S1E6 - What Do You Debate About?
Talon: Hi, my name is Talon Stradley and this is Soapboxers, a fly-on-the-wall podcast about speech and debate. I used to competed on the Orange Coast College team and now I’m back after 2 years to document the speech and debate experience and bring it to you. Today, we are finally talking about debate. We’ll learn the basics of IPDA, some debate jargon, and you’ll be able to see the team’s first ever debate. This is Soapboxers.
Talon: So, I have to admit: I do not know a lot about debate. I participated in nearly every other event category, but I never touched debate. Before I started recording Soapboxes, I had only even seen one round of debate. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to make this show. There was this whole half of speech and debate that I never interacted with.
Up until now, this podcast has mainly revolved around the weekly team meetings that everyone on the team is required to attend. These take place on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, there is a totally different meeting taking place: Debate Practice. So today, we’re going back in time as we see the first debate practice of the OCC team.
Talon: Go ahead and just talk for a little bit so I can get these levels…
Student: Talking, talking. Can you hear me? All good?
Talon: Yeah. Student: Sounds good.
Talon: I got to the meeting a little early and took that time to interview one of the students waiting outside. I was curious, what did they expect?
Student: So what I expect going into this meeting is probably a lot of rules, kind of like the basis of how to do debates, what’s going on in the debates, certain regulations or expectations that come within that whole general idea.
Talon: She’s not that far off. Where speeches can have more leeway, debate is almost like a board game. Rules, regulations, and structure play a much larger role than any of the events we’ve looked at in the past. As a lover of both public speaking and games and rules, I must admit. I’m excited to learn about debate.
Hannah: So welcome, I’m really excited that you are all here!
Talon: This first moment was particularly exciting as it was the first in-person debate practice that the team has had since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. We weren’t sure how many people would show up. The result was surprising, about fifteen students attending in person with a few showing up through zoom. Only two or three competitors are returning. For most of them, this is their first ever exposure to debate.
Hannah: So you are all here to learn and talk a little bit about debate. So just so you all have a heads up, there are two types of debate that we do. I’m gonna start off by talking about one type of debate which is called IPDA debate.
Talon: The two types of debate are IPDA and Parliamentary, or Parli. Today, we’re going to be talking almost exclusively about IPDA. Parliamentary builds on a lot of the same ideas but it also has tons more rules, procedures, and best practices. We’ll be diving into Parliamentary in a later episode, but for now we’re gonna explore IPDA and then…
Hannah: We’re gonna hear from all of you, because I think learning from doing is really fun and important. So we’re gonna talk for a little bit and then y’all are gonna take over and talk for a little bit too.
Talon: That’s right! After the deep dive, our tenderfoot debaters are going to leap into their first ever debate! But before that they have to know: What is IPDA debate?
Hannah: So, IPDA debate is a one on one style of debate. It is a one on one style of debate. So it is you versus someone else.
Talon: As opposed to Parliamentary which is two on two. With IPDA, all you have is you.
Hannah: Which is kind of nice, right? You only have to rely on yourself. You only have to make sure that you know what information it is that you are going to talk about during the debate.
Talon: And just like the limited prep events we learned about last week, you don’t know what your topic is going to be until your round starts.
Hannah: What that means is that you won’t have the topic really ahead of time.
Talon: What you do have, just like impromptu and extemp, is prep time.
Hannah: For debate, you are only going to have thirty minutes of preparation. So you’re going to have thirty minutes of preparation. That might sound like a very short amount of time. It actually feels long after you do it for a while.
Tess: It’s so long. Talon: What you are prepping during this time depends on a couple of things. One of which is whether you are the affirmative or the negative. We also call these aff and neg for short.
Hannah: Ok, so in IPDA there are two sides. Two people, two sides. There’s someone that is the affirmative and there is someone that is the negative. This is just debate jargon.
Talon: Debate has a lot of jargon.
Hannah: This is just the labels we use to define who is the person who is arguing for the topic and who is the person who is arguing against the topic. So if we were gonna argue Marvel is better than DC, the affirmative would be arguing that Marvel is, in fact, better than DC. Right? They are arguing that topic. Where the negative is arguing no, DC is better than Marvel. So the negative is really going against the topic and the affirmative is for the topic itself.
Talon: These topics, or resolutions, are what you will be debating. Finally, the answer to the age old question: What do we debate about?
Hannah: The topic of your debate will be written like a resolution. That’s all it’s called. Again, this is just debate jargon. This is just debate lingo. A resolution is just what the topic is that you’ll be debating. It is just written in a way where it’s really easy to understand what you are meant to be arguing during the debate itself.
