Lecture on Points of information in debate – Sarina Selleck

This is a lecture, delivered by Sarina Selleck at the North America Debate Academy 2013, recorded by Alfred Tuna Snider.

Today I’m going to talk to you about points of information, because they are good ways to stay engaged in the debate, to be engaged in the debate for the second bench before you get a chance to speak, and generally they can be sometimes a bit neglected, or kind of misused, or abused, so we are going to try and make sure that… A lot of this is going to be quite basics, but we want to make sure that you have the basics in place or they may serve as reminders in case you have been doing things that you’ve forgotten, and they would be much more effective to use as points of information.
Where we are going to start with points of information this morning is actually coming up with POI’s, how should that process work. When you are actually in a debate, the first thing you should keep in mind when you come up with POI’s is that you should definitely write them down. This has been a major problem that I’ve seen throught this week, that oftentimes people stand up and they are called upon to give a point of information, and this gurgly, mess comes out that is like “but maybe, right, guys, and you know that example that I said maybe”… And you go like ermmmm, NO. One way to actually avoid that is to actually write down what you are going to say, write it down on a paper, and this serves two purposes. 1. It avoids the mess, that ends up not making sense to the speaker or to the judge, and it is also a good way to confirm with your partner. Because sometimes in a debate you and your partner have different ideas on where you would like to take POI’s, but if you write them down and share them with one another, your partner can potentially cut them a bit down, so they are a bit shorter, and to the point. Or can say or point out that you guys really need to get back to the point of that argument, rather than coming up with some sort of rebuttal as a POI to give to that team. So when you write it down it is important to make sure, that they are short, and because you only have 15 seconds maximum to give this POI, but generally people expect them to be much less and they come off as much shorter and snappier and much stronger if you are able to make them much less than 15 seconds. So this is the first thing that you should keep in mind.

Prepare your points of information in advance
The second thing you should keep in mind when you are coming up with POI’s, is that sometimes it is a great idea to come up with POI’s in your prep time. Specifically if you are on first opposition. Why is this so? Because if you have some extra time in prep time, you can actually have one that is pre-written. But why is it particularly important for first opp? Because you want to make sure that there is clarity in the debate about the government’s model, so really what is important is when you are first opposition and you are thinking about prepping POI’s is to think “what would be beneficial from the first proposition, if they would leave it out of the model” or “what sorts of things are important to my case to include as a mechanism, or to my framework for the entire debate, that I either want to gain or make sure it is very clear, so that I can come up with a clear stance of my own”. Or you can just try and come up with something that is going to make them look silly, as getting them to think that UN would do it, when clearly the UN is not the one to make it. But what it comes down to is, they are the key for the rest of the debate, so that everyone knows what they are talking about when it actually comes to the model.
But it also can be something that is good for the strategy, for example I was looking at this debate that was called This house would establish a US federal court with the authority to approve target killing of unlawful combatants. On opposition there are two very different lines you can take. One is We hardly believe that killing unlawful combatants is ever good, the other being we think that it is really good, but we think that using a court system in this way would really bug down the process and it would not be good at all. So the important thing is that, if the line that you as first opposition would like to take is that We really agree with you, we want to kill people, that is good, then you have to make sure that you get that in before the second opposition gets a second POI, that is like Guys, but killing people is just really bad. Because then as first opposition you have to spend a lot of time to frame it out. But secondly it is also important because that way you give the prime minister the heads up, that he is not going to use half of the speech to speak about something that everyone agrees on and is now largely irrelevant. Which usually makes them look quite silly and gets you points on your side.
Of course you don’t want to give away your extension, if you are on the back half of the debate, and in this case, if you were second opposition, and you wanted to run that we also believe in killing of unlawful combatants, if that is the case then yes, you would like to give out your strategy to be able to run the case. But in other instances you don’t want to give away a specific argument, or an idea, that you would like to run, because particularly you don’t want to give it before the leader of the opposition has spoken, because they will have plenty of time as the first opposition, or as the first government, if you are second government, to steal your case and to write plenty of argumentation. It is less of a big deal if it is towards the end of the debate, like in one of the deputy speeches, but generally you don’t want to give out too much of it from the back half of the debate. It is much better, to give POI’s that are more of a rebuttal, that would actually make sure that you stay involved, but that you also still have things to say.

