How to Handle Motions Preparation

By Eric Tannenbaum, The College of New Jersey ’18

Note: APDA has several motions tournaments throughout the year, but due to their relative infrequency compared to case tournaments it can difficult to know what to do when it comes to preparation for motions. The following are some tips to help you get better at debate, however it must be stated that like almost all advice on how to prepare for debate, different methods will work on different people. You should always be focusing on what works for you and your partner, not what worked for some other debater.

1. The Basics

Before we get into any tips, it is important we cover the basic facts about prep time, so you aren’t lost at your first motions tournament.

  • You get 15 minutes to prep out your case before Gov is expected to speak. This includes the time it takes you to walk to your room, so be sure to account for travel time.
  • Gov traditionally gets to use the room the debate is in for prep, Opp usually preps outside the room, either in a hallway or somewhere nearby.
  • Getting any advice or assistance outside of you and your partner, sometimes referred to as “group prep” is not allowed. This is also true of online research. The exception to this rule is that often you may ask the CAs at tournaments for the definitions of words in the motion or info slide. It will be made clear at a tournament if you are allowed to do this.
  • Sometimes minor adjustments to these rules may be made. If this is the case, it will usually be made known.

    2. Before Preparation: Communicate With Your Partner and Budget Your Time.

    Debate, like any other team activity, is often made much easier when teammates are on the same page and working in concert. If you and your partner made completely contradictory speeches within a round you would not expect to win the round. Similarly, if you and your partner prep out two separate cases during your 15 minutes you cannot expect to have a fruitful prep section. The discussion about how to work together well should also not cut into your limited time to prep the motion, so before you even see the motion you should be discussing with your partner how you should work together. Communication during preparation is key, if you come up with an argument it is much easier to explain it to your partner during the quiet of prep time then while your opponent is speaking. That said if your partner prefers to talk during prep or write things on a joint flowpad or laptop, you should know that ahead of time. Some things you may wish to consider are:

  • The lead speaker (PM or LO) generally should be the one who leads discussion, or at least be able to fully understand everything, since they must speak before their partner does. Depending on you and your partner’s speaking position preferences you should discuss how much you want to allow the MG/MO to direct these points and lead discussion, or try to focus on their own speech, well before you start prep.
  • Figure out who is more comfortable with specific topics, if your partner is good on Economics and you on IR it’s helpful to know that ahead of time so there is no time lost debating who’s going to be leading the discussion during your 15 minutes.
  • Hammer out how you will have your PM/LO speech written. Do you prefer to have the member speaker dictate ideas and have the leader write it down? Do you prefer a joint google doc or flowpad?
  • The important takeaway is that any questions of HOW you will prep should be resolved before you do prep. Remember, partnerships are based on compromise and what works best for you may not work well for your partner. If you have a major disagreement it is better to get that solved in the drive up to the tournament as opposed to when you only have 15 minutes left.
    Something else you may wish to do before the motion is posted is to carve out your time for how you prep. While prep on each motion will be slightly different, some motions may have models to discuss and others don’t (more on that later), there are some basics you can figure out. Some examples include:

  • Spending 2 minutes at the end of prep to pull all your work together and format it into a speech that makes sense.
  • Spending a set number of time per point: 3 minutes per point is a baseline that gives you some time for a model, rebuttal, and pulling everything together but other times may work better for you.
  • Time management is a very personal decision. For some trying to budget out time is counterproductive and needlessly constraining, and if that is the case you should certainly not worry about it. But if you find yourself running out of time, or not getting to all the things you need to in 15 minutes a time budget may help you. Use your first few rounds to experiment- find out what works and what doesn’t. The only correct way to prep is the one that works for you and your partner.

    3. During Prep- How to Craft a Path to Victory, Models, and Specific Advice per Speaker

    The bottom line to think about when trying to come up with arguments for or against a motion is that almost every motion is usually trying to solve some problem. You should be thinking about whether or not this motion actually solves this problem, and how. In order to figure out what the problem actually is, try to think about who the actors that this motion impacts, and what their incentives are, and how this motion might change their incentives for better or for worse. If you are on Gov you will usually want a case that does the following things:

  • Explains what is the problem.
  • Explains why your side solves the problem.
  • Explains why we should care about solving this problem.
  • As Gov you should also be thinking about why your solution is better than other potential solutions, as sometimes a viable Opp strategy is to explain why another solution would work better. When you are debating on Opp you’ll often want a case that does some if not all of the following:

