Respect the Deputy

Here’s a couple things I have heard over the years (13 and counting) in the debate circuit from respected members (by me anyway) within the circuit.

Kelvin Chong (Back to Back ABP Champion)
The deputy speaker position’s role within a team is a difficult and unappreciated one, it’s like being the toilet cleaner, must know how to scrub the debate clean.

Debater from Cambridge (Whom I shall not name)
Going in the deputy speaker after Ashish Kumar is the simplest job in the world, I just have to repeat whatever Ashish said, just with more panache.


There are a few takeaways from this, you could assume that what they said were a reflection of their teammate’s style of speaking (or that coming after one of the best matter dumpers in the world is easy), I would instead suggest that there are vastly different methods of approaching the deputy position. The deputy speaker (especially in 3 on 3 formats), serves as a fulcrum, 2nd speakers can choose to toe the line to deliver a consistent stance or strategy or pivot to swing the debate in a (sometimes wildly) different direction. It takes a great degree of experience, sensibility and often courage to make a quick decision regarding how to swing a debate.


Here are a few factors every debater should keep in mind for the Deputy position.

1) The toilet cleaner needs to scrub the debate clean

Going back to the original analogy made by Kelvin Chong. Clarity is one of the most important assets any Deputy speaker can have in their arsenal.

a) Clarity leads to precision, which can help with time management. If a Deputy speaker is unclear, they will end up wasting speech time without scoring points for their team, while burdening their Whip speaker who then has to end up explaining the entire argument from scratch instead of simply referencing what has already been delivered. This will lead to the entire team losing too much speech time vis-a-vis their opponents.

b) After all, debate can be seen as a game of resources, each team and speaker has the same amount of speech time, and the team which utilizes their speech time more effectively will gain an advantage over their opponents.

c) Consequently, if the Deputy speaker delivers a clear response or argument, the material will demand that the opponents expend considerable amounts of time to engage with it, thus giving them less time to forward their own team’s material. If not responded to, the Whip speaker theoretically does not even have to spend any more time on it since the material has been left standing, though they can also choose to press their advantage by highlighting their opponent’s lack of responses without doing much to actually reinforce the material.

d) Deputy speeches is when the debate usually becomes extremely messy due to the many strands of ideas and responses being introduced. Adjudicators usually stop writing when they start getting confused, partly because they need to free up head space to figure out what is happening and partly because they are not sure what exactly they should write down. The honest truth is, most people have a writing speed that is far slower than the speed at which debaters speak, judges have to prioritize the most important parts of what they hear, and if they can’t figure out why the speaker’s material is important, they stop writing.

If the adjudicator doesn’t write down the material that is being delivered, that material simply will not be factored into their adjudication. This also means that any attempt by the Whip speaker to revive or clarify the material will also likely be written off as new matter.

e) Since your Whip’s speech has to be at least to a certain extent, derivative of the team’s positive material, it becomes difficult for the Whip speaker to figure out how to use if they have difficulty understanding for themselves why that material matters within the debate. They would have to first interpret that material, consider how to deliver it in a clearer fashion, before utilizing the material to weigh clashes and spin comparatives, all while needing to juggle every single other piece of information within the debate.

A clear deputy, which sets a clear direction for the debate, allows the Whip speaker to focus on winning the debate rather than deciphering what their teammate tried to explain.


2) Whips are not allowed to deliver new matter

In other words, the Deputy is the last speaker in the team who can deliver new arguments. The Deputy speaker has the last word on new arguments, this means that any argument that the Deputy speaker does not sufficiently execute is effectively written off from the debate.


3) The deputy isn’t the last speaker in the debate

Over the past few years, there has been a trend towards a greater appreciation and demand for “comparatives” within a debate. This also means that there is a greater expectation on Deputy speakers to engage in what we know as “clashes”. There seems to be almost an obsession with these “clashes”, and the general consensus seems to be that they should be engaged upon as early as possible by both sides.

What I believe people need to realize is that if 2nd speakers choose to resolve “clashes” and engage in “comparatives” instead of delivering well elaborated arguments they are in fact choosing to narrow the scope of arguments which exist within the debate. This can be a valid strategy in some instances, especially in what Ashish describes as the type of motions in which teams fight over one major issue. There are also some truly excellent debaters who can weave their new material seamlessly into their “clashes”, in effect delivering a Whip speech with extensions integrated.

This is exactly when the problem starts. If the Deputy speaker delivers what is effectively a Whip speech, what is the Whip supposed to do? Certainly the debate should evolve across the next opponent and there will always be new ideas introduced which can be analyzed. I have also analyzed in depth in a previous article about what a skilled Whip can accomplish within a debate. With all that said, there is generally a trade-off between delivering new matter and resolving clashes, a Deputy speaker which focuses too much on the latter may end up leaving their team light on matter. Most debaters (including myself, at times) are simply not skilled enough to do both at the same time, and probably should not attempt to do so too often in competitions. (though they should probably try this too often in training)


4) It is acceptable, and often desirable for the deputy speaker to deliver an argument which differs substantially from the first speaker (really!)

