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Three Things You Can Do To Improve Your 2NR by Adam Torson
The conventional wisdom is that the 2NR is, as a general rule, the most poorly delivered speech in LD. In many rounds negs can afford to skate by because the time disadvantage makes up for a poorly conceived 2NR. But if you are content to skate by, you’re thinking like a minor leaguer. Separating yourself from the pack requires improving your 2NRs. Here are some things you can do that will help you on your way.
1. Don’t go for everything.
Too many 2NRs are a carbon copy of the 1NC. Debaters go blazing fast and try to extend every argument. The “overwhelm them” approach may work against the average debater, but more skilled affirmatives will have designed their strategy precisely to counter this tactic. Even against less skilled opponents, trying to win by throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks will hardly impress judges, particularly when your arguments are blippy or patently false.
In the 2NR you have time to do two things that distinguish really good debaters: articulate arguments clearly, and do meaningful argument comparison. Both of those things take time. Slow down. Pick the arguments that allow you to tell the best substantive story. This can be every bit as devastating as a mega-spread because the aff has to wade through deep analysis to extend winning offense.
Additionally, not going for everything gives you a chance to more effectively pre-empt the 2AR. Many affirmatives hope to counter spread-based neg strategies by deception, eager to explode some argument that seemed inconsequential earlier in the round. A clear story and effective minesweeping are your best defenses against this tactic, but those are things you can do only if you narrow your focus in the 2NR.
Caveat: This does not mean you should not try to layer your ballot story in the 2NR. You certainly should. It does mean that instead of going for six underdeveloped layers, you should go for two or three well-developed ones.
2. Have a plan.
I am stunned by how many debaters decide to wing it in the 2NR. The speech is often disorganized. Any new analysis, mostly argument comparison on both the link and impact level, is underdeveloped or ill-conceived. And, important arguments are simply missed. Most of this can be chalked up to poor planning. Debaters feel like they have the luxury of time, and so they fail to think through how to use that time most effectively.
Much of this is due to prep time mismanagement. If you have done sufficient pre-tournament prep and used your cross-ex effectively, you should need very little prep time before the 1NC/NR. It never ceases to amaze me when a debater uses three minutes or more of prep time only to read a variety of off-case positions for five or six minutes. If it takes you three minutes to come up with one minute of on-case answers to the 1AC, you have not done your due diligence in pre-tournament blocking. Leave adequate prep time for you to meaningfully plan the 2NR.
I also occasionally see overconfident negs get up for the 2NR before they’ve used all their prep time. The perceptual advantage gained by that tactic is negligible. (In fact, I’m usually thinking “Why didn’t this dimwit use his prep time when it could only improve the speech I’m about to hear?”). It is much more advantageous to use that time to think through not just what arguments you are going to go for, but also how you are going to organize the speech, how you are going to go deep on the weighing debate, what arguments you need to preempt, etc. I’ve never seen a speech get worse because a debater spent more time thinking about her strategy rather than less.
Finally, you can improve your planning for the 2NR by doing a lot of it before the tournament. Effectively blocking and frontlining arguments doesn’t just mean finding scholarly criticism and constructing take-outs and mitigation. You should also think about how your arguments interact on the link level, and what kind of weighing story you are going to boil down for the judge. A lot of this work is going to be deployed initially in the 1NR (e.g. how do I most effectively leverage my 1NC against an Aff about Patriarchy), but the best neg debaters will have a plan for how they can most effectively extend the strategy they set up for the 2NR (e.g. what is the 1AR likely to do, and how do I respond). In other words, don’t plan your speeches in a vacuum – construct a strategy that lets you slam the door on the 2AR.
3. Find the big mistake in the 1AR.
One way to simplify the strategic decisions you make in the 2NR is to find the biggest mistake in the 1AR and think about how you can best exploit it. The time constraints of the 1AR make it difficult to do everything well. Generally something is under-covered or underdeveloped. At the very least the 1AR often has to narrow their link story substantially which should define pretty clearly what you have to do. “The only offense the 1AR extended was the Cruz evidence. If I show that the impacts of the NC outweigh it’s an easy neg ballot.” “The aff only extended one analytic justification for his standard. If I extend analysis out of the NC standard showing that this is insufficient to justify contractarianism then you can easily vote on the NC.” Again, narrowing your focus to something clear and easily articulable will be much better in the long run than hoping the judge can reconstruct a ballot story from a messy 2NR.