Talon: These resolutions are always formatted as some kind of definitive statement. It’s meant to be clear. You wouldn’t get Is Marvel or DC better? Instead, you get this declaration: Marvel is better than DC. The affirmative argues for this statement and the negative argues against it. There are a few different kinds of resolutions you’ll come across.
Daylyn: Yeah, so there are four resolutions.
Talon: That’s Daylyn, one of the few returning debaters. She’s the one who competed virtually from San Diego. I asked her to help me break down the different types of resolutions.
Daylyn: The most popular is probably policy, which is usually a plan that congress for example or some agent of action would pass and would put into effect in order to solve some sort of issue.
Talon: So a policy resolution might be The United States Federal Government should decriminalize all drugs. There’s an agent of action, The United States Federal Government, and a plan, decriminalizing drugs. The next type of resolution is value.
Daylyn: A value round would be comparing two things. Which has more value?
Talon: A great example of this is our resolution from earlier: Marvel is better than DC. We are determining which has more value. After value, we have fact.
Daylyn: And then a fact round is stating whether this example is true or it’s false and it’s usually something that has a lot of debate or contention around it like whether mental health is an act of self care. Stuff like that.
Talon: After all of that, you have the most difficult type of resolution. Metaphor.
Daylyn: Which is usually kind of disregarded. It’s something that’s not used as much just because it is such a vague kind of thing. It’ll be really basic things like The pen is mightier than the sword. And it’s like, ok, well how are going to interpret that? It’s really hard to predict and thus really hard to debate.
Talon: Metaphor rounds are especially difficult if you’re the negative. You see, in IPDA debate, the affirmative speaks first and is given a lot of power in guiding the debate. They are able to define what it is we’re really debating about. Take our example of Marvel is better than DC. Ok, how do you define better? Is it the most critically acclaimed? Is it the one that makes the most money or sells the most issues? Is it the one that has a more positive message to the reader? Are we talking about just the comics, movies, both? All of these things have to be defined in the debate and a lot of times it’s defined by the affirmative. In policy, value, and fact rounds, it can be easy enough to prepare for a variety of approaches from the affirmative. You can google Marvel and get a feel for their sales, messaging, and critical appeal. In metaphor rounds, it becomes nearly impossible.
The pen is mightier than the sword? What do they mean by that? What does mightier mean? What does sword mean? Pen? Are they talking about strength versus knowledge or are they referring to the combative qualities of each? It could go in a million different ways! So, what can you do if you are on the negative and don’t want to run a metaphor? Or what if you don’t know much about a topic or don’t feel comfortable arguing about it?
Hannah: So sometimes people ask “I can’t argue this! Marvel is my life. I love Marvel. I’ve seen ever Marvel movie. What am I supposed to do with myself?”
It’s gonna be ok. You get options! So typically you get five options and then you go back and forth with the other person crossing out those options.
Talon: We call this process striking. Striking doesn’t guarantee the perfect topic, but it does give you some control in what you debate. Typically, the negative side always strikes metaphors which is why it is so rarely debated.
So, when a round posted, you are assigned either affirmative or negative. You go to the room, the judge gives you five topics, you and your opponent strike, you have thirty minutes of prep, and then, you debate!
Hannah: So each side will go back and forth defending their position. They do this in a structured way so everyone has an equal amount of opportunity to argue and discuss what it is they are going to talk about. Right? We want it to be as fair as possible. We want the sides to be defined as clearly as possible so people are going to go back and forth arguing.
Talon: The time breakdown is as follows. First, the affirmative opens with a five minute speech. Then, the negative has two minutes of cross examination. During this time, the negative asks the affirmative a series of questions. Maybe it’s to clarify a missed point. Maybe it’s to hear a statistic again. Maybe it’s to poke holes into some of the logical fallacies. All of that can be done during cross examination. Then, the negative has six minutes to both address the affirmative’s arguments and present their own. After that, the affirmative has two minutes of cross examination to question the negative. This is followed by a three minute speech from the affirmative, a final five minute speech by the negative, and a closing three minute speech from the affirmative. That’s a lot to digest right now, but don’t worry. You’ll see it all in action in just a bit. In fact, you’ll see it real soon! Right after the break.
Hannah: Alright! So five minutes on the clock starting… now!
Talon: That’s coming up next on Soapboxers!
Talon: Welcome back! In the first half of the show, we learned the basics of IPDA debate. Now, it’s time to put it in action!
Hannah: Ok, so we’re going to switch gears and do a little activity. That is enough from us, I’m gonna switch it over to Christian. He’s going to lead this activity.