In fact, early on in my debate career, I was taught that 2nd speakers should avoid delivering arguments which would lead to what is known as a “hung-case”. Basically a situation where the Deputy’s argument validity depends on the 1st Speaker’s being considered to be true. Today, it has become much more acceptable for the Deputy’s argument to be basically a vertical extension of the 1st Speaker’s material.

There are definitely situations where this may be an effective strategy. When the 1st Speaker, for whatever reason did not manage to fully impact the original argument, or the Deputy speaker may realize half-way through the debate a way to improve the original argument which the team had not realized during prep time. Sometimes the original argument which the team’s entire case hinges upon may have come under heavy fire and may be in need of reinforcement.

In BP debates, closing teams are expected to deliver a new and novel extension in order to contribute to the debate. Very often, I wish Deputy speaker both in BP and 3 on 3 formats would also place pressure upon themselves to brainstorm a number of different extensions to add to their team’s contribution to the debate. If extension speakers in the BP format have only 15 minutes and 1 teammate to come up with extensions, Deputy speakers in formats with 30 minutes to 1 hour of preparation time and 2 to 4 other teammates really should be able to come up with something.


5) The Deputy speaker has the greatest influence on the flow of the debate

In a 3 on 3 format, there are only 3 speakers, the LO (1O), DPM (2P) and DLO (2O) who have the dual opportunity to deliver both rebuttals and substantives. In the BP format, the deputies not only have to do those two things, they also have to consider a delicate mix between defending the First speaker’s argument as well as limiting the space for closing teams to extend by flooding the debate with new arguments. In a BP format, during the Deputy’s speech, the extension speakers can often be found slashing off arguments which have already been made while they scramble to figure out what new contributions they can deliver for the closing team.

Even in 3 on 3 formats, the Deputy speaker’s ability to deliver a transformative extension can provide their own Whip speaker additional room to maneuver, the ability to have a greater range of arguments to frame clashes around makes their life much easier. As mentioned earlier, Whip speakers are not allowed to deliver new material in a debate, but what they can do is to provide comparatives and additional analysis based on what their teammates have already delivered in terms of positive material. Consequently, all the new material introduced by the Deputy speaker provides additional ammunition to the Whip speaker.

Similarly, a powerful extension delivered by a Deputy speaker can catch opponents off-guard and put them in an extremely uncomfortable position. It is extremely difficult for the subsequent opponent to listen out for new extensions within the Deputy’s speech and produce sufficient responses on the spot within a short period of time.

This is especially the case for Government Whips (3P). Very often, the Government Whip should already have large parts of the Whip speech planned out half way through the DLO (2O) speech, and it will be very challenging to incorporate new responses to a novel extension into existing clashes that they have already prepared for. I will elaborate more on this strategy in the next article.


6) Time management is key, know your priorities

Out of all my eccentric mantras, this one is probably my favourite: “if I do not begin my substantive by the fourth minute mark, my team will lose.” It is something I force my students in the deputy position to recite, write and repeat 10-100 times every time they do not leave themselves to deliver a well-elaborated argument. As I have mentioned, the Deputy speaker is a position where they have the most work to do and where they also have a great degree of flexibility in terms of how they go about accomplishing those burdens.

Being succinct helps, it is probably one of the most important skills someone in that position needs to have because it is way too easy for the Deputy speaker to spend too much time on a particular rebuttal, clash or even example and as a result run out of time to execute all the different tasks needed to put the team in a good position for the rest of the debate. At the same time, difficult decisions often need to be made, sometimes it may be prudent to spend a great amount of time responding to an argument or even a key piece of characterization that is vital to their opponent’s case, other times it may be sensible to cut back on responses and focus on a transformative extension which can breathe new life into their team’s case.

What a Deputy speaker needs to accomplish changes from one debate to the next, and it is the position that is the most fluid and difficult to define. Having experience helps to navigate different situations they are put in, being able to remain flexible enough to change your strategy on the go depending on the flow of the debate can mean the difference between overwhelming victory and crushing defeat. Avoiding tunnel vision is particularly important, because the changing circumstances within a debate can mean that the best plans may need to be tweaked or even overhauled. Sometimes, the Deputy speaker may need to tear up the prepared material and frantically rewrite their speech on the go, being able to know when to do so requires a fair amount of guts and levelheadedness.

The ability to consider what your team needs from you in Deputy isn’t something that can be easily taught, practice in adjudication can help debaters with less experience to take a more objective bird’s eye view of debates.

The deputy position is a complex one, and as usual I have overshot my word limit. In my next article, I will explain how having a robust 2nd speaker substantive can put intense pressure on your opponents and massively boost your chances of winning!



Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championships 2019 Round 1

Conversations On Adjudication