Perhaps more than any other speech, cross-examination represents LD debate’s unique opportunity to have a truly discursive experience. With rapid speech frequently eroding the communicative dimensions of the 1NR or 1AR, CX gives debaters a chance to slow down the conversation and seriously engage one other’s positions.
Unfortunately, the fact that CX isn’t comprised of recorded arguments as such often leads debater and judge alike to assign the speech diminished importance. Debaters rarely seem to care about the results of the exchange and their judges follow suit.
Here are five recommendations for making this speech time worthwhile—not even the most efficient debaters can afford to do otherwise.
1. Pick Up the Pace.
The backwards attitudes sometimes adopted during CX are well-illustrated by the degree to which some debaters enter the speech so listlessly. At the very moment a dominant debater ratchets up the intensity and asserts something just short of bravado, others are content to meander through the speech with neither urgency nor direction.
This is a huge mistake. Beyond the perceptual costs, this tendency is almost always accompanied by a blatant misuse of time. The temptation to dwell on a shortlist of issues or belabor a point in the extreme sidetracks debaters who are otherwise technically proficient. While the best cross-examination may remain conversational and pleasant, it shouldn’t become lackadaisical. Every position presents countless opportunities for scrutiny, and an aggressive debater will get to as many as possible.
2. Don’t Forget the Judge.
You may find the admonition to “face your judge” insulting at this point in your debate career, a novice marching order on par with having “sub-points” in your contentions. But, try not to think of these as bureaucratic stage directions—the point is to acknowledge your judge and hold his or her attention. It’s just too easy for judges to lose focus and let their minds wonder back to real life, hunger pangs or chronic sleep deprivation.
It’s similarly important to use cross-examination as on opportunity to highlight important issues a judge may have missed amidst a hastily-read position or breakneck line-by-line. Beyond bringing attention to your best evidence and strategic advantages, you should bring even more attention to the inadequacy of your opponents’ arguments. When those arguments make little sense or rely upon incomplete evidence and analysis, be prepared to take your judge through a tour of the shortcomings.
3. Don’t Forget Your Opponent.
While it may be advantageous to think of your own position as an independent, depersonalized source of objective reason, you should make every attempt to put your opponents directly on the spot rather than treating their positions as gospel. Some approach cross-examination with an unquestioning passivity, treating an opponent’s arguments with a regard they should rarely be afforded.
This trend is also exemplified by the antiseptic review of the flow in which cross-examiners sometimes prefer to engage. The disappointing scene can resemble a shopper tediously reciting a grocery list, but boring-factor notwithstanding, this is hardly the way to put pressure on an opponents. They should know what their cases say, and they’re probably more than happy to spend your time discussing them—the more difficult answers require questions that either (a) step outside the text of a position or (b) juxtapose that text with important objections.
4. Be Cautious With Flex-Prep.
Flex-Prep can become dangerous in at least two ways. First, if you spend any significant chunk of your allotted three minutes on preparation rather than cross-examination, you run the real risk of alienating judges who prefer three solid minutes of interaction. Many judges suspect that if the event were designed to allow additional prep-time, the speech times would reflect as much. CX has a designated purpose, and we should probably honor that purpose, just as we would frown up the backend of a 1AC being devoted to quiet preparation.
Second, even when debaters attempt to combine questions and preparation with the best of intentions, the preparation always has a way of encroaching on the actual time allocated for questions. Opponents—in turn—may also use that time to prepare and escape from a vulnerable position of accountability unscathed.
5. Don’t Get Bullied.
Some debaters are seemingly over after CX, namely the debates in which a debater of higher “esteem” completely dictates the conversation. Whether asking or answering questions, it’s important to dictate the terms of cross-examination. When a question pushes you in a direction of weakness, problematize the relevance or accuracy of your opponents’ implicit assertions. At the very least, demonstrate that you have a better understanding of the issues at hand and wait to sort the arguments out in your next speech. There is an unmistakable pressure to respond right away and sometimes say something you may later regret. Give yourself time, and rely on some polite showboating in the process—nothing makes an opponent questions instincts like a promise to read exceptional evidence on a question in the next speech.
There’s a difference between being evasive and being reasonable. Evasion is a sign of debater in trouble, but insisting that we focus on the right questions is a sign of control. And, at its most fundamental level, cross-examination is all about control and one’s decision to seize it or abdicate it altogether.