Christian: Alright, so, we’re going to start off with a debate. All of you all are going to debate all of you all as well. We’re gonna split you up into two sides, essentially. Aff and neg.
Talon: That’s right! A Big ol’ debate battle royal! This gives everyone a chance to see the process and get a feel for it without being thrown up there all on their own. So, two teams! What’s the resolution?
Christian: The resolution today is going to be: This house believes that Tik Tok has more value than YouTube.
Talon: You’ll hear “This house” a lot in resolutions. It’s more debate jargon. It essentially is another component that needs to be defined. It could potentially be anything! This house could be the United States or California. This house could be as broad as society or more specific like American youth. Like most things, this will be defined by the competitors over the course of the debate. Now that we have the resolution, we have to start identifying its elements.
Hannah: So even as Christian is writing down this resolution, what are some of the worlds that are popping out to you.
Talon: Value, that means this a value round!
Hannah: Yes, value! Yes! Ok, good.
Hannah: Any other words that are popping out to you?
Student: This house.
Hannah: This house, right? What house? My house? What house are we talking about? Ok, anything else that’s popping out to you?
Hannah: Believes, yes good!
Talon: You can also see what the affirmative will be arguing for.
Hannah: Yeah, Tik-Tok has more value. What is the negative arguing?
Students: YouTube has more value.
Hannah: YouTube has more value. Ok, good.
Talon: So we’ve broken down the resolution a bit, we’ve got our sides. It’s time to start prep! But not before a few tips from the coaches.
Christian: Consider that you can focus even more of your energy on what’s wrong with the other side. Right? There’s two ways to win a debate. You can get your team way over the finish line or you can kick the other team so much that they never make it. Cuz sometimes even, the best arguments you have are not necessarily about why you’re thing is great but why the other team’s thing is significantly less great.
Hannah: Also, focus what’s unique about both Tik-Tok and YouTube because if they’re saying — or if the negative is saying that YouTube is awesome because of X, Y, and Z and Tik-Tok does the same exact thing, Tik-Tok, say that! Be like “your argument is not unique. We do the same exact thing.” So focus on how they’re different as well, how they are different entities.
Talon: With those those last few words of wisdom, the competitors jump into their prep time! For debate prep, often you can participate in something called group prep. This is where you are prepping and researching in a room with a bunch of other people from your team. You can use any sources of information for debate. You can search online, ask your teammates for help, whatever. The Orange Coast College team has a discord with tons of different categories for stuff like economics or immigration. If they get a resolution on these topics, they can then search through the tons and tons of articles that everyone posts into these channels. It’s kind of like crowdsourcing information. All of this is allowed, you can use whatever resources you have, but can’t bring your computer in with you. Instead, you put it all onto flow paper, which are just large white pieces of paper that debaters use to take notes. This is all you will have access to during a debate round.
Today though, everyone is just sticking with computers. They are group prepping though. On one half of the room is the affirmative, and on the other half is the negative. They’re all talking in hushed tones, partly because of nerves and the new activity, and partly because they don’t want the other side to hear what they are researching.
Student 1: If we’re talking about content being flagged, etcetera, if one video gets flagged out of a three part series or whatever and it’s vital information, you’re not getting the full picture.
Student 2: So, I’ve been researching the whole social justice thing and how Tik-Tok helps and there was a survey that gives a percentage where — Basically all of Gen Z has said that Tik-Tok has helped them come up with current news and keep up with all the social justice stuff that’s bene going on.
Talon: After the times up, it is finally time for the debate! Now, this isn’t exactly IPDA for a couple reasons. Instead of having it one on one, it’s two teams of about seven students each. During each side’s time, any student can stand and deliver an argument for their side. If they run out of things to say or need help, anyone else from the team can hop in. The goal for this exercise is to get a feel for the core of debate. Analyzing a resolution, getting used to the timing, learning to research and construct arguments, and to see all of that in action. We’re not going to listen to the entirety of the twenty plus minute debate, but I’ll pull some highlights for you. Oh, and before I forget, in debate, if you agree with something…
Hannah: You are going to go ahead and—
KNOCKING ON DESK
Hannah: Knock on the desk. This is what they do in British Parliament is they knock when they agree. So if you agree with something someone says, you’re gonna go ahead and say “Yeah, I agree with you! That’s true. That’s tight. I’m with you!”
Talon: The judges will knock, the audience will knock, your opponents will knock. If someone makes a good point, regardless of what team they’re on, you can knock. Feel free to partake in that today. If you’re listening to this while driving and hear a good point during the debate, knock on your dashboard! Let the whole car know you liked that.
