crossfire (2)

This article was written by our amazing intern Cindy Zhang, one of the best high school debaters in China soon to be studying at Georgetown University. 

Crossfire is one of the most confusing part of Public Forum Debate.

During crossfire, speakers from Team A–which gives the first speech–get to ask the first question. There are three crossfires in a debate: one between the first and the second speaker, second between the third and the fourth speaker and finally between all debaters. Different from other parts of Public Forum Debate, Crossfire has few rules, allowing debaters to question their opponents freely. Despite this freedom, there is a clear line between effective and ineffective crossfire.

let’s look at a few useless kinds of questions.

  1. Expecting your opponents to admit their case is wrong. Your opponents are a mirror image of you, trying to win the debate by proving their side is right. They won’t break down and declare their side to be wrong, and probably won’t admit their arguments are wrong either.

  2. Repeating your arguments. The judges have already heard and flowed everything. It is even worse if you combine mistake one and two by reading a contention and asking your opponents if they agree or not. Keep in mind: crossfire is about getting information from your opponents!

  3. Asking long or vague questions. Long questions, where you spend 30 seconds talking, will annoy your opponents and confuse your judge. Vague questions, such as “Can you clarify your third contention?” lead to unwanted long answers.

Well then. How can we efficiently obtain information during crossfire?

  1. Question the assumptions of an argument, and the unsolidified logic that would fall apart as those assumptions collapse.
    Your opponents’ assumptions may be false, and some crossfire questions can test them.
    One simple example from the debate book Speak Up!: When your opponent states that chocolate ice cream is the best food because it makes people happy, there are multiple underlying assumptions:
    People all like chocolate.
    People all like ice cream
    People always like iced food, no matter the conditions
    People can all eat dairy products, and they can all eat animal products (think of lactose intolerance and vegetarians.)
    Are these assumptions all true? Obviously not. Similarly, when facing an argument about a debate topic, you can start with the assumed statements that lie beneath.

  1. Question the evidence
    Talking about questioning evidence, you may only think of verifying the source. Of course, reports from New York Timesand National Inquirer are definitely not on the same level of credibility. However, source is only one aspect of evidences. You can also start from these following points.

    1. Question the methodology. Here’s another example from Speak Up!
      According to CBS, a poll conducted by phone shows that 65% of Americans support US intervention into Iraq to combat ISIS. However, phone users are mostly young and middle-aged. The result doesn’t represent what American people generally think.

    2. Question the significance
      Let’s take our poll question earlier. Even if 65% of American people believes intervening into Iraq to combat ISIS is justified, so what? Should we listen to the majority of people if they are wrong?

Other than the two points above, we can also compare both sides’ evidences, use your own evidence to attack their arguments, or question their understanding of the source.

  1. Use a metaphor. 
    “Military actions aimed at overthrowing an authoritarian government is like a doctor taking removing a patient’s throat to treat a cough.”

Those are the things you need to know about crossfire. Remember, crossfire is not another speech and it’s not the time for a screaming battle. Asking questions, gathering information, and turning them into arguments favoring your side–these are what crossfire is all about.

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Crossfire in Public Forum Debate

Crossfire is one of the most interesting and difficult elements of Public Forum Debating. Crossfires happen after every two speeches and consist of speakers asking the other side questions and and answering questions from the other side.

Questions can be about anything related to the debate and can be asked in any order, the only rule is that the speaker who spoke first gets to ask the first question.

Uses of crossfire

Crossfire is different from other parts of the debate, like the constructive and rebuttal speeches, because the role that crossfire should play in your argument is not strictly defined. You have a huge amount of freedom in what you use crossfire for.

Clarification - You can use crossfire to get more details of an opponent's argument so that you can attack them more effectively. Such as asking what they meant by a certain point, what evidence they have for a certain claim, etc.

Exposing problems with the opponent’s case. You can also use crossfire questions to point out contradictions, gaps in argument and other problems in your opponent's case. E.g. “You said that poverty went down, but you haven’t proven that globalization caused it.”

Bad questions are anything that can be summarised as “Don’t you agree that I’m right and you’re wrong” or are just repeating part of your speech. The judge already knows what side you are on and what you said in your speech.

For example we often hear people say something like “You said that Globalization is bad for the poor, but in my constructive speech we showed that it has been good for the poor. How do you respond to that?” There’s no possible benefit to that question. The opposing team will not say you are right about everything and concede the debate. Instead the most likely response is that they will reiterate what they said in their speech, and you have gained nothing.

The best questions are about very specific arguments in the debate and force your opponent to defend themselves in the moment, rather than relying on prepared materials.  Similarly the best responses are those that organically respond to the details of questions in the moment, and demonstrate your wider understanding of the topic, and ability to think on your feet.

It can be useful to prepare in advance for obvious questions your opponent will ask, but don’t let it look like you’ve carefully rehearsed the answers. It is also useful to plan with your partner what questions to ask, rather than ask whatever pops to mind in the moment, so that you ask the best question for your case.



While there are not strict rules in crossfire, other than that Team A gets to ask the first question, that doesn’t mean that rude behaviour is acceptable. We expect you all to maintain a suitable level of politeness and professionalism at all times during a tournament, including during crossfire. While it is understandable that people get passionate or excited, yelling louder does not make your arguments more persuasive, and not allowing your opponent to talk is more of a sign of weakness than strength, as it indicates you are unwilling to engage and defend yourself. 

 During crossfire it is customary, but not required, for teams to take turns asking each other questions. If Team B fails to ask questions or assert their right to ask questions, then Team A may continue to ask questions until they have no further questions to ask. We do tend to reward students for being assertive during crossfire and for using the time to ask deep, probing questions. Obviously students shouldn't be rude or unpleasant to the other side, and the judge will punish that, but it is up to speakers to assert themselves in crossfire, for example by saying "you've had your turn now we will ask you a question."

Teams may interrupt each other during crossfire. However, if one team feels that their opponents refuse to allow them to answer any questions, then they should be sure to note that during their speeches and use that against their opponent. (E.g. "What I would have said in my crossfire, if my opponents allowed me to finish, is...)  Judges will generally take points away from debaters who interrupt their opponents excessively.

Competitors should aim to ask as many questions as they can, but when their opponents ask to ask their own question they should allow them to do so. Judges may penalise teams who are excessively aggressive.

Judges will also reward students who, after asking questions, ask if their opponents have questions. This displays good sportsmanship and displays your confidence in your case by being willing to answer questions.  And if they don't have questions, you have more reasons to ask questions of your own.

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