Now that I have talked a bit about prepping POIs and strategies about when to offer them, I think the POI itself is something that you should think about.
Make sure that it is less than 15 seconds, as we have already discussed, and you should also make sure, that you don’t offer them too close together, because there is actually, according to the rules, you are only allowed to offer one every 15 seconds. Which hasn’t actually been a big deal at this camp, because to be honest, you guys have not offered so many POIs, but if you run into someone that offers them too often, you can, if the judge does not restore order, you can be like, Please stop bothering me, I’m not going to take you.
But more importantly, to the POI itself. It should not be a YES or NO question. This is something that more advanced debaters will definitely take advantage of. If you are going to go “don’t you believe this” they will be like “NO, moving on”. And then you don’t get anything in your POI and it is quite a waste. There are very few instances, where a YES or NO question would be a smart thing to do, when there is something that maybe you want them to concede but they have to be very likely to concede it, so it’s usually not worth it to risk it.
They also need to be very to the point and the shouldn’t be too terribly reactive. Because generally if your gut reaction to something is just like OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO NOT TRUE, that’s not factually accurate, its usually not going to gain you a lot of points, because if it is that absurd, the judges also sit in there with the look on their face like NO. That’s not particularly persuasive. So it is kinda a waste of a POI to be so reactive in that sense. And you generally don’t end up getting a lot of points.
When you are actually standing and offering a POI, there are a couple of strategies. People sometimes promote, to get yourself taken. There is one particular in favour, if you are in a very small room where the first opposition is sitting in front, there are some strategies to say that as the first teams you should try to strategically place yourself so that if the back half is giving a POI and you are at the same time, you block them out, so that the speaker can’t see them. Which is something, some people like to do, and sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. If the speaker is very on top of their things, they will definitely be looking for the back half of the table.
Another thing when you are actually giving a POI, you should definitely say something, and by that I think if could be Sir, or Madam, On that point, but you should not flag it, which is not a problem that I’ve seen at this camp, but something I figured that I would mention. It was fashionable for a time, maybe not fashionable, but people were doing it, it’s called flagging your POI, they would be like On Women, or On Gay people, and you should not actually give away some of your POI before you have been actually given the floor to give your POI. But more often than not it is good to say something, because that is going to distract the judge and make them look up and pay attention. And this is important because judges are keeping track of how engaged you are being in a debate, they would keep flow on their sheets of how many times you stand up, so if they don’t hear you stand up, and there are judges that like to bury themselves in their notes, then they are less likely to have a more accurate note on how many times you’ve been engaged in a debate.
Another thing that is important is that you should actually raise your hand, when you are giving a POI, which is something that some people feel that looks very silly, but it does catch the attention of a speaker and it helps lead them down your arm to your face and they are more likely to take you if they look at you in that manner. So that is something to think about as well. You don’t really have to hold your wig, if you see anyone doing this, that is what they are doing. It is something that, my partner Becca, she does not do it as much anymore, but she would always do it. So people would do this and it comes from older times, when in parliamentary debates the parliament speakers would wear wigs, so they would be holding them when they stood, so they would not fall off. So that is what people are doing, when they look silly like that.

As to taking POI’s, you should pay attention to the debater briefing, because different tournaments have different standards, as to how many POI’s they think you should be taking in a debate. Generally it is usually two to three per team, meaning that each speaker needs to take one, two maximum. But this is something that varies by region and varies by tournament, so at the beginning of the tournament, they will give you a briefing and they would be like this is our stance on POI’s and this is how many we think you should be taking. But definitely don’t take three POIs in a speech. Because when you take POIs, you conceded the floor, you are giving up your time to speak, so it is taking away from your abillity to put in more information, but it also makes you look weaker as a speaker, as you don’t actually have control of your seven minutes, that you have been given in a house. So, from the strategy point of strength, you should definitely try not to do that.
Furthermore, another thing you should not do, which I have seen as a very bad habit of some people here, is you are mid sentence, mid argumentation and suddenly someone stands up and for some reason you are compelled to take them, even though you are literally mid sentence and you are explaining to me your specific arguments and I’m waiting to write down your explanation and suddenly you take a POI. And I’m like, Ok, I switch pens, because I write POIs in different pens, but more importantly you are likely to be very distracted from your argumentation and you are unlikely to return to it, particularly if it is a very damaging POI, or something you are not expecting, or something about the argument you were just explaining to me before hand, you may get completely derailed from what you were currently explaining to me. So think about how many POIs you and your partner are going to take, and also, think about where you are going to take these POI’s and make sure you are not taking it in a place that is not advantages to your self. In which it may turn you off, make you to forget to fully explain your argument, or lose time in explaining it. So some of the best places to actually take POIs are transitions. Transitions between your argumentation because they really make sure you have an even flow throughout your speech, that everything makes sense, make sure you take everything you would want to take and then you can make sure that you complete your thoughts, which is really important. But if you do end up taking a POI because maybe your time management was off and it is getting close to that six minutes mark, and you are in the middle of your last argument, you should make sure to make a mental note of where you were or even if you have a pen at the podium, make a note where you were so that at the end of the POI you should then remind the judge. Just go like “we have been talking about this before, I’m going to return to this, this is where we were, this is how I’m going to explain.” So it really draws the judges attention back to the argument that you have been explaining and being like This is that we are going back to, let’s focus on this now, because this is really important. Make sure that the judge is reminded, make sure that they actually connect the rest of your argumentation together.

