How to Win in Cross-Examination

Believe it or not, many rounds can be won (or lost) by the time Cross-Examination is done. Many judges find this to be the most exciting part of the round and pick out their favorite debater at this time; the one they are rooting for secretly and who has a psychological advantage in their mind. Therefore, winning the judge over is important, and losing the judge’s respect or patience can be the biggest mistake made.

The number-one rule of Cross-Examination is to pretend that the opponent is not even really there. Act like this is some game where there are right questions and wrong questions as well as right responses and wrong responses. It is never about the opponent. It is always about the judge. Sub-standard debaters will look at their opponents during the CX. Good debaters will always maintain steady eye contact with a judge(s) or constantly look around the crowd (if there is a panel).

Make sure to time questions correctly. As an absolute necessity, if there was a main point that was missed when they said it during their speech, ask that first. As soon as they respond, have another question lined up that is slightly difficult (such as a flaw in their value) where one can basically ignore their response and write down what the missed point was. Otherwise, it is awkwardly written down in silence and the judge begins to question one’s skill. Most of the time, unless there is something that one plans on bouncing off of in a speech, the responses to questions do not matter. Usually, if a debater wins an argument to a great extent in CX, it is in their favor in the judge’s mind-- so a debater does not really have to focus on it in speeches as much. Therefore, do not spend a lot of time thinking about what the opponent is saying to one’s questions. Think about the next question. CX for those with high skill levels is not so much about finding out answers to questions. It is about demonstrating knowledge of the issues to the judge(s) and making the opponent’s struggling to answer the questions apparent.

Always remember to ask questions about attacks that the opponent will not be able to respond to. Major contradictions or flaws in logical consistency are prime examples. If there is just a basic response that does not bring an argument in one’s favor, but merely just weakens the opponent’s hold on it, save it for when the opponent will not get to directly respond to it. It is best to use heavy ammunition here where it will be most destructive. The best situation (and one that usually should result in victory) is a question asked when it is unable to be responded to. If this is the case, do not push and anger anybody by continuing in that line of questioning. Say, “OK” and change routes completely. This way, a debater makes a point while seeming like a nice, fair person.

Analogies work well early in CX, “Imagine that I’m a little old lady and I… (Etc.)… Would I therefore be justified in …?” Another key strategy to try to win is to focus on the dichotomy between what the opponent’s standard is and what one thinks the judge’s standard should be. If the opponent has a theory that a debater knows a clever response to, use it here. Definitional questions are often addressed in CX as well.

When being questioned, let the opponent talk when he or she is asking a question. It is fairly infrequent for the circumstances to demand interrupting the opponent or responding to a question with a question; though there are times for everything. Few debate rules are absolute. Be assertive in responses but do not take unfair questions. If the opponent demands yes or no, do not fall for the bait easily.

The trick is, regardless of offensive or defensive, to maintain composure. Look cool, calm, and collected. Never raise one’s voice or ever get angry during CX. If it is possible to peacefully goad the opponent into raising his or her voice without being personally overcome, YOU look like the more likable person. Keep a straight face. Do not let your emotions show, either in a positive or negative direction. Try to keep control. If an opponent keeps talking and will not stop after being asked a question, let them talk for a while. When it is apparent to the judges that the opponent is wasting time, attempt to ask a related question that is obviously bounced off something they say (only if it is very necessary to interrupt--otherwise one will look like a jerk, regardless of having the right to do so). This way it looks less like interruption and more like a new thought provoked by something they said. When being asked questions by an opponent who will not stop talking, let him/her. Judges are smart enough to notice a person giving a speech during CX usually. When responding to questions, do so courteously. If it obviously demands a short answer, make it short. Do not waste away CX, even on the defensive one can build up their case. If there is an answer that needs explanation, try to build an argument as much as possible without going over the top.

Keep an eye on the timer. Ask important questions first. Three minutes does not last long, so ask important questions first. These few minutes are extremely important and debaters need to get all of the important points covered. If one is unprofessional, that behavior can lose many judges’ support. Act like a Jedi. Be strong in stance and in willpower, yet act peaceful. Be in control of the situation psychologically and ultimately this will lead to being in control of the arguments most of the time.