Hannah: Alright! So, five minutes on the clock starting… now!
Talon: Ok, someone from the affirmative has stood up and they are ready to go!
Aff Student 1: Ok, so for our main point of Tik-Tok having more value is the fact that it has a greater impact on social justice and the population as whole and it is more accessible.
Talon: Alright, right off the bat, the affirmative has started to define the debate! They have argued that Tik-Tok is valuable because of it’s effect on social justice and it’s accessibility. This means a lot of the debate is going to be focused on those two factors.
Aff Student 1: It has been more accessible because you are able to make videos easier without any form of editing. So the average person can get it done. Because the average person can get it done, more personal information that might not be as well known on main stream platforms. For example, when early BLM rallies, a lot of that information came from Tik-Tok or other forms of protest all come from the average individual person being able to post those.
Talon: Ok, so I’m gonna stop it right there for a minute to do a bit of fact checking. First, the Black Lives Matter movement has been around long before Tik-Tok. BLM started in 2013 following the murder of Trayvon Martin. Tik-Tok was initially released in 2016. That being said, in the world of debate, for the purposes of competition, it might not matter. If the judge or your opponents don’t know the history of BLM or Tik-Tok, then you might not be docked any points.
Also keep in mind that Tik-Tok DID play a significant role during the BLM protests in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. To say that a lot of early BLM rallies were influenced by Tik-Tok is false, but if the negative doesn’t call that out and simply proceeds as if they are only talking about the George Floyd protests, then the affirmative has nothing to worry about.
This small factual misstep could be weak point for the negative to attack if they catch it and if they have the information to back it up. Otherwise, it’s just another point the affirmative can make. Ok, after speaking a little longer that student sits down and another on the affirmative side takes over. Again, this aspect of the debate is just for the exercise.
Aff Student 2: It’s more accessible to smaller creators. Think about, when you think of YouTube, what do you normally see on it’s trending page? Right? You see huge, huge channels. Also, not just individual creators but channels that are owned by bigger companies that are here just for views. With smaller creators entering the space, means that more and more people can be recognized.
Talon: The Affirmative switches again and now they are bringing some evidence to back up their claims.
Aff Student 3: A study from NPR in 2021 pointed out that 77% of users have used Tik-Tok to help learn about Social Justice and politics and 75% have helped in discovering news.
Talon: Eventually the speeches slow a bit and it’s announced that they only have thirty seconds left. So, they make use of that thirty seconds!
Aff Student 4: Because it has an impact on social justice and its more accessible to everyone, instead of YouTube dying, it’s actually benefiting everyone which is utilitarianism because it’s able to help politics as a whole, which is beneficial for everyone. It’s able to new creators, and it’s not hurting its old creators, so YouTube is actively damaging itself, its creators, and the general public at large.
Talon: Alright, there’s some gravitas there! That’s good! IPDA is meant to be an accessible and persuasive form of debate. While parliamentary relies a lot more on the technical rules and jargon, IPDA is kind of a layman’s debate. Anyone should be able to watch, follow, and understand an IPDA round and your goal is to be the most convincing person up there. If you have that energy and conviction you heard in that last speech, then you’re in a pretty good position.
Now, another thing to point out here is that debate moves pretty fast. There are a lot of arguments being made, definitions, points, counter points, and you want to be able to address and engage with all of that. In order to do that, you have to do a LOT of fast, organized, thorough note taking. We call that “Flowing” and each competitor has their own way of doing it.
Daylyn: So I’ll usually use black for the structure. I’ll put the topic case, which is just definitions, what the resolution is, what is the topic, what you’re going to be weighing a round on. Just that basic stuff. And then I’ll do, usually my case in green and then I’ll do the other person’s case, whether its neg or aff, in blue and then I do any questions in pink so I can tell where I’m asking the question.
Talon: Back to our debate, the negative side is using those notes to cross examine the affirmative.
Neg Student 1: So you guys say that YouTube is dying. Have you guys looked at the media studies for the average user of how many hours per month they use on Tik-Tok and YouTube? Do you know the number for that?
Talon: After the cross examination. It’s time for the negative's first speech.
Neg Student 1: So I’m just gonna go on basically what your point said for that one. So one of them was that — We’re talking about the whole idea of this is the greatest good for the greatest amount of people and while Tik-Tok does have a big presence I think that you’re looking at the smaller picture. I think you need to look at the bigger picture which is the employees. How many people do these social platforms really employ and how many families are getting money as opposed to other families.
