The most important thing to know about the Final Focus (FF) is that this speech is the last time that you and your partner will have an opportunity to make a positive impression on the judge and convince him or her to vote for you. And you only have two minutes to do it
And in this very limited period of time you need to do a number of different things, all of which are complicated and require a lot of complex thought.
The content of the FF is not that different than the Summary speech. In the FF you need to explain how you are winning each of the major issues (often called voting issues), compare arguments (weigh arguments you are winning against arguments you are potentially losing), and do both of these without making new arguments.
Final Focus speeches should contain statements such as, “Even if you think they are winning X argument, we still win because…” The “because” is why your argument is more important than the other team’s argument.
As the name of the speech suggests, Final Focus speakers want to focus on the critical arguments in the debate and explain to the judge why your critical arguments defeat the other team’s critical arguments.
How do you know which arguments are “critical?”
One, “critical arguments” are any that remain after the Summary speeches and the first Final Focus speech (relevant if you are speaking second). It is very important that the Final Focus speaker address any major remaining argument.
Two, critical arguments are the one the Final Focus speaker wants the judge to vote on.
Since the debate will likely have become a little messy at this point and there will be arguments in different places, it is important to group the arguments by central theme. For example, address any arguments related to academic achievement, school safety, and costs in their respective places.
Order of the Final Focus
There is a bit of debate within the Public Forum community as to what the best order of the FF should be.
As noted, you will generally want to break up the FF in the following way —
- 30 seconds issue 1
- 30 seconds issue 2
- 30 seconds issue 3
Related to this, there are two diverging perspectives.
One, when should you weigh? Some debaters think you should start the FF bye weighing the arguments, as this will help guide the judge to listen to what arguments you think are critical and establish from the beginning of the debate why you think you are winning it.
Other debaters think you should weigh at the end so that the judge remembers why you think you are winning the debate. This can be especially important when the judge is not flowing.
Two, What order should you put the issues in? Again, there is debate.
Some debaters think you should put your offensive arguments first — your reasons that you think the judge should vote for you. If you are Pro, that might be school safety and/or academic achievement. Debaters who think the offensive arguments should be presented first think it both that it is critical that the judge should know why you are winning and that you should make sure you have time to cover all the responses to the arguments you want to win the debate on before extending other defensive answers.
Debaters who think you should put your defensive answers to your opponents’ arguments first think that it is best to end the speech on the arguments you think you should win the debate on. Again, this is good advice for lay judges.
There are a number of practical suggestions for doing a strong Final Focus.
One, watch the timer. You only have two minutes and there are no additional speeches to try to make up for undercovered arguments. You should set a time allocation for each major issue and weighing and stick to those time commitments.
When budgeting your time, some coaches suggest leaving an extra ten seconds so that you do not run out of time.
Two, provide clear references to judges as to which arguments you have are talking about. In many debates, similar arguments get debated on different parts of the flow sheet. At this point, the debate will be collapsing down to some key issues and you need to debate those.
Three, make strong eye contact with the judge. Eye contact is always important, but it is especially important in Final Focus, as many judges will have stopped flowing (assuming they were originally flowing) and they will want to have you look at them and convince them.
Four, while making eye contact, closely watch the judge to see what arguments he or she seems to be agreeing with. If you notice the judge agreeing with one of your arguments, emphasize why you should win the debate on it. If you see them agreeing with one of your opponents’ arguments, make sure you answer it well (assuming you have another speech).
Modern Day Public Forum
One big way that current Public Forum debate differs from Public Forum debate in the past is that the FF was really about focusing on one or two major arguments.
In the past there was not an expectation that debaters cover all of the arguments in the Summary (and first FF when speaking second). Today, however, especially when debating in front of an experienced judge, there is an expectation that debaters cover the flow– -to go line by line and refute all of the major arguments that remain in the debate.
If you started the debate with a framework contention and you want to win the debate using that contention, remember to extend that framework into the Final Focus and extend your other arguments through the lense of that contention — extend your academic achievement contention and argue that academic achievement is the most important value for the judge consider.
Debaters are not supposed to make new arguments in the Final Focus speeches for one obvious reasons — They could just save their best arguments for last and when a team speaks first, they don’t have a chance to respond.
So when judges are trained, they are told not to consider such arguments.
Appropriateness and advice aside, however, debaters often make new arguments in Final Focus. If they think they are losing the debate, they certainly have no incentive to hold them back, and many lay (less experienced) judges often vote on such arguments.
As a first Final Focus speaker there is not a lot you can do about such a situation, but other than to remind the judge that new arguments are not permitted and to try to think ahead about new arguments the second FF speaker may try to make.
New FF arguments are certainly difficult to figure out in advance, but one way they can be anticipated is to try to keep track of any new arguments that come up in the Grand Crossfire and try to address them. Certainly you will want to point out at the time of the Grand Crossfire that any such argument is new and too late, but you should not rely on that alone, as some judges will not consider such arguments new, especially if the arguments come up during Grand Cross.
You can also anticipate new arguments that are likely to come in the last FF by scouting your opponents’ previous debates — what did they argue in their last FF speeches did they make any new arguments. You can find this out by asking their previous opponents.
There are four important technical suggestions for the Final Focus.
One, remember to use all of your remaining prep time to prepare your speech and start prepping during any prep time your opponent may use in preparing his or her speech.
Two, think ahead to where you want to be/what arguments you want to have when your Final Focus starts. Remember that when you are writing your first case, you should be thinking, how will I use these arguments to win the debate?
Three, while the speaker is giving the FF the other person should be flowing the FF. Although the debaters will not to make additional arguments in this particular debate, having a flow of the FF makes it possible to practice it after the debate with your teammates and coaches.
Four, write out overviews in advance that contain likely explanations you will need to make and ways you will likely weigh your arguments.
Five, be sure to highlight arguments your opponents dropped (didn’t respond to) and explain why it matters that they dropped those arguments.
After the Final Focus
After the FF, make sure you save your flow sheet so that you can practice the FF again with your coaches. Speaking is a very important part of Public Forum debate, and these flows give you an excellent opportunity to review your speech.