The Art of Questioning (Hollywood Edition)

Published on Jan 12, 2019

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The Art of Questioning (Hollywood Edition)

NYC Urban Debate League -

Why ask Why?

  • Questioning is key to debate, but the most underestimated and/or fearful
  • debaters prepare speeches, but they do not prepare questions
  • learn from Law School, Mock Trial, Moot Court - it's all about the questioning and less about speeches.
  • Questioning can make or break you

The Paper Chase

  • Socratic Method
  • "Why?"
  • Probing
  • Dig deeper, deeper, and deeper to expose faults in the argument.
  • American legal education based on

Questioning Exercise

  • 1-2 minutes to think of topic. "Resolved: ___"
  • Example: "Resolved: The Death Penalty should be abolished."
  • Pair Up into groups of 2 people each. Each selects a topic "Resolved: ____"
  • Each Person "Cross Examines" the other. 2 minutes each.
  • Example! Sample Resolution?

Different Formats

  • Points of Information (POI) = Parliamentary Debate
  • Crossfire = Public Forum Debate
  • Cross Examination = Policy Debate, Mock Trial, Moot Court

Tactics of the Questioner

  • Stay Cool! Do not become hostile.
  • Use all your time to save prep time!
  • Closed-Ended Questions (Yes/No Questions; Leading Questions) v Open-Ended Questions
  • Stay in Control.
  • Pit of Doom, Reverse Pit of Doom

Leading Questions

  • Yes or No questions
  • Close Ended Questioning (Yes/No)
  • Open Ended Questioning (Fishing for something to hook them in)
  • Controlling the witness
  • Repeat your question if not answered

Tactics of the Questioner

  • Clarification, Question Evidence
  • Pit of Doom: push them closer and closer to the "pit of doom" until they admit they are wrong and you were right all along.
  • Caution - sometimes do not give the final push and save that for your speech so you do not risk a response during C-X

Setting up the Respondent

  • "leading them down the garden path"
  • "leading them to the pit of doom"
  • Starting slow, agreeable, humble, let them bring their guard down

Pit of Doom Example

  • Q: Where's the ev companies would build any windmills given this incentive? A: Our Smith card ev says this Q: Your card calls on the gov't to provide incentives, but it never says it works. A: No, the Smith card says it works Q: Please point to the line in the card that says the incentive would lead to more windmills on native lands

The Art of the "Set Up" for Pit of Doom

  • Plan your question
  • Plan out your next question based on their response:
  • "If they say A" I will ask them ____
  • "If they say B" I will then ask them ______

Reverse Pit of Doom

  • You show the team the pit of doom
  • So then they back away from the pit of doom
  • Until they fall into the real pit of doom that you are setting them up for

Reverse Pit of Doom Example (Law & Order)

  • Goren: Don't you care about the victim?
  • Perp: Of course I do, she's my sister!
  • Goren: She was there dying because she was losing so much blood, the doctors asked if anyone had B negative blood
  • Perp: I don't have B negative, I have A posititve blood.
  • Goren: And did not the killer had A positive blood....

Tactics of the Respondent

  • Do not become hostile, even if they are
  • Take advantage of open ended questions
  • Take your time before & during answer
  • Ask them to clarify the question if needed
  • Never give up! Just Just say your partner will answer that in next speech. Stay confident!
  • Teamwork!

Tactics of the Respondent II

  • Don’t have to answer Yes/No questions - you can explain
  • You don’t answer! “I don’t have an answer right now but my partner will address that.”
  • If they are not asking a question - don’t let them give a speech - ask them “What is your question?”

Does it Count?

  • Yes!
  • Do not forget to use any points/issues/arguments during your speech!
  • Some judges will not count any points made in questioning unless made in speech

Be Specific

  • Close ended questioning
  • Short and sweet
  • Make sure they answer the question
  • You can interrupt (politely). "Thank you... my question is actually simpler....."
  • Set up - "Leading them down the garden path" or "pit of doom"

Be Cool

  • Don't lose your cool
  • Lose your cool = you look foolish
  • More effective - brings their guard down.
  • Healthier - body control, breathing, patience, listening
  • Don't show it! Get an anger translator!

Be Modest

  • Arrogance will only make the audience turn against you & your opponent raise defenses
  • Modesty or even feigning weakness can lure their defenses....

Questioning the Questioner

  • Sometimes you may not want or cannot answer a question
  • You can say "I don't know" (just be honest!), you can say my partner will address, you can evade the question
  • Never blindly follow the questioner. Ask questions if needed.

Questioning the Questioner by Madea

The Art of Deflection

  • Deflection/Diversion - bring up another topic.
  • Practical in Conflict Resolution, someone very aggressive, heated debate. Divert to another issue. Disorient with another issue.

The Chewbacca Defense (SouthPark)

When you don't know the answer

  • More time. Ask to repeat the question and/or clarify the question
  • Be honest and that you don't know.
  • "My partner will address that in the next speech."
  • But don't BS... Billy Madison Clip

Jedi Mind Tricks

  • Inserting a premise in your question
  • Being calm, cool, nice to bring their guard down
  • Being agreeable to bring their guard down, smile, nod head
  • Save the point for your speech

Changing the Question!

  • Don't keep on asking the same question if you are not getting the response you want.
  • Sometimes need to change the question. Ask it differently.

Viral Video Example

  • one of the most historical debate case studies ever
  • This debate had X3 as many people watched as the Presidential Debates with over 7 million views....

Questioning Funnel

  • Baseline Q - establishing their arguments
  • Open Ended Q - discovering their ideas
  • Probing Q - detecting weaknesses
  • Close Ended Q - making your points

Probing (Why questions)

  • Always ask why
  • Dig deeper, deeper, deeper until they can't
  • Don't be annoying. Don't be a broken record. Other ways to ask "Why?"
  • Probing - your testing them. If answers are strong, then move on to another probe.

Untitled Slide

Kahoot Activity

  • Questioning Quiz

Last Activity

  • Questioning Quiz

Bonus (if you have time)

What not to do - Make things Up!

  • Kay & Peele Sketch


  • One at a time
  • One at a time
  • If you are going to interrupt, be polite, be respectful
  • Kay & Peele "One at a Time" paradoy of Les Miserable (explicit language warning)