Cross Examination: Two Patterns to Avoid

Cross-examination is difficult, and there's very little formal theory on how to do it. Most competitors just stand up and start asking the witness questions, hoping that eventually, they'll build up enough momentum for the witness to concede something important.
Examiners raise their voice, they place a box around the witness, they lean into confrontation. And they feel like a powerful lawyer set to crack the case in front of an entire jury.

This leads cross-examiners to follow two major patterns: Reiteration questions and confession questions.

Reiteration Questions

Reiteration-based questions ask the witness to reexplain content. 


   "How is your plan is going to decrease automobile crashes?"
   "Could you explain your application about the Cold War?"

Of course, the witness is willing to oblige. This question is an open invitation for some bonus speech time. And since the examiner is only asking questions, there's no way they can deal with the answer. Reiteration questions make the opponent invincible. 

It's like examiners are walking into a boxing ring wearing a straight-jacket. There's no way they can win, and no way the witness can lose.

Confession Questions

The second pattern is of confession-based questions. These kinds of questions ask the witness to concede something, usually so that the examiner can set up an argument in the next speech. In many cases, they're used right after a reiteration question.

   "Could you explain your first application?"
   "Well, as I pointed out in the Six Day War, Israel was able to defend their nation from the threat of Egypt by engaging preempt-
   "Would you agree that the Six Day War is a rare example?"
   "Well no-- I"
   "But isn't it true that voting affirmative would've killed thousands had we used it against Russia in the Cold War?"

Set Realistic Expectations

There's only one way that this question is productive: and that's if the witness immediately gets down on his knees and admits defeat.

"You know, I didn't think about it that way. Huh. I guess voting negative was the only way we could protect the western hemisphere from nuclear holocaust."

Witnesses are not in the business of openly-conceding the entire round. They can evade the question, change the subject, and burn through your time: but they'll never explicitly give up an argument in cross-ex. So don't ask them to.

Be a forward-thinker: if your question isn't going to get you the answer you want, then don't even ask it in the first place.

Later on, we'll walk through the solutions.