Preferences In Policy Debate

When you’re heading into a round of policy debate or CX, your judge’s preferences might be the last thing on your mind. But paying attention to special requests from the person in charge of your score takes minimal effort and can pay off when it comes down to scoring.

You will ultimately be the one to decide how you conduct yourself during a round, not your judge. And debating guidelines from the National Forensics League state that a judge should not penalize a debating team if its style, either in case construction or delivery, differs from that which the judge personally prefers.

Judges are expected to give scores based on effectiveness, not their personal ideas of how debating should be pursued. If you have a valid case, a detailed analysis of the subject, and you back up your arguments with sufficient evidence, you are already well-prepared for your next round. But keep in mind that effectiveness of delivery is also considered part of the judging criteria, which includes all aspects of oral presentation. Many debate judges do not take kindly to competitors who ignore their preferences, so the best thing to do if you don’t plan on listening to the response is to avoid asking the question.

Consider this scenario: You’ve just finished getting settled into the room with your debate partner. Your legal pad and pencil are ready, your laptop is fired up and ready to go, your notes are spread out over your desk and your partner is making sure everything else is in order. You walk up to the judge and ask, “Before we begin, do you have any preferences?” The judge responds by saying, “I’d prefer that you don’t look at your opponents during cross examination. Either address me or pick a spot on the back wall or something; just don’t look at each other.” You nod and smile, and then start messing with your timer. Later in the round, it’s time for CX, and you have come up with a strong set of questions for your opponent. Grinning, you look at your opponent each time you ask a question. Your opponent isn’t returning your gaze, which you take as a sign that you have defeated the other team with your brilliant CX skills.

Disregarding judges’ preferences in such a way can be detrimental to your score, especially if your opponent is responding appropriately to the request. Adhering to these unwritten rules might not relate directly to your research or preparation, but it is still considered an important part of the presentation for many judges.
A few things you should always do, no matter what your judge’s preferences entail:

1. Enunciate. WPM is an important aspect of both policy debate and LD debate, so many competitors just try to speak as swiftly as possible. If your judge doesn’t have a problem with speed, that’s fine, but you should always work hard to ensure that the judge can understand what you are saying.

2. Do your research. Having a thorough knowledge of the subject you are discussing is crucial in CX because you need to have a firm grasp of both the affirmative and negative sides of the argument to be able to anticipate your opponents’ next moves. Having up-to-date research is also helpful – if your most timely card is from 1999, you’re going to have a real problem in competition.

3. Work with your partner. The beauty of CX and other partner events is that both partners have unique talents to offer. Find out what you and your counterpart are good at, and use those attributes to your advantage during a debate.

When it comes to preferences, some debaters ask this question because they want to find out whether their judge is experienced or inexperienced; others will do it because they are legitimately interested in what the judge will and will not tolerate during a round. Either way, if you don’t intend to keep the judge’s requests in mind during the debate, don’t bother asking.