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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.

 

Behaviour

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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The Association for Global Debate (AGD) is a team of passionate debaters, organizers, teachers, judges, and parents who support the growth of debating across different countries and regions. As a support network, AGD strives to connect high school debating events, leagues, and societies to resources and experts, both local and foreign. We provide free resources for tournament and debate team organizers who need academic, organizational, or financial assistance.