Another general note, which seems like most people know intuitively is that when you are answering these POIs you should try and keep your answers short and very sassy, if you can. Because that gets you extra points with a judge, I’m not going to lie. As I told you not to ask YES or NO questions, but feel free to answer with YES or NO, because this usually makes you appear very strong in your position and you can quickly move on and go right back to your argumentation, which is excellent for you as a speaker.
Make sure that you are not turned off by this POI, like if you need to, take a drink of water, like this is a great time for a break, as long as you listen to what they say, it does not really matter what you yourself are doing at the podium. There are many speakers that use taking of a POI, as a chance to relax a little bit. And if you look like you are relaxed, and having a good time at the podium, it is going to help your style points and you as a speaker.

Something that is important to know which happens in some regions is that some formats allow speakers to actually approach the podium in their speaking style and it is often very encouraged. For example Abda (?) likes to do that, and so what they will do is when they are actually giving you a POI or when you actually call on them, they will start walking towards you which can often throw speakers off, that are used to British parliamentary debates, where that should never happen, and we are very much you stay on your side of the room and I will stay up here, this is my space, this is my bubble. So often times debaters do not like to respect that space because that is not what they believe on their circuit. So they will often approach you and don’t let this throw you off if this ever happens. And just kind of wave them down, you can even call them silly for not being in the right format.

Points of clarification
Another thing that I am going to talk about, if we do not have any questions or did you guys come up with any questions? No? A thing that is not all that common in some regions, but it is very common on the East cost is Points of clarification. I don’t know if you guys know what they are. A point of clarification should only be given to the Prime minister from the opposition bench. What happens in a point of clarification is you are clarifying the framework, the context of the debate, and really you are just going to be asking questions about the model. These should only be about these things. About the framework or the model, that is is. They should be give it like in the first thirty seconds after the bang, can already be too long. You should give it immediately, you should not wait, because it is considere courtesy to take someone, when they offer you a point of clarification and then as the prime minister if you wave a point of clarification down, and you have said something that is utterly absurd, and not clear for the debate in your model, it is going to make you like really silly because you did not take this point of clarification. The point of it is to make sure that everyone knows right from the beginning what everyone is talking about and to avoid the mess, when everyone starts talking about the model or mechanism, and no one likes to watch those debates. 

This is a way to sneak out of that and as the opposition you should give them right away. Some people fly their point later on in their speech, as points of clarification, sometimes the government likes to do that, which is very non traditional, and you probably should not take them if it is like it to opposition whip at the end of the debate. But use your judgement, if you think that everything that you have said is very straight forward and very clear or the model of the debate was essentially in the motion maybe you don’t want to take one, but more often than not it is safer to take one as long as it has been given immediately within the one minute mark of your prime minister’s speech. If you are a different speaker than the prime minister, and for some reason someone offers you a point of clarification you don’t need to comment or be like “What are you doing, this is out of place”, just wave them down, don’t waste your speaking time commenting on them being silly, the judge will also think they are silly and that they are out of place, because that’s not what points of clarification should be. And the last thing about them, as I talked about prepping points of information, you can definitely prep points of clarification as first opposition or as second opposition to make sure that there is clarity in the debate and you know what you are talking about.

Question from the audience: If you stand up for a POI and the person speaking neither waves you down or says not at this time, how long should you remain standing up?

Sarina: I think it is actually up to the person standing up. You can stand up as long as you like. If you have already given your speech, and you are giving a POI to the back house, feel free to stand up as long as you want and just stand there. If it is getting really long, if it has been like a minute and you still have no answer, you can even revoice the fact that you are standing. Go like Sir, Madam or I’m still here… Oh, maybe don’t go I’m still here, just remind them that you are still standing. But if you have got more important things to do like you have to work on your speech, I would say that stand up for as long as you feel comfortable and then sit down and get back to what you need to work at. Because what it comes down to it, maybe they are ignoring you, maybe they are trying to waste your time, so it advantageous to you as a speaker to balance your time and worry about the things that you need to worry about. There is not really a standard for how long you should remain standing. And it makes the speaker look even more silly, because they are obviously not paying attention to what is going on in the room and they are just leaving you standing there.
Any other questions about points of information? We can try to do an exercise about POIs.

Watch the video of the lecture:

Lecture – WUDC – Points of Information (intermediate) – Selleck – North America Debate Academy 2013 from Alfred Snider on Vimeo.

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