By: Michael Norton, Brandeis University 2016
In parliamentary debate, the Point of Information (POI) is a chance to offer a question or statement to the opposing team while they present one of their constructive speeches. Each team will typically take only 2-4 over the course of a debate, making each POI crucially valuable. As such, asking effective POIs is all about maximizing the impact from each opportunity presented through careful consideration of the best time to pounce.
There are many ways to construct an effective POI. Here are several common yet effective strategies to try:
1. The logical extent
By taking the premise of a case to its logical extent (or by highlighting the extreme examples), you can foxhole the opposition into taking a higher burden and defending the extreme examples. To construct one of these POIs, consider the advocacy of the opposition; are there any ideas that are logically consistent (even if to a different extent) with this advocacy? Highlight this to the judge and the opposition by asking the other team by directly asking whether they’d be okay with defending the logical extent, and if not, why there is a meaningful distinction between the extreme and the example at hand.
2.The factual objection
There are some instances where cases are dependent on a certain fact or premise in order to make a certain argument. By undermining the credibility of this fact or premise, a debater can undermine the argument or case as a whole. This strategy is, of course, only usable when you’re able to convincingly undermine the credibility of the fact in question.
3. The baited contradiction
When asking a POI, it’s very easy to back your opponents into a contradiction by asking them to defend something seemingly harmless and setting yourself up for later. Asking them to defend something (“are you okay with defending x?”), and knowing that in a later speech, you can highlight why this seemingly harmless question actually undermines their advocacy, can prove very effective.
Getting the answer you want
Oftentimes, teams will dodge the question, answer it incompletely, or simply twist your words. To avoid teams weaseling their way out of your best POIs, ensure that you are as clear and direct as possible with your questions. If the question is vague or unclear, the team has some liberty to answer it vaguely. If the question has a variety of answers, the team will likely run away with the question. Here are some solutions to vagueness and a lack of clarity that can greatly improve a POI.
1. Limiting the scope
By asking questions with a clear set of answers (yes or no questions, this or that questions), it becomes harder for the opposition to squirrel out of the answer you want.
2. Phrasing and preempting
In addition, offensively phrasing POIs with arguments in them can prevent debaters from giving the obvious response. If you lead off your POIs with a preemptive argument, it often throws off the opposition, boxing them into answering the way you want.
Asking the POI
While actually presenting the POI seems like the most basic aspect of the process, it’s still the crux of the POI and should not be taken lightly. Some tips to improve presentation and results.
1. Be confident!
Asking a POI feels somewhat awkward in that youre butting into your opponents’ speech time, especially if the debater is older or intimidating. The thing to do is to not let the intimidation get to you: if you seem timid or hesitant when asking the POI, you’ll only make the situation worse. Confidence is not only sexy, but persuasive as well!
2. Be (reasonably) persistent.
Debaters will often shut down POIs early on in their speech, or claim they’ll only take a certain amount. Just remember that you have a right to try to ask them, so if you have a question, don’t feel deterred after one try. HOWEVER, there is a fine line between persistent and super annoying. Nobody likes debaters who constantly stand even when waved down, or keep trying to ask questions after being granted a few already. Just remember to give the debater time to deliver their speech, and give them some time after they wave you down or answer before you stand up again.
3. You ARENT debating them.
Asking a POI isn’t a chance to have a back and forth with the debater. It’s your chance to interject with a question or piece of information that could be relevant in the round. DON’T GET IN A FULL BLOWN ARGUMENT.
4. Speak up and word the question clearly.
Debaters will sometimes mumble, misspeak, speak too quietly, or simply use extremely complex syntax that leads to a misunderstanding of the question. POIs are still a part of the debate, and even though they seem frantic and rushed, you still should take your time and remain composed.