Talon: Ok, so the negative side is starting by trying to redefine the argument a little. The affirmative wants to talk utilitarianism, i.e. the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people, and so the negative is trying to reframe that by looking at job creation and economic impact.
Talon: Then, another switch.
Neg Student 2: In addition to what my classmate said here, the fact that you guys are saying Tik-Tok’s growing, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay around in the long run. In contrast to YouTube which has been here for over a decade. We’ve seen it since 2015 and it’s still going.
Talon: This back and forth continues on as the affirmative and negative go back and forth bringing up more points, refuting other points, and constructing a nice clear argument. Then, it’s time for the last speeches. One big, final rally to vote for their side.
Aff Student: As a little wrap up, I just wanted to say that we’re not arguing that you guys don’t do the same thing we do. We’re just saying that, you know what, if you just look at all the statstisics that we’ve done, especially with the social justice, we’ve just shown it better. We’ve done that better. Tik-Tok has done that better.
Talon: And then it’s over!
Christian: Alright, round of knocks for everybody. Great job!
Hannah: Great job everyone!
Christian: It was very good.
Hannah: Please come get some pizza and then we’ll talk!
Talon: After the debate, the whole crowd of students ignites with excitement and compliments and community and pizza. They did their first ever kind of debate! And they did a great job! And, they enjoyed it!
Talon: Alright, how did today go for you.
Student 1: I thought it was great! I thought it was a great introduction to how debate works. It was a lot more structured than I thought, which was really nice. It’s good to kind of have that structure and just realize how an official debate should work and should run. It was really nice working with the groups here. You’re not just by yourself, you have a group to rely on.
Student 2: I think what surprised me the most was everybody’s sheer passion for it. I also loved the feedback that we got.
Student 3: Today was so much fun. Honestly. I was so glad how me meeting random people, and we just developed this cohesive argument of just rooting for YouTube. I loved the camaraderie.
Talon: The coaches seem pretty proud of the students as well.
Hannah: It was awesome! As someone who did this online last year, oh my gosh, this was the first time, more than our first class, where I was like “Ah, we’re doing this! People showed up, they’re excited.” I was so excited. So I’m very happy with how today went.
Tess: Yeah, I mean it’s kind of unreal after two years of being pretty much fully online, seeing so many people here and excited and ready to do debate and jump in. Like, oh seven people? We’re gonna spit a five minute speech? Yeah, ok! I’ll go first, you go second. Just the enthusiasm is really all I ask for. I think it’s gonna be amazing.
Talon: After the feedback, the whole debate team circles around to end the day with a rallying cry.
Hannah: Ok, this is a call that we do for debate and I’m going to say “What makes the grass grow?” And You’re going to yell “Blood, blood, blood.”
Tess: Yeah, welcome to debate!
Hannah: Y’all are warriors! Alright? Ok. What makes the grass grow?
Students: Blood! Blood! Blood!
Talon: That enthusiasm, that excitement? They’re going to need it. Because next week, this team is competing in their first ever in-person speech and debate tournament.
Christian: This is the first tournament I’ve been to since… before the pandemic. Since State was canceled.
Talon: That’s next time on Soapboxers.
Talon: Soapboxers is produced by myself, Talon Stradley, and mixed by Chris Moore. Our Executive Producer is Shauhin Davari. Our theme music was created by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our podcast art was designed by the delightful, Rhiannon White. Other music in the episode was provided by MusicVine.com. Special thanks to our sponsors, Hired Judge and the Professional Speech and Debate Association. An extra special thanks to Clark Moore, John Farkas, Fuzzy, Ben Steidl, Aaron McGuire, Ali Beheshti, John Lewellen, and of course, my mom, for their support on Kickstarter. If you want to join these saints in the fiscal support of the show, you can visit us at soapboxerspod.com/support where we have recurring and one time donation options. Check it out to get ad-free episodes, buttons, and shout-outs.
If you want to stay up to date on the show you can follow us on Instagram at SoapboxersPod. We’re also on Twitter and TikTok.
Soapboxers is a production of Newtons Dark Room, a podcast studio set to explore imagination through antiquated audio dramas and non-fiction expeditions. For more information visit Newtonsdarkroom.com.
Hannah: Alright, get in like a kind of circle.
Hannah: Quasi-Quarentine circle, whatever.
Hannah: I know, I know. That’s why I’m like, Quasi-Covid-Circle.
Christian: Social distance circle.
Hannah: Put your arm in but you don’t have to touch each other.
Tess: Covid circle!
Hannah: Yeah, covid circle.