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Impromptu Preparation

From Round 3, Seniors take part in Impromptu debates.

These require you to prepare a case in 1 hour on an unseen topic. That's understandably daunting when you've always had 2 or more weeks to prepare before. It also means that you can't research the topic. So, what should you do?

On this page, we'll run through strategies to be ready for these debates.

How should you prepare before debates?

  1. Keep an eye on the news. The more you know about current affairs, the better you'll be able to think of arguments during case construction.

    Good places to find out about current affairs are:

    - The ABC Online: 
    www.abc.net.au
    - The Guardian Australia: www.theguardian.com/au
    - BBC World News: www.bbc.co.uk
    - The Economist:  www.economist.com
    - The WADL Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/wadebatingleague

  2. Discuss issues that you find interesting with friends or family. If you can practice thinking quickly while making arguments, you'll feel more comfortable when you have to develop a case in a short amount of time.

  3. Bring along a dictionary on the night. Sometimes, a topic will have complicated terms or words in them. Make sure you know what you're debating about by having the dictionary you're allowed to have.

How should you use your time in the preparation room?

It's tempting to panic and start talking as soon as you get the topic. This means you all try to say the ideas that immediately occur to you without thinking them through or writing them down. That isn't very helpful when you're trying to develop a complex case. Instead, make sure you have a watch and divide your time like this:

  1. 10 minutes — Silent Individual Preparation

    Start by working alone. Sit down, with a pad of paper, and go through the steps of
    case construction. Ask yourself what the debate is about, who the stakeholders are, what principles apply and which arguments you can make. Expand a little bit on each, but don't get bogged down in any of them. The idea is to have a broad range of ideas that you can explain quickly to your team-mates.

    Try to give these labels — catchy titles that explain the point in a few words. Also consider their importance so you can work out how to prioritise them later.

  2. 10 minutes — Share non-judgementally

    Once you've had 10 minutes of silent prep, share with your team-mates. One at a time, present your ideas to each other. Make sure you each write down the ideas of your team-mates, adding in information to points you already have. Don't discuss the merit of any ideas at this point, just make sure that you've covered everything you have.

    Often, listening to others will give you new ideas. Bring these up at this point as well.

  3. 10 minutes — Decide on your case and allocate points

    Have a brief discussion about which points are most important. Think about how they will work together, and whether your points fit nicely into themes. This is the same process that you go through when preparing topics a week or two beforehand. Remember at this point that each speaker should be proving the topic, and make sure that your points are all directed to do that.

    Also think about which points are most important for your case and allocate these to your first speaker. It is important that your first speaker has enough material — make sure they feel confident in the amount of material they have. Second speakers are expected to develop or think up weaker points after this, rather than to have enough material at this point.

  4. 20 minutes — Prepare your own speech

    Once your team is clear about the split of points, start working through your arguments. Start from your premises, prove them, then logically develop your point to its conclusion, before explaining why this proves the topic, and why it is important in the debate. Ask yourself the question 'why?' as you go along to make sure your links are clear.

    Make sure you still use clear structure and signposting, despite having less time to edit and review your speech. It's useful to have a structure that you use in each debate so you can simply set it out on your palm cards.

    Try to write out only dot-points on your palm cards. Writing an entire speech means you don't have as much time to think about your material. It also means you'll end up reading in the debate, and that you'll have a harder time returning to your speech after taking POIs.

    During this time, your third speaker and your fourth team member can help out. They should assist the first and second speakers by suggesting new arguments, listening to and commenting on ideas, by writing POIs and trying to think of your opposition's case.

  5. 10 minutes — Come back together to review

    Preparing your speech by yourself for 20 minutes can lead you away from your team's case. It's important to take time at the end to go over each speaker's speech to make sure everyone knows what will be said. This will help you make sure there aren't any contradictions in your case, and to know what you should support if you're a second or third speaker.

    This is also a good chance to think up good labels for your points to help adjudicators remember them during the debate.

Is there anything else to think about?

Don't panic. When you start doing impromptu debates, it's hard not to wonder how you can possibly prepare in so little time. You can. With practice, they end up becoming fun and easy.

In the meantime, just keep thinking back on the basics of argument construction and know that you've got enough time to put together a good case.