On Preparation Time

Over a period of experimentation, I have identified certain approaches to prep time that have yielded good returns for me. Let it be a standing disclaimer for all my posts henceforth on such matters that I do not claim my observations to be the rule by any yardstick and one might feel free to experiment for oneself.

In the course of my growth as a debater, I started off with the primate's approach towards prep time. Beat every neuron in your head and thrash out as many arguments you have heard of or can think of. Try to stitch together a case from these independent scraps of wisdom and head out to battle. Every now and then there would be a moment of genius and there would be a well calculated stratagem deployed in the form of a delicately twisted definition or restriction to tilt the odds. There was even a phase when I was made to believe by a certain peach of a senior that a "good definition" was half the debate won. Hence a large chunk of the prep time went into devising a minefield of a case, crammed with as many arguments as could be summoned, for there was strength in numbers. Twelve arguments were better than six and Twelve unexpected arguments courtesy a skewered definition was the absolute best. I must thank the first Asians BP for purging me of these unholy ways.

The next broad phase was the cave person (to avoid the wrath of nazi feminists) era of my debating career. There was a phenomenal urge to go deeper in prep time, to dig a little further in order to come up with something beyond the well worn arguments. There was a burning desire to analyze to extents that were totally unprecedented. Although this was a step in the right direction, there was a problem. Most of the prep time involved compounding protracted philosophies or cause and link chains that at times became as incomprehensible and unrelatable to the adjes as they were clear to us. We often fail to realize that certain logical links in arguments that seem obvious to us might not hold true to others as they aren't privy to the thought process leading to the conclusions reached by the debater.

Then comes niveau finalement; you spend some time establishing the direction of your case, identifying and analyzing the crux issues of the debate and evaluating the prospects of each line of action. You then open the flood gates. This process delivers guided results, you can venture far and deep while minimizing the chances of going astray with your case.

I'll break down my thumb rules to an effective prep time:

1) Before anything else, make sure you spend some time analyzing the motion. This is something most teams miss out on, thereby losing out on several major issues that are critical to the debate. Start of by identifying the key terms in the motions and diagnosing their relevance to the debate. A lot of your context and certain arguments will spring up simply focusing on these key terms. For example, let's take the motion "THW require all media outlets to be organized as cooperatives, owned and run by journalists only." The first thing I do is break up the motion in my head into sub topics, thereafter analyzing them in isolation and then with respect to the motion. This is what it roughly looks like:
-Media outlets: Analyse their nature, their incentive structure, then identify the problems specific to these outfits with regard to the issues the motion is targeting. Identify those issues.
-Cooperatives: What are cooperatives, what is their principle of functioning, their incentive structure, contrast them to the current format of operation of media outlets, identify and analyse pros and cons of cooperative organisations then narrowing them down to the specific ambit of the debate.
-Journalists: Their role, their functions, their incentive structure, their skills, their shortcomings with regard to the proposed role etc.

The more convoluted the motion, the more rewarding this process of motion deconstruction becomes. It takes not more than a minute or two and hands you most of the core issues and lines of argumentation in the debate. You can then spend the rest of your prep time working on lines of argument external to these, analyzing and cross linking the ones you already have. You save time on flailing around trying to identify the issues and minimize the risks on missing out on them. In the above motion for example, most teams analysed satisfactorily media outfits in status quo and the role of journalists, however they failed to give more than a cursory glance to the aspects of running a cooperative.

The next thing to look out for is the issue that is being hinted at by the motion. Several motions either directly or indirectly present certain issues that they seek to tackle in the form of whatever policy they present. Careful analysis of the motion can help debaters identify and focus on these issues thereby directing their case in the right direction.

2) Discuss the possible lines of argumentation with your team mates and ensure you reach a consensus on the crux of your case. lack of clarity at this stage can result in parallel efforts by team members compounding the state of chaos and confusion, something that is highly undesirable and counterproductive.

