Cross-examination is the only direct interaction between debaters in a round, and as such can sometimes become heated. Cross-X can be the most interesting and thought-provoking time of the round, or the most stressful. Whether you are the one answering questions or asking them, these tips will help you stand firm when encountering a steamroller. What exactly is a steamroller? Greg Koukl in his book: Tactics identifies a steamroller as someone who uses the sheer force of their personality instead of logic or persuasion to make their point. These are the debaters who get caught up in the moment and forget that they are there to persuade the judge, and not the other debater. A steamroller can be hard to address because our natural human reaction when encountering someone forceful and/or hostile is to rise to the same level. Warning: DON'T DO IT! Instead, recognize that it is natural and normal to become passionate when we are trying to convince someone of our position. Debate brings out the inner competitive person in all of us, and each of us has our own unique weaknesses.
1) Take a deep breath and listen.
Imagine this scenario: your opponent has walked up to the podium to cross-examine your case. They start off asking a question about your value (or mandate for you TPers out there), but instead of letting you answer, they immediately jump to their next question... and then the next... not letting you get a word in edgewise. What would your initial response be in this situation? Annoyance? Frustration? Defeat? Any one of these reactions is understandable, and expected; however, they are not productive. In a stressful situation like the one mentioned above, it is easy to rise to the occasion and respond in an unkind or unprofessional manner. Instead, take a deep breath and listen. Figure out which issues they consider the most important, or which questions could be the most detrimental to your case. When they finally give you a moment to respond, follow those lines of questioning. You will be surprised at how genuinely listening to the other debater does to diffuses the tension.
2) Don't attempt to talk over them.
We've all seen conversations when two individuals who are equally convinced of the rightness of their position try to "out-talk" the other. It never leads to a deeper understanding of an idea, and indeed fails to convince the other person (or audience) to adopt your position. Keep in mind that you are not there to convince the other debater of anything. You are there to persuade your judge! I have found that judges often pay more attention to the professionalism of your manner and the graciousness that you extend to other debaters than to whoever got the last word in. Many debaters think that allowing their opponent to talk over them takes away their credibility, making their position seem weak or unsure. I would argue that attempting to talk over your opponent does even more damage to your credibility. So what should your response be? A few practical tips that I've found helpful in my debate career are:
a) Maintain eye contact with the judge. The judge can see what your opponent is doing, trust me. Stand up straight and keep looking at your judge. This shows that you are confident and sure of yourself whether or not you get a single word in.
b) SMILE! Smiling communicates friendliness and goodwill and adds to your credibility as a speaker. Make sure that your smile is genuine and not snarky. Unsure if it is? Ask one of your club mates, parents, coaches, little siblings to watch the round and give you feedback on your nonverbal communication after. Better yet, film and analyze a round in club, paying attention to your tone, sincerity, and overall bearing.
c) Take a step back. If you have tried to answer a few questions already and your opponent continues to interrupt you, take a step back from the podium while keeping eye contact with your judge. This sends the signal that "Hey, I am here to answer questions if you want me to, but until then, the judge and I are going to sit back and let you talk". It is a gracious way of communicating that your opponent is not extending courtesy to you or the judge. The judge wants to hear the answers to all of you opponent's tough questions. By interrupting, your opponent is robbing them of that.
3) Explicitly ask for a chance to answer.
I cannot emphasize enough the manner that this must be done in. Saying things like "Well, if you would just let me respond..." or "Apparently, you don't actually want the answer or you wouldn't interrupt" is equally unprofessional and rude. However, when your opponent finally runs out of questions or acknowledges your silence, politely and graciously offer something along the lines of: "I would love to answer that! The answer might take a few seconds though. Are you okay with that?". Or "I realize we have a limited amount of time here; which question would you most like me to answer?". If you opponent interrupts again, refer to step 2. Remember your objectives are to express an air of professionalism and goodwill. You will have an opportunity in your next speech to answer their objections and questions if need be.
Finally, remember why you're competing in debate in the first place. The goal is to become a Christ-like, effective, and persuasive speaker. I encourage you to print out the STOA debate rules and highlight the Statement of Purpose. The stated purpose of each debate event ends with: "That endeavor can only be accomplished in an environment of honorable competition that cultivates maturity, wisdom, grace, poise, and brings glory to our Lord Jesus Christ." Keep Christ as your focus, and recognize that each of us has our failings. Yes, debate can magnify them, however, recognizing and responding to them in love and humility is showing what the love of God looks like. And who knows, you might become good friends with that debater after the round because you kept your cool.
Koukl, Gregory. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.