Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Seven ways to practice for Euros with your partner

In just 4 days more than 400 students from all over Europe will gather in Manchester to discuss the great debates of our time, with some of them being rewarded for being very good at it, and all of us being rewarded for having listened to and partied with smart minds.
Of course, there are people who will go to Euros to just have a great time and who want to sample the Curry Mile, visit Manchester’s two football temples or enjoy a night out on Canal Street. But for those who don’t want to take part but who want to have a shot at winning I have combined my love for lists and debate, and I have written down some tips on what helped me to prepare for Euros last year.

1: Get to know your partner in the debate room…
There are some stories out there of two people who just happen to stumble into Euros without any practice and still do amazingly well (last year’s Cambridge C, who broke 16th and consisted of the best and 3rd-best speaker of the competition is a great example that will become part of the EUDC canon of small-folk legends). The reality is that these are teams that we stumble on upon a blue moon. Most teams take months, if not years to prepare together.
Of course, Euros is a week away, so it’s hard to put a month of preparation into half a week. But wether you prepped for months or have just found out your partner’s name, take an hour aside this week to  get some coffee and have a chat about how you want to co-operate in a debate. Do you both like talking to each other during a debate, or do you want to communicate through writing? If you are a sum speaker, how much of the extension do you need to know in order to write your sum speech? How would you handle PoIs as a team? All these are useful things to be aware of as it will increase your teamwork and significantly lessen the frustration.
2: …and outside the debate room
You may well have been to dozens of debate competition with your partner, and have pictures of the both of you in university classrooms around the globe: but something is missing if you haven’t walked through a zoo, tried playing a ballgame or went for a pint together yet. The best partnerships are friendships; there is some chemistry that works better if you are able to share a mutual in-joke during the debate or if you can handle being in the same room for a day (and sometimes sleep in the same room as well). You don’t have to become best of friends; but go and blow off some steam together before a competition, and I’m sure your teamwork will improve - and you will have a lot of fun.
3: Prepare a ridiculous amount of information that you likely won't need
Having a lot of information really helps if you, say, get a motion on World Bank lender policy and WTO trade regulations in one competition. The best part about having a lot of information is that it’s really easy to get. At Worlds Karin and I had a map filled with Wikipedia articles on international institutions and conflict with us, which came to pretty good use in a few debates. Memorable was the moment that Karin filled a minute and a half of a speech on giving nukes to Japan on how the Kashmir conflict had played out as she couldn’t manage to think up anything of her own.
This is the kind of information that you can use as damage control; it will prevent you to sound stupid if you can’t pronounce the names of important conflict zones or help you get basic facts (we once faced a team who didn’t appear to know that Rwanda went through a genocide in 1994 in a debate on Rwandese aid to DRC rebels).
The next step of course is to control the information you have so that you sound convincing and an authority. Honestly, having wikipedia-level of information and sounding convinced usually does the trick, but if you feel that’s not enough try picking a topical event and make a very simple motion out of it. Prep both sides, see if you have any information gaps you need to answer your burden of proof questions, and fill in those gaps. This is the easiest way of making a brief case file, it is not that time consuming and you learn a lot on argumentation in the process; you’ve never come this close to a free lunch before!