3) This is something that works very well for me, but I'd advice you to try it with extreme caution. Once the common strategy has been somewhat devised, I take two to three minutes of lone time. This prevents my thought process from getting limited by the ideas being brought up by my team mates. Once presented with certain ideas, the mind finds it difficult to break away and start operating in isolation, thereby losing out on certain ideas that you might have arrived at indigenous. I would encourage my team mates to take those two minutes off as well in which they would explore the recesses of their grey matter for matter. This very often led to a great diversity in ideas at our disposal. Again, be very careful as some debaters go into paralytic shock in the absence of guidance.

4) After presenting your independent conclusions to each other, you'll find some of the content overlapping and some that are unique. Get to work on consolidating all the matter at hand, analyzing them and thematizing them.

Always question each other. Criticism of each others' and your own arguments in prep time, will lead to lesser loopholes and logical flaws and you will be better prepared for the opposing teams rebuttals and questions as you would have already explored them. However, the idea of this is not to set up a pissing contest and that is what it will often turn into if you down have the objective of this approach clear in your head. The process can very easily turn counter productive and that must be strictly avoided.

5) Divide the work. While one person is structuring the arguments and consolidating them and the other person is possibly working on a logical link, the third person can be preempting the opposing team's case. It is hugely advantageous to dedicate some amount of time to figure what the other team will say, estimate their approach to the case and tweak your own arguments to account for them. However, in most prep times you won't have enough time at hand to have a all out team effort towards this end and that is where delegation pays off.

6) This is something very basic and I often tell it to nascent debaters. The simplest way of improving the quality and depth of your case and arguments is to keep asking yourself 'why' and 'how' in prep time.

Us 'why' while building principled arguments. Every time you arrive at a conclusion ask why. It helps you understand your own argument better, thereby enabling you to deliver a more comprehensive perspective on it. Using the most fundamental example to elucidate, most fresh debaters will assert that "Pedophilia is unacceptable" for a motion that say discusses stricter penalties for pedophiles. While jotting this down in your notepad, ask why. You'll probably arrive at a conclusion after a cursory thought that it's bad because it causes the infliction of sexual activity on children. You ask why again and you realize that this sort of sexual activity is particularly bad because the activity isn't mutually consensual and can scar the kid severely. The next why will reveal the nature of a child's cognitive faculties and thereby the child's inability to consent as a result of a lack of ability to process choices with a rational cost benefit in mind. The objective of this exercise isn't to go into an endless loop of questions but rather to develop a deeper understanding of what you intend to argue. It also isn't necessary to explain every thing in such great detail, but rather to form one effective argument by consolidating the layers of the argument.

The 'how' comes into play with outcome analysis arguments. Whenever proposing a model or discussing a policy, debaters try and predict consequences they believe will result from it. Asking 'how' helps develop stronger analysis in such cases. For example, a lot of debaters just assert that stimulus packages will help the economy in certain debates. Asking how while developing the argument will force you to derive the cause and consequence logic chain that leads from the action to the intended consequence; i.e. what are the logical steps that take you from approving a stimulus package to achieving a boost to the economy. A better understanding of the series of logical actions that link your action to the predicted consequence will grant your argument greater immunity to attack from the opposing side.

Always remember that there is no set formula to optimally utilizing your prep time, so give these pointers a shot and experiment further in your practices to work out what suits you and your team best. Talk to your team mates about what they feel comfortable with...


Prasun Bhaiya said…
7) Spend 10 minutes making fun of the South Indian on your team.
ASD said…
Only because having a South Indian on your team means you need 10 minutes less of prep time.
ASD said…
Eyy. Why blame the Pai.
You mean 'the pie'. This is the second time you've done this. Either ways, its a true story...
Also, I assure you no covert government agency is trying to take you out... you can use your actual identity.
Prayank Jain said…
This is actually brilliant. I had been looking for some guidance in this aspect, you've really analysed the preparation mins pretty well and have devised a good strategy. Thanks!
Unknown said…
That was something... Esp. For a nascent one like me
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