Here are ten great tips to improve your ability to win crossfires in debate. You can read through them one by one if you like, or come back and reference them when evaluating your or your teammate’s crossfire performance.
If you can do all ten of these successfully, your perceptual dominance will skyrocket, and you will work your way toward becoming cross legend.
1. Prepare (at least) three strong questions
You never want to enter a crossfire without questions prepared. As you’re flowing your opponent’s speech, feel free to circle or star any parts that seem fishy or that you think you can attack. If you can prepare relevant questions before the tournament that’s fantastic; otherwise jot them down as you flow or during prep time.
2. Be kind
The easiest way to lose a round is to be mean to your opponents in cross. You should be confident and firm, but never disrespectful or demeaning. This kindness will make the judge like you and want you to succeed, pushing them to look for ways to vote for you in a close round.
3. Sound confident
Even if you aren’t feeling confident, sound confident! Fake it ‘til you make it, as they say. If your opponent asks a question you don’t know the precise answer to that’s okay – confidently say something related to their question and move on, saying “now I’d like to ask you a question” and move into a new topic.
4. Speak slowly
The person speaking slower in crossfire tends to come off as more perceptually dominant. If you find yourself racing to give answers, slow your speech and give yourself time to think.
5. Read the judge’s body language
If the judge doesn’t look like they are buying your answer, no need to push it – complete your explanation and move on. It is important to remember that the argument you think is best may differ from the argument your judge thinks is best, but in the end it is the judge’s opinion is the one that matters, not yours.
6. Understand strategic muddling
You want to give clear answers wherever you can, but you see you are losing an argument, confusion is not the worst thing. More importantly, you must understand when your opponent is strategically muddling and trying to make your argument more confusing than it is. In this case, don’t leave the subject too quick – your opponent knows their back is up against the wall and you should force them to clarify and defend their position instead of letting them move on to a new subject.
7. Smile and make it look like you are having fun
Whenever you can, smile! Make the judge like you, enjoy your presence, and want to vote for you. If you can incorporate some jokes and demonstrate you are having fun, the judge is all the more likely to want you to succeed.
8. Use first names to interrupt
This is an alarmingly effective strategy. Even if you’ve never met your opponents, you can figure out their names online or even just ask before the round. Instead of launching into your argument, interrupt by using their name – “Bob let me just get a word in here…” They will be thrown off, giving you the opening you need to grab the judge’s attention and steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
9. Control the flow of the crossfire
By controlling the flow, we mean that most of the time you should be the one deciding when to change the topic, not your opponent. This both allows you to veer away from affording excess time to the points you are losing, and lets you seem perceptually dominant. You should be the one deciding not only when
10. Know how to move on
The wording you use when controlling the flow and moving between topics is very important. If it is your turn to ask a question, ask “Can I ask a question now,” or even more forcefully, say “I’d like to ask a question now” and jump right into it.
If you’d like to move on to a new subject but you asked the last question, simply say “I think we’re going in circles now – would you like a question?” They usually won’t turn you down.