By Kevin Healey, Brandeis University ’18
The member of government’s speech, or MG, is an eight-minute speech that immediately follows the Leader of Opposition’s constructive (LOC). The third speech in the round, this speech has three main goals: Responding to new points brought up by the Opposition, responding to Opposition attacks on the Government case, and developing and adding detail to the government case.
Structuring the MG:
The MG is the most structured speech in the round, because it has the most material to cover. Just as the LOC is often structured with an off-case (new opposition points) and on-case (the government case), MGs often use the same overall structure. In addition, MG’s sometimes begin with an overview, which is a general argument or claim relating to the round as a whole. Different debaters structure the timing of these sections differently depending on the round; for example, if the opposition has many off-case points it might be preferable to spend more time off-case than usual. A good rule of thumb is to spend at most 1-2 minutes on an overview and then 3-5 minutes off-case and any remaining time on-case (for more information on using overviews, look here).
Strategy in the MG:
With the information above, you should be well on your way to knowing the basics of giving your first MG. But how does one go from that first MG to their first 27 MG? Well, it can be a long road, but there are important skills to be mastered along the way. By paying attention to the unique strategic position of this speech and using it to their advantage, the best MGs can win a round all in their one speech.
Covering the Flow:
The most important skill for any MG is mastering flow coverage. The MG might only be the third speech in the round, but it’s the last chance Gov has to make new constructive arguments (the only later gov speech is PMR, but new arguments are not permitted in rebuttals). Strategically, this means that any argument on the flow that isn’t responded to by the MG could be expanded upon in the MO and made the crux of a powerful LOR, potentially losing gov the round.
So how can an MG make sure they cover the flow? Good MGs make use of two key skills when it comes to structuring their speeches. The first is good note taking. An MG needs to have comprehensive notes on the round in order to be able to respond to arguments; if an argument isn’t on the flow, it’s likely to be forgotten during the stress of a speech. The second key skill great MGs master is time management. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending 4-5 minutes demolishing the first off-case argument only to rush through the rest of your speech and fail to get to all the on-case arguments. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 6 minutes off case, so you’ll have enough time to rebuild your on-case arguments. That being said, the exact timing of a speech tends to vary based on a round, and effectively managing time is something even the most elite debaters often struggle with.
Making strategic arguments:
Covering the flow is important to winning to round of Gov, but it’s obviously also important what kind of responses you make to the LOC. The best MGs are able to use responses strategically to help them win a round.
Whenever someone first starts debating, their natural inclination is to respond to arguments by refutation, or showing that a point is wrong- and sometimes debaters do make points that are just wrong. However, most debaters on APDA do have some background knowledge to debate from, and over time develop the ability to debate most issues accurately.
Good MGs thus mix their refutation with two other main responsive strategies in their speeches. The first is mitigation. For points that can’t be refuted, good MGs use mitigatory responses that are designed to show that the claim isn’t as broad, important or impactful as Opp suggested. This is often just as effective as refuting a point, because if an argument only applies to a few niche cases or doesn’t really impact anyone then it’s hard for a judge to vote off it. The third strategy good MGs use is weighing. When making weighing responses, MG’s don’t disagree with the Opp point, but instead show why it is relatively less important than the government impacts. Because debate is a comparative activity, so long as Gov proves their case is more important than Opp’s responses, they should win the round, and the best way to do that is weighing (For more about weighing in member speeches look here).
The best MG’s don’t just use on these strategies or make one response per Opp point, but instead use multiple ones in response to each point on the flow. By combining these strategies, it puts pressure on the MO’s ability to cover the flow, and gives your PM lots of material to use in PMR. Most importantly, however, using multiple responses to each point makes an MG seem particularly persuasive and effective. Controlling a room and optically winning a round is always helps win a judge’s ballot, and if the MG seems particularly polished this can swing the tone of the round in Gov’s favor.
Becoming a skilled MG takes time and effort, and some of these skills are really only built through repeated practice. However, mastering the skills listed above will put you well on your way to winning rounds as a good MG.