CNDF Basics 1 - Debrief into CNDF
Updated: Oct 17, 2020
By Rena Su Note: Much of the beginning is intended for someone without any prior debate experience. However, the later analysis of the speeches may be of help to someone at up to an intermediate level. (Skip until ‘So what does this all mean?’ if that’s you!) Welcome to the first post in our CNDF basics series. Before we begin anything else, let’s talk about the format itself and what it has to offer. There are already a couple of guides online that give general information about the format — such as speaking times and a general introduction of what each speech looks like. (These guides can be found here and here, though the speaking times for the second resource is outdated.) However, what these guides don’t tell you is how to approach each speech and why they were designed to be part of the debate in the first place. Nevertheless, both of these are extremely important so we will cover it in this guide. First, a bit about debate formats If you’re a little familiar with debate, you’ve likely heard of terms like CNDF, Public Forum, Worlds, etc. thrown around by debaters at times. Even though the essence of debate is always to defend your side and critique the opposition, much of the time it is done in different formats based on various factors such as the tournament, your grade, and your circuit. Each format has its own unique speaking times, features, advantages, and disadvantages. Much of what you learn in debate, however, can be cross-applied across the formats with some tweaking. What is CNDF? CNDF stands for Canadian National Debate Format. It is used almost exclusively in the Canadian circuit and is the format for the majority of junior (typically meaning gr. 10 and under) tournaments. There are two teams within each round, and each team has two members. Each team member has a speaker role — either first or second speaker — that determines the order in which they speak and the content they bring into the round. Speaker roles can change between rounds in a tournament but they must remain the same within one round. In each round, each team is randomly assigned a side and must argue for or against the motion of the round. This means that you will most likely have to think of reasons for both why to propose or oppose the topic. First speakers will bring constructive material, meaning that they introduce reasons (called contentions) on why they propose or oppose the topic at hand. Second speakers refute what the other side has brought forth — critiquing anything from logic, feasibility, morality, etc. However, they may also present one of their own contentions. Finally, each first speaker does a final speech which is usually called either a summary or a reply speech. In that speech, the round is summarized in a biased way and the debater cites their reasons on why they should win. The timings for CNDF are as follows: 6 mins - 1st Proposition - Constructive 6 mins - 1st Opposition - Constructive 6 mins - 2nd Proposition - Rebuttal 6 mins - 2nd Opposition - Rebuttal 3 mins - Opposition Summary/Reply Speech (Done by 1st Opp) 3 mins - Proposition Summary/Reply Speech ( Done by 1st Prop) There also exists POIs (points of information) in which a person may stand during an opposing speech to ask a question or make a statement. There are usually 1-2 within each given speech. However, they are not allowed in summary speeches.
So what does this all mean? CNDF at its core is very straightforward. In terms of argumentation, it is similar to the very basic structure of an argument. Let’s take a very common argument (that has seemingly nothing to do with debate): a kid arguing with his mom about buying a dog. Maybe it will go something like this: Kid: Mom, I want to get this puppy. She’s so cute and I promise that I will spend less time on video games and learn about responsibility. Mom: You’re too young and the dog will just pee everywhere! Dogs are just so messy and loud. Kid: I’ll clean up after her whenever that happens… please? Dogs usually pee outside anyways. Mom: You don’t even do the dishes! I don’t think you’re gonna clean up just like that. Our house will smell terrible. Besides, I think I’ll teach you how to be responsible in a better way. Mom: I’d be the one paying for the dog if we get it. And I’d rather you play more games than make the house smell like dog pee. Kid: I’d be able to learn about responsibility in a better way than anything else. You can just force me to pick up after the dog if I don’t! Now, that was just a bare-bones CNDF debate. Sure, it isn’t the type of stuff you’d see in a tournament, but let’s get into it. Kid: Mom, I want to get this puppy. She’s so cute and I promise that I will spend less time on video games and learn about responsibility. Mom: You’re too young and the dog will just pee everywhere! Dogs are just so messy and loud. This part represents the constructive speeches. Here, the kid is the proposition’s first speaker. He first proposes what he wants to do (which is to get the puppy) and the benefits in doing so (i.e. spending less time on video games, better responsibility). These are exactly the things you’d want to do in a constructive speech. In terms of an argument, you have to first let the other side know your position and the basic reasons why you support the motion. The mom does something very similar. However, she begins by saying that the kid is “too young and the dog will just pee everywhere!” Before she even begins, she raises concerns towards the benefits that the kid proposes. This is similar to CNDF in that the opposition first speaker often gives a basic rebuttal to the proposition before continuing to the rest of their speech. Kid: I’ll clean up after her whenever that happens… please? Dogs usually pee outside anyways. Mom: Dogs still have a lot of accidents! You don’t even do the dishes! I don’t think you’re gonna clean up just like that. Our house will smell terrible. Besides, I think I’ll teach you how to be responsible in a better way. Now, the above part reads like the rebuttal portion of a CNDF round. The kid begins by addressing the mother’s concerns and defending his own points — something called reconstruction in the debate world. After that, he refutes the mom’s point through bringing up a fact that contradicts her reasoning. This is a highly simplified way of bringing about the reconstruction and rebuttal of a second speaker’s speech. The mom’s role in this portion is very similar to the kid’s. However, she begins by addressing the child’s refutation with the reasoning that “dogs still have accidents.” This is the type of back and forth seen in rebuttal. Mom: I’d be the one paying for the dog if we get it. And I’d rather you play more games than make the house smell like dog pee. Kid: I’d be able to learn about responsibility in a better way than anything else. You can just force me to pick up after the dog if I don’t! Finally, this portion represents the summary/reply speech. Both parties essentially summarize what they’ve brought to the table during the argument. Even though this is a summary, neither concedes their weak points and instead focus almost exclusively on reasons why they should win. There you have it — a general outline of how the interactions of a CNDF round works. It is similar to a typical argument in that you bring your own perspective, fight back, and respond. These speeches all serve a purpose rather than for formality itself. How to approach CNDF? Of course, there is no one ultimate way for someone to approach CNDF, as every single debater has a different style and thought process. Nevertheless, there are always general pointers that help. When initially practicing, focus on bringing down the opposing argument and doing justice to your own rather than overthinking. It is easy to overthink about whether every single mechanism works or if you believe in your own arguments. Because debate isn’t always representative of your opinions, feel free to bring forth perspectives that you personally don’t agree with. When you say make a mistake, move on. When you don’t have anything to say, you should still aim to fill up the time you have by providing examples or elaborations of the things you’ve said. Even if that doesn’t work out, you can always summarize your points or bring forth a very lengthy conclusion. Approach CNDF, like any other debate format, through doing. It’s easy to understand a lot of the concepts, but just as easy to mess up in execution. By practicing — whether with friends or in front of yourself — it is easier to bring the debate to life. You can often be trapped within a lot of technicalities and content. However, it is often better to ignore some of the content in favour of practicing actual debate. And that’s it for the first part of the CNDF basics series. Soon we will be covering other topics such as writing arguments, flowing, summarizing, POIs and more! For any questions, send us a DM @equalproposition on Instagram or an email at email@example.com.
Rena Su is a co-founder of Equal Proposition.