Parli Prep and Mob Psychology

You’ve seen it.

They bring the teams up to announce the topic. A tournament official announces the resolution into a microphone; both teams madly dash to a room to prepare for their debate round. Following them is a swarm of their well-meaning friends off to help them with prep.

The partners try to begin discussing values, applications, and definitions, and predictions for the other team’s strategy. Their friends jump in saying things like:

“Guys. You need to hear this!”
“This reminds me of an old case I ran a couple years ago.”
“They’re definitely going to run this argument, here’s how you respond!”

Take this scene to an out-round, and everything multiplies. The debaters are overwhelmed, and making good use of prep is nearly impossible.

Too Many Cooks

In parli, the biggest challenge for most teams is understanding the resolution at such a depth to be able to communicate it clearly to their audience. And while plenty of people in the prep room have good ideas, that isn’t enough to win you rounds. The only ideas that matter are the ones that you and your partner can explain to the judge.

Every second counts. If you’re spending your time trying to listen to everyone in your prep room and all their great ideas, you aren’t spending time doing your own research, your own thinking, and your own strategizing.

In formats like these, the loudest voice often wins out. Here’s how you manage that.

Keep Your Core

Find a core group of people that you trust and consistently prep with them. You could find a team you work well with and prep together. Throwing other people on the team sometimes feels like a bonus, but it’s not. The more familiar your core is, the better you’ll prep.

If you find it easier to prep without other debaters, try working with 1 or 2 parents, coaches, or alumni. This is ideal because it allows you to work with people who don’t have to worry about building their own arguments and are just there to help you.

The important factor in your core is that it needs to be people you trust and understand. Gathering large groups of people with different ideas about theory and strategy is going to disorganize you.

The Filter

In outrounds, it can often be beneficial to have a group of people willing to do research for you and think through arguments. How can we utilize extra brainpower without falling into the mob mentality?

Use a filter. A filter is a debater whose understanding of theory and strategy is on your wavelength, and listens to other people’s ideas, deciding whether or not to bring it to your attention. In finals rounds, my partner and I would typically have about 5-6 friends researching different applications and argument responses in our room, but they’d never talk to us. They’d talk to our filter.

The important thing to clear with your prep group beforehand is that your research team isn’t there to create unique strategies, their job is to help with what you tell them to. Make sure it’s a group that you trust with a responsible filter you trust even more.

One Minute of Silence

With the limited time available to you, it’s hard to settle on the best possible idea in parli prep. Often, teams just go to the first thing they come up with and stick with that argument for the entire debate round. Sticking with a bad argument because you thought of it first is always dangerous.

That’s why after the resolution was announced, no one in our prep group said a word for one whole minute. During that minute, we all thought through the resolution, our first impulses, and what it was really asking.

After that minute, everyone is ready to roll. Rather than being a scatterbrained storm, you’ll as focused and electrified as a lightning bolt, prepared to efficiently take the round by storm.

Talk through these three strategies with your partner beforehand. You need to have a prep plan before you debate so you aren’t caught off-guard.

What are your prep strategies? Let us know in the comments!