else really matters. And the same goes for any part of the argument, that we discussed here. Sometimes you might not have a name or a statement like we gave the example here. But as long as you are able to explain to me what you are going to do in your argument, that is perfectly fine.

Other questions?

Audience: Can we use imaginary examples, for example “Imagine a situation, and how would this have an impact on the argument”. A judge just today said that it is not preferable.
Filip: What did we say in the beginning? We are in the business of what? Not logics, but what?
Audience: Persuasion
Filip: Yes, so my answer is, as long as it is persuasive, you can use imaginary examples. If you are in a situation where this is not going to help you, don’t use it. Try to avoid them as much as possible, because I think that talking about the real world is most of the time going to be more persuasive than talking about something analogous to the real world, but at the end of the day I think the only question that you should be concerned about is, “is this helping my case” and if it is, then yes, “is this making me more understood” yes, ok. And if it is not, then imaginary examples are a bad idea.

Ok, one last thing, because then you guys are going to have to go to exercises. While this is a very cool model to get you guys started, so to force you to make good arguments, and I would actually encourage you to at least spend today, to try to make arguments through this prism. Take this and construct arguments in such a way that they conform to this model, because you are going to stop following it tomorrow even if you try not to. So at least put some effort today to try to construct those arguments “perfectly” by the book. There are two things that you need to take into consideration.

Number one, this is actually very useful for rebuttal. One of the worst things that can happen to you, and while this probably is not a part of this lecture, I just want to go over it very quickly, something that very often happen is, that people do not understand what is going on in the debate. They have an idea about what the other team is saying, but they can not phrase it clearly, what exactly it is that they are trying to prove. In that moment, use this (model), come out and say “Mr. speaker, what we think they are saying is, firstly, they would like you to believe in insert statement. They would like you to believe, that insert explanation and illustration and we think that is a stupid idea, and it does not make any sense and it is not logical and it’s full of flaws, because A, B, C and D. Even if you get an opposition, that is going to be confused and is going to throw random ideas at you and see what sticks, this is going to help you understand better, help the judge to understand them better, and help themselves understand them better. That means that everyone gets a better debate, higher speaker points, more chance for happiness, more chance for winning, more chance to get laid by someone on the opposite team, it is just a very good idea.

The second thing that I want you to think about before I let you go, is this obviously is not a model, that explains argumentation perfectly. It is not going to be enough at a later point. I don’t believe that any kind of a model will keep you satisfied in terms of how you actually construct your arguments. However I think that it is something that is very useful, and it is an idea that I first heard from Debbie Newman, I think she was actually the first woman, that was the first speaker at Worlds, so, she is a brilliant girl. She has this idea of chunking arguments up, and chunking arguments down. And she gives a very interesting example. I think we can use the example that we have used throughout the lecture, so The capitalism disproportionately harms people. And there are two things that you are going to do in the explanation and illustration. You are going to give examples, but at the end of the day, what you are going to have to do is you are going to have to convince me that this argument makes sense in the real world. There are two things that you have to do to convince me into that. One is, you need to show me that it works on the most basically fundamental level. You need to show me that it work in the here and now. So that when we get to actual people, with actual problems, and actual emotions, this works. That is number one.
Number two, you are going to convince me, that it falls in line with the general abstract idea of justice or freedom or whatever it is that you are arguing for in that debate. That that covers it. So at the same time you need to show me that it works in the real life, and that I can feel good about myself believing in this. What you are going to do is, you are never going to make an argument that is either going to be up there, or down here. But you are always going to run it somewhere through the middle. I think that what you should then do is that with your examples and your explanations, you should have at least two, were at one point you are going to chunk the argument down and show me how it works in the real world, with actual people, so give me an example or a story or an analogy, that is going to explain to me, how it works in practice. And then I want you to chunk that argument up, and show me how it falls in line with the general principles that you guys stand behind. So for instance, if we go back to the argument that capitalism disproportionately harms a certain percent of the population, a possible chunk down would be what?

A concrete example of a worker in a factory, for whom it does not really matter how long they work or how much effort they put into it, just by virtue of the fact that the people who build the factory had X money, in their pockets from the past, they are now, two years later, always going to be better off than the worker working in that factory. Where’s the worker is the person that actually makes these bottles and brings happiness to people, the people with money do nothing, yet they are better off than the worker who actually made that bottle. So that is now an example of how this works in the real world. So it’s chunked down, it is an explanation and an illustration of something that is very basic as far as this argument is concerned. But then at the same time, it can be chunked up, where you can show me a broader spectrum of what is going on which is essentially that when you talk about capitalism, you can see that states react in a very very similar way. Just by virtue of the fact that the USA and Western Europe have X money, they produce services, mostly, and they produce goods, that have a much higher return of investment, so producing a computer, is more profitable for me than producing rice. And some countries, either because of history, or because of their specific location, are going to be forced to do certain other things, to produce other stuff, like food, like chairs, I don’t really know. But the point is, that because of the way these countries are structured and because of the ways the production of goods in these countries is structured you are always going to have countries, that just by the virtue of the stuff, that they are producing, and it does not really matter how it happened, but because they produce stuff that has a higher return on investment, these countries are always going to be better off than the countries that they are selling their stuff to. Because ever in a free world economy, where countries do specialise in production and one country produces all the rice in the world because that is where the rice is the most easier to produce, and someone else produces all the computers of this world, the problem that free market capitalists fail to see, is that rice is always going to have a smaller return on investment than a computer. And without a certain solidarity between these countries, this is not going to work. And capitalism is …. Now I went a bit on a rant about why capitalism is bad, but do you understand the idea of chunking down and chunking up? It is still the same argument, I’m still talking about how capitalism disproportionately harms a certain percent of the population, it is just that once I’m talking to you about two different people and in the second part I’m talking to you in broad examples on how the world works. And you want to explain both to me. Because only when you have the full explanation, at one point you get to know how individual people make their decisions, and how they live their lives, but then you need to show me why they are constrained by making those decisions by stuff that their countries make. And the argument only actually makes sense, when I know how both of these things work. When I know how people are going to be making decisions and what kind of structure brings them to that kind of situation where they can only make decisions like that. And you would want to show me both levels of that argument.
This is something that probably is not going to be useful to you today, or tomorrow, it is just something that I want you to write down, so that somewhere in the future you can use it.

At this point the lecture is over. I would like to stress, that this article is just a transcript of the Lecture Filip Dobranić made at the International Debate Academy Slovenia 2012, on the topic of General Argumentation in debate. This is a beginner’s session. All the copyrights go to their owners.

Lecture – General – Argumentation (Beginner) – Filip Dobranic – IDAS 2012 from Alfred Snider on Vimeo.