Updated: Mar 24, 2019
If I were to say that good researching and speaking skills are vital in debate, I dare say many debaters would agree. But if I were to talk about good flowing skills in the same sense, I might just get a lot of "eh"s.
But, that shouldn’t be the case. Flowing is just as essential to winning your debates as researching or speaking. If you don’t flow, you’ll be losing debates you otherwise could’ve easily won; and if you do, you’ll be clearheaded in even the most complicated rounds. The problem? Many debaters just can’t get a grip on how to flow right, and so decide to drop it. Of course, flowing isn’t exactly something that comes natural to most of us. It takes much practice to become a a debater who is excels at flowing. Apart from that though, there are some tips on how to become a better "flower"(weird word but you know what I mean), and I’m going to share 10 of them with you in this blog post. Hopefully, you’ll find some good ideas, and those will help you find your niche in flowing.
TIP 1: Flow vertically
Usually, we write horizontally. Just take this blog article as an example. But when we flow, we should write vertically. This gives us an easier way to keep track of arguments as they develop during the debate, and we can structure out our rebuttals, summaries, final focuses, and even questions as according to arguments we are refuting or building up.
TIP 2: Find which works better — a computer or paper
As debaters start to use computers more, two kinds of "flowers" emerge. People who flow on their computers and those who flow on paper. Now, although the lovely author of this cute little blog prefers to flow on paper, she does see benefits and harms of flowing on either one. I’m compiling a table on those benefits and harms, so stay tuned for updates, but in the end, it really is a matter of personal preference, and you just need to know which works best for you.
TIP 3: Try different colors.
This is one of the most cliché ones, but as basic as it is, it works well for many debaters. It helps clear up your flow even more, and although it can be a bit of a hassle to switch pens or as you write, or set colors as you type, advocates of multiple colors are fixed on its benefits. On another note, you could even try highlighters for highlighting important parts of your flow.
TIP 4: Make enough room.
This is very important. You never want a cramped up flow sheet, so make sure that your responses are never too close to each other. A good 3~4 centimeters or 1 and 1/2 inches(for me it’s 3 fingers’ widths) should do the job. And for a response to a more important argument, a bit more space couldn’t hurt. This makes sure that you have enough room to write down multiple responses from your opponents. And if your little "no link" response unleashes 20 links from your opponents, at least you’ll have space to get them all down.
TIP 5: Write as much as you can down.
Get into the habit of constantly writing, especially for evidence cards. If you can already get down the tags, try and note the author and the date too. And when it comes to the actual evidence, get as much of it down as possible. Gathering more info means understanding your opponent’s point better and not forgetting things later on.
At the same time, if you meet a debater who can’t enunciate well, don’t let that stop you from flowing. Just write down as much as you can, and ask for simple clarifications later.
TIP 6: Develop your own abbreviations and signposts.
This is also quite an important tip, but tbh there isn’t much to say here. Just find abbreviations that work for you, settle them with your partner, and use them. Be careful of unclear abbreviations though. For example, if you were to use ® for refugees and restrictions, things can get messy. As for signposts, use the one that feels the best for you. Bullet points, dashes, numbers, arrows etc.
TIP 7: Use prep time to clean up your flow.
This is a pretty awesome trick I learned from someone else. It doesn’t mean actually using your prep time. There are many times in a debate where you might just be sitting there with nothing to do. Use those seconds to clean up your flow. Underline major headings. Add signposts. Put boxes around points you know you’ll want to emphasize later. Draw connecting lines where they were missing before. Use that time!
TIP 8: Don’t talk to your partner while your opponent is talking.
This isn’t just a matter of manners, it also is a matter of how to flow well. As you talk, you aren’t going to be listening or flowing the other team anymore. So, if you want to tell your partner something during a speech, instead of turning to them, mark out the argument in your flow and communicate your ideas during prep time.
TIP 9: A tip for leftys.
Try flowing right to left.
If you’re a lefty, like me, you might meet a problem when flowing from left to right. As you flow, your arm can obscure the arguments that you’re writing responses for, and may smear some preceding columns. So, a good idea could be to flow from right to left. It isn’t a major change, and you’ll be able to avoid some problems.
TIP 10: PRACTICE!
The most cliché, but truly the most useful of all existing tips. Better flowing needs you to practice. Being familiar with the process, improving your listening and concentration skills, gathering up speed, and even just building up your hand muscles. After all, practice makes perfect.