First speakers are largely substantive or constructive speakers, building up their own team's case, but the first negative speaker must also respond to their opposition's case. This first response is crucial.
In most debates, first speakers use set arguments that can be relatively easily predicted. These arguments, in a normative debate, progress as follows:
- The imperative argument-for the team advocating for a change, this is the time to discuss the problems seen in the status quo. For the team advocating against a change, instead argue that the current system in place has succeeded.
- The effectiveness argument-how the model put in place will/won't solve the problem in the status quo. This argument needs to be directed towards the largest stakeholder in a debate; as such, it may seem obvious, but it still needs proof.
- The principled argument-this argument is often present, based on either a right, a government responsibility, or a principle of our society. The principled argument is related to, but distinct from the effectiveness argument-it deals with the basic morality of one side's model.
First speaker structure is often rigidly set, as first speakers need to lay out clearly the parameters for the debate and outline the shape it will take. This means they must:
- Give a thoughtful introduction, often about the status quo.
- Define the topic, using a definition or a model, and accept or reject this definition on the negative side.
- Rebut the opposition's key arguments as a first negative speaker.
- Introduce the model, explaining how it will work.
- Allocate arguments to different speakers.
- Put forward substantive matter.
- Attempt to put forward a rhetorically powerful conclusion, often challenging the opposition to justify some wrong.
This structure needs to be followed closely for a speaker to be sure that they have included all the groundwork for the rest of the debate.