CNDF Basics 8 - How do POI questions work in a debate?
By Rena Su
Welcome to the last installment of our CNDF basics series. Today we’re doing a deep dive into a seemingly small part of debate — the POI. Questions we will cover include: What is a POI? How do I use POIs? When do I use POIs? How do I answer POIs?
What is a POI in debate?
In CNDF debate, POI stands for Point of Information. It is a question or a statement from a member of the side opposing the current speaker. There are no regulations as to which team member can ask a POI. To ask a POI, the debater stands, until the speaking person either rejects them (ex. By using a hand wave or saying ‘not now’) or accepts them (ex. By saying something like ‘I’ll take you now’ or ‘yes?’). Usually, the POI lasts anywhere from 10 to about 20 seconds even though there is no official time limit. However, you cannot ask a POI during the first and last minute of the speech which is known as protected time.
How do I use POIs? When do I use POIs?
Have you ever had moments where another person says something and you think to yourself, that was probably one of the most stupid things I’ve heard today? Or even just times when you wanted to raise a concern? At its very essence, the POI is essentially the debate version of a response to these.
Unlike other debate formats in which you have the opportunity to interrupt and talk over someone (such as cross-examination or public forum), that isn’t an option in CNDF. There is little direct and instantaneous argument in CNDF as the vast majority of it is carried out during allocated speaking times. Therefore, the POI is one of the rare opportunities to directly engage.
The use of POIs are rather intuitive, as it is simply asking questions or raising concerns regarding the other side. Additionally, it is one of the few ways to get round engagement higher or to show that you are consistently finding the flaws of the opponents. Because of this, it is often preferable to ask a bad or ineffective question than none at all.
POIs are not heavily factored into the round, unless you make a deal out of them. Instead of hearing a not-so-great answer from the opposition and letting it slide, have either you or your partner bring it up during your own speeches. Tell the judge that the other side has conceded or contradicted themselves should it happen.
How do I answer POIs?
Rule of Thumb: Whenever someone asks you a yes or no question, never answer with either yes or no.
More often than not, your opponent will try to trap you into non-ideal situations where you concede to a flaw or a contradiction in your argument. Because of this, you want to try your very best to explain your arguments with confidence. With any simple yes or no answer, the opponent can manipulate your answer any given way. It also shows judges that you may be unprepared to give a direct answer. Let’s look at an example.
Say that you’re debating about whether to ban cars or not. You’re on side opposition — meaning that you don’t want to ban cars — and bring up an argument about how cars are efficient. One of your opponents stands up to ask a POI and you agree to answer. She asks, “Do you care about the environment?”
Case 1: You give a yes or no answer.
In the case you say ‘yes’: Your opponent, in her speech, can later say: ‘Even side opposition has conceded that they care about the environment. However, we’re clearly the only side benefiting the environment at all’.
In the case you say ‘no’: Your opponent can also capitalize on this with something to the effect of ‘Side opposition simply does not care about the environment, which is the only reason they’re saying that cars are good at all. Judge, let’s look at why you should consider the environment…’
Case 2: You give a yes or no answer with elaboration.
You can prevent the previous responses by your opponents or at least mitigate them. For example, if you decided to say something to the effect of ‘Yes, we do care about the environment. However, cars aren’t inherently bad. Companies like Tesla are already taking steps forward to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels’, you are making your position more clear. Not only that, you have introduced the idea that cars do not need to be environmentally harmful which can help you in future refutation.
Case 3: You give only elaboration.
In this case, you can do something very similar to the above response but you also take more power away from the other side. As they cannot interrupt you right after your response, the opponents cannot oppose your answer until later.
You can always question the relevance of the POI. In this case, it can look something like:
The environment is a very broad concept. We don’t see the environment as a whole to be part of this debate about cars.
At its best, even banning cars is not going to solve the vast majority of environmental issues.
Instead of playing a defensive role, you can also play an offensive one:
Side proposition doesn’t seem to understand that banning cars means throwing them all out of commission. This is a massive amount of waste and we’ll show you that the environment is even worse on their side.
Generally, this does not only apply to yes or no questions, but instead the fundamentals of the POI as well. Ultimately, you want to stand your ground even if the other side seems to make sense. It can seem intimidating at first, but practice can strengthen POIs.
In conclusion, hold your ground when both asking and answering POIs whenever possible. Even when it is unclear what you should do or if you make a mistake, it is often best to plow through calmly and with confidence. POIs are ultimately a rather tiny portion of a CNDF debate, so don’t stress over imperfection!
And that’s it for the CNDF basics series. Thank you all so much for sticking with us so far. This series was only made possible by the countless coaches, mentors, and fellow debaters that went above and beyond to help out. Next up, we’re taking a deep dive on even more debate concepts both in CNDF and for other formats, along with looking towards making videos, advice blogs, and even more support projects. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make EP a reality! As always, send us a DM @equalproposition on Instagram or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org whenever you’d like to contact us.
Rena Su is a co-founder of Equal Proposition.