4: Do a debate with no preparation at all
At Euros you will lose your room, your partner, your prep materials and maybe even your marbles. You may wake up 10 minutes before round 4 starts after last night's excellent social; you may just have to walk for all of your preparation time because the rooms are just that far away from the announcement venue. Maybe you forgot to read the "not" in the motion and you prepared the wrong side of the debate (this happens to me about once every competition). In short, 15 minutes prep time is an utopia, and if you are used to debating on evenings in the same room that you hear the motion in, and fully using your preparation time you are in for a treat.
You can of course treat yourself to this pleasant experience before Euros starts. Try doing a debate on the get-go, with no preparation time. You hear the motion, get about a minute to write it down, and off the Prime Minister goes. I'll be blunt: this is brutal. Things will go wrong, you will end up taking three PoIs (but deeply statisfying the rules of the adj team at Manchester) and at the end you've given an unstructured speech. So, naturally with all things that are horrible, you should try again. And again. And once you've failed for the fifth time you realise that slowly all your structure, shorthands and habits kick in even after one minute of preparation and you are suddenly able to deliver a decent speech on the fly.
Some of my fondest moments preparing for EUDC was when my partner and I went to his lovely mansion ("house" really doesn't cut it) in Utrecht, where we prepared Prime Ministers and Leader of Oppositions in his kitchen. It is an experience I still value to this day, both because it was exhiliarating and fun, but also because it polished my speaking style in such a way that I can now do certain things in debate in my sleep. Similar to how in the Karate Kid the protagonist had to wash the car in order for his muscle memory to naturally react to karate motions, so will you develop a "muscle memory" for giving a speech if you give a few of them in frantic succession.
5: Speak English
This tip is mainly for people who qualify for English as a Second Language, although there may be native speakers who have immersed themselves in a native tribe for two months and who need to stop speaking Igala.
Speaking a second language is, unsurprisingly, difficult. Especially because we love hard and fast talk. In order to prevent gobbling your speech in the middle of a debate because you couldn't remember a few words you want to (re)familiarise yourself with the English language. So from the moment that my airplane touches the ground I will start applying a rule from my English classroom: NDA, or No Dutch Allowed. Join me, catch up with me on how your life went - but let's do it in English, and lets show native speakers how clever we are.
6: Give a speech right before Euros
On holiday in Mainland China, New York City or a camping site in South France your last thought in your mind should be about debate (unless it are the fun thoughts). So because Euros is at the end of the holiday period for most debaters in Europe, you haven't given a proper speech in months. This means that you don't think as fast yet as you usually do, and that your diction, talking speed and comfort in front of a room have all sunk to the back of your brain. So if your first speech in three months is round 1 of Euros, prepare to give a performance that you won't rate as your best ever.
If you want a performance that is your best ever, try give a speech before round 1. This can be as simple as rounding up a few friends, go to your hotel room, set the first motion that comes to mind and run a mock debate. Or do as Menno and I did, and just give a short speech in the morning. Your speaks in round 1 will love you.
7: Find the destroyer and creator in your team

The strategic move that benefited me most, and that I have carried over in every partnership I spoke in, is to designate a constructive and destructive speech in your team. This isn't an allusion to the Hindu god Shiva, nor to the succesful Makalélé - Zidane partnership that carried Real Madrid to successes at the turn of this century; it is rather a tactical approach to BP-debating.
Simply put, every team has one member that focuses on setting up the evidence, frames and examples that makes your case memorable and true; the other member focuses on aggressively disproving the other bench and engaging with their material as much as possible. These roles are fluid and connected, but lining out these two separate functions of a team can make teamwork very easy and be potentially destructive.

As an example you can look at our Euros final last year, where Menno and I spoke in Opening Government. Interestingly, Menno didn't add entirely new lines of argumentation in that final, but he filled in a lot of crucial details in the burden of proof that I had set out (including a very important clarification on prosecuting both sides of a conflict), and he used the same frames; we both talked about apartheid South-Africa, for instance, and characterized dictators as power-hungry in the same way. Similarly in our semi-final I summarized his case while tactically conceding the entire opening opposition line (a principled defence of the tyranny of the majority). Instead I solely focused on his arguments as to why democratisation in Middle-Eastern countries could work even if religious discourse was included, and why denying that discourse could lead to a violent backlash (arguably we are seeing the latter part of that argument in Egypt today). Importantly, I spoke mostly about why those arguments meant that the proposition's burden of proof wasn't fulfilled, instead of proving them again on a factual level.

The reason this strategy works very well is the incredible amount of focus that each member can use for its task, which means that you don't gloss over important details or forget to leave an argument standing on the other side of the house. For instance, if you put a case-builder as the first speaker, then the destroyer has a lot of freedom to run whatever she wants to say, as the judges already have a frame and narrative to fill for her speech. On the other hand, putting the case-building after the destructive speech means that suddenly a lot of arguments made earlier can click in space; a tactically devious move, as it deprives the opposition team of quickly getting to the strongest responses!

Bonus tip: don't panic. Really. If at any moment you heat up a lot, remember that this is a game, you do it because you think it's fun and there will Always be another round, day or Euros.

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