  • Challenges whether there is actually a problem that needs to be solved, or the severity of the problem.
  • Challenges whether the motion/model actually solves the problem.
  • Questions the morality of the way that problem is solved.
  • Asks whether this motion would cause any harms that are even worse than the problem that gov tries to solve.
  • Asks whether this motion trades off with other better ways of solving this problem.
  • Obviously these tips will not apply to every round, but they can serve as general tips about what you can do if you are lost or just don’t know where to start.
    When you are preparing your case a lot of what you do when writing out a speech during a traditional case debate applies. You are still going to want your arguments to have clear warrants and impacts, and you’ll want a framework that give you a clear path to victory. However, much like when writing a case ahead of time, you have the ability to sit down and think about how you might be using these arguments over the entire round, through to rebuttals, in a way that you may not be able to do when scrambling to write a LOC during the 7 minutes of your opponents on case. Thus, make sure you are thinking about whether or not the arguments you are adding are contributing to your case in meaningful way. Really ask yourself the following question “could I or my partner convince a judge to vote off this issue in rebuttal, either as the primary RFD or a secondary one if the primary RFD isn’t won.” If the answer to that question is no, then see if you can replace that argument with something more useful. If you have some extra time, think about how each argument can be weighed against each other, and some potential opposing arguments as well. If you have a strong principled argument and a strong pragmatic argument, figure out how you might convince a judge to vote for your principled argument over the pragmatic one, in case you lose the pragmatic argument, and vice versa.
    Sometimes a motion needs a model, or a specific plan on how the motion will be implemented. Models are an issue that will be heavily dependent on the specific motion, the motion “This House Regrets the rise of consumerism” probably doesn’t need a model but the motion “The United States should cut back on welfare spending” might benefit from one. Models can help clarify the debate, it helps all parties if they know if cutting welfare spending includes Social Security and Medicaid or not. Models are the responsibility of the Government team, and if your motion needs one it should probably be thought up before you get to your points, as they will likely depend on the model. That being said, it is advised you do not spend too much time on a model, most likely no more than a minute. Models should be fair, they are tools to make the round clearer and balanced not a tool to make Gov win more. If a motion provided is unfair Opp can provide a counter-model and continue the debate under this model. This is generally a last resort, something that should only be used by Opp teams if Gov’s model is truly unfair or clearly not in the goal of debate. Some basic do’s and do not’s of models are:

  • Models should not set debates in a specific time and place if they are not already being set there. A motion that reads “Countries should spend more on space technology” should not be modeled as “The UK in 1817 should try to build some rockets.” When a motion does not invoke a specific time you should assume it is set in the present. And while you can model the case to places where it makes sense, for example it is probably ok to exclude people in North Korea from a motion like “Don’t pay your Income Tax” you should try to keep it as broad as possible.
  • Don’t overly limit the scale of the debate. In the previous example about space technology, you shouldn’t model it to increase the budget by $5. There is no debate to be had here, and neither side can really create impacts. Don’t think that all motions must be radical, you probably shouldn’t model the debate as “Countries should spend ALL their money on space technology” either. A general rule of thumb is that models should have consequences. It is ok not to know a specific number for models that call for it. A model like “Countries should spend substantially more, enough to fund several more space missions at the expense of other programs” doesn’t contain any numbers but leads to a fine debate.
  • Models should not make the debate unfair, shift the focus of the debate from where the motion clearly wants it to be, or prevent opp from accessing reasonable lines of advocacy. If a motion says “do X instead of Y” you shouldn’t model the debate in a way that doesn’t actually create a tradeoff. For example, if the motion said “The US should spend more on space technology instead of Infrastructure” your model should not be to take the money out of the US defense budget.
  • Models benefit from specificity but model explanation is timed. While you are allowed to model “Countries should spend more on space technology” by talking about how you want to send a specific number of missions to the moon by 2020 and a specific other number of missions to mars by 2030 such a model is needlessly complex and will cut in your time to actually win the debate.
  • If you are on Opp and one of the above is clearly violated you may propose a counter-model, as discussed above. Your counter-model should be fair and follow the above rules as well, if you counter-model is equally ridiculous your judge is not likely to accept it.
    The last thing to consider is how you might alter your prep based on what speaker role you are fulfilling. Each speaker will want to do different things based on the round, some common changes you may make to the basic formula are as follows

  • PM: Spend most of your time on your constructive material, and comparatively fewer time on responses, as they will be the realm of your partner mostly. Try to take the lead on the model, you’re the one who’s going to have to explain it in a clear, succinct way.
  • LO: Spend most of your time developing a strong off-case. It’s easy to write on-case responses when your whole off-case is done ahead of time. If a motion requires a model try to think about what it likely will be, but be willing to be flexible in case a model isn’t what you expect, but not outright abusive. You may wish to spend some time on thinking of your opponent’s points, but make sure you have good independent material to fall back on.
  • MG: Assist your PM during prep. Be thinking about potential arguments Opp may make, as well as the obvious responses to any of your points. Try to figure out how to beat them, or failing that how you may outweigh them. If your model might be challenged figure out how to defend it.
  • MO: Figure out the obvious responses to your off-case and how you might beat them. Try to figure out any creative opps that may not fit in the LOC but could help craft a strong opp-block. If you are worried about any loose ends that might arise due to your advocacy, such as a lack of a principled framework or under-covered analysis about a specific group, spend time thinking about how you might cover those holes.
  • Different speakers will vary this formula even more. Find what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment a bit if you need to.

    4. Learning from Your Mistakes and Concluding Thoughts
    You will find that the best way to improve at preparation is practice and learning from your mistakes. Fortunately, prep is not a private event, you and your partner should go after what you did well and what you didn’t do well after a round. If you chose to do this, be respectful and fair. Nobody likes to be berated about their mistakes, but learning and growing from them is how you get better at debate. Try to interweave your critiques with positive compliments about what your partner did well.
    You’ll find prepping for a motion depends heavily on the specifics, who you are hitting, what you are debating, and what the motion is, and who you are partnering with. You should accept that you will have to make some changes based on these factors, and most of all don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes.
    The bottom line is that motions debate, like any other form of debate, requires practice – smart practice – both at tournaments and outside of them. So if you want to master motions, don’t just write cases with your partner before tournaments – read up on important current events, and bring that new knowledge with you to the next tournament.

    Posted in Articles, Basics

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