Monday, April 19, 2010

Handling the whip...

I had the pleasure to be one of the adjudicators during the last weekend, where the NDM took place in Hannover. I have seen different teams in all the rounds up until the final and while speaker points seemed to be quite variable overall, there was one position that never seemed to get to 75 or above in speaker points: The Whip.

The reason is simple, all the whips I have seen during the first 4 rounds of the tournament were at best okay-ish, I wouldn't even call a single one solid. I didn't really pay specific attention at first, but in the 3rd round one of my fellow adjudicators brought it up, that all the whips in that tournament seemed to suffer from the same symptoms. It was a mere comment, not more than a side node in the discussion about the debate we just heard, and I caught up on that. I looked back to the debates I already had and was observing the debates from that point on carefully and can only agree in the end. So what is it ? What mysterious illness seemed to have fallen upon the whip speeches ?

I would call it “constricted vision”.

Let's remember the main task or role of the whip in the debate: He needs to summarize the overall debate and to reveal the fundamental conflict in the centre of the debate. To do so he needs to present us a firm grasp on the relevant arguments, embedded in a time course of the debate, thus revealing the development. The problem comes with his second task: To strengthen his own team as the most relevant in this debate. Having this in mind, they seem to forget their main task to a certain extend, only seeing the very end of the debate and their own team in this conflict right before their inner eyes. I feel that this is, why their vision is narrowed down. They seem to fear to fail at the second task, if they would bring up and reveal relevant points of the opening team ,or the other side, in a clear way. But that doesn't help. Here is why:

1.) Adjudicators are probably still seeing what you forget to name:
Seriously if your opening team did a good job, name their arguments. If you don't, the adjudicators will feel, that you missed an important point in the debate and this is not to your advantage. On top of that: Not speaking of it, doesn't make the arguments go away on the notes of the adjudicator, but also takes you the chance to counter them appropriate. Explaining what they brought in and why that is good for your side is part of your job and easy to do most of the time. Explaining later why your team in the 2nd half was throwing even better stuff in, or really extending the arguments to the relevant core, or really analysing the far more important principles behind or..or...or...that is the art.

2.) A clear clash needs strong positions:
It is part of your role to reveal the centre of the conflict. To actually be able to work that out you need to explain what side brings what into the debate. If you miss out on arguments of the other side, that will only take away clarity of what happened and why and in the end weaken the conflict. Explaining what the other side was stating and how your own side was actually dealing with it is the way to go.

3.) Showing a fine grasp on things:
Again, not telling the whole story and missing out on arguments or aspects of other teams will only make you look like you didn't really 'get' the debate. And that is not a cool thing to project to the audience / adjudicators. On the other side, giving a structured review of all positions, maybe even naming persons with their arguments, project, that you have a clear understanding and fine overview of the debate. And from that base, people will buy into your explanations of “why” your side won and of “why” your team was the more relevant to that side, far more easy.

To sum it up – being the whip means:
- Your job is to NOT miss points in the debate and to define the core of conflict
- Your job is to categorize relevant stuff and to clear up what it means to the debate
- Your job is to present how the debate developed over the time
- Your job is to deduce why your side is right by using all that relevant stuff
- Your job is to show why inside that, now clearly “winning”, side your team has gotten closer to the core of the debate or was bringing the better explanation or bringing the more relevant arguments .. or ...or ..or

Some how to; from the top of my head:

It helps to present counter arguments in the right way and order. First tell them what the other side has brought to the table - than show how your side was destroying it. If it wasn't, you have the chance to fix that, but make sure to connect your new rebuttle to some point or principle your side was already occupying in the debate.

To strengthen your own team, most of the time it helps to show how the centre of the debate was shifting over time. Show and explain where the core of conflict (clash) is in general and how it was approached within the opening half. Than make a point how it transitioned or evolved during the debate, how everyone and especially your team was coming closer to that core and the really relevant stuff and make a case why your team was dealing with that in the best way or even producing that transition or evolution in the first place.

While the speakers in the middle explain certain arguments and analyse them, you are doing something slightly different. You are not analysing arguments itself, you are analysing how different arguments connect to each other and to the core of conflict. You are showing how your arguments connect to the other side, hopefully countering their position well.
Of course sometimes it can be necessary to deliver an analysis to an argument, that has been stated but not really expanded enough by one speaker of your side. Even if that arguments belongs to the opening half – getting into detail will actually benefit your side and especially your team, because this argument might now belong to you.

Humour is powerful. If you can show weaknesses of the other side by depicting their argument in a way, that leads to an absurd conclusion or situation – this can save you many explanations. Examples can help, most often the relevant cases are in the extreme of what arguments cover theoretically. It is hard to give a roadmap for that but look out for it. After all cynical or satirical humour is more of an art form.

These are my observations and conclusions, taken home from being adjudicator at the NDM.

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