Personal Development
How to Improve your Debating Skills

How to Improve your Debating Skills

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What is Debating?

Debating is a structured dialogue between two opposing sides on an issue or policy. These sides are typically referred to as the Affirmative and Negative teams, with the Affirmative team supporting the motion and the Negative team opposing the motion.

Benefits of Debating

Debating offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Enhanced critical thinking skills.
  • The ability to consider different perspectives.
  • Improved public speaking abilities.
  • An understanding of how to create a persuasive argument.
  • The realization that there are two sides to every issue.

Debate Formats

Debates can exist in a variety of formats, though a common format is listed below:

  • A resolution or motion is selected, which is typically a statement or policy.
  • The motion usually begins with "This House..."
  • Two teams of three speakers present the debate - the Affirmative team supporting the motion, and the Negative team opposing the motion.
  • Teams are usually provided with an hour to prepare.
  • Each speaker presents for a predetermined amount of time.
  • Speakers alternate between the teams, usually starting with the Affirmative team, followed by the Negative team.
  • The debate is judged.
  • The audience may be present, but is not involved in the debate.

Responsibilities of the Speakers

Each speaker carries out the following tasks:

  • First Affirmative
  • Outlining their team's interpretation of the topic.
  • Providing definitions, if necessary.
  • Summarizing their team's case and outlining the way their arguments have been divided among the speakers.
  • Providing two to three arguments in support of the motion.
  • First Negative
  • Clarifying any definitional issues, providing arguments as to why their definition is superior, and rebutting the Affirmative's arguments.
  • Outlining a team line and team split.
  • Rebutting the First Affirmative's arguments.
  • Delivering two to three arguments against the motion.
  • Second Affirmative
  • Resolving any definitional issues.
  • Refuting the First Negative's arguments.
  • Delivering two to three arguments in support of the motion.
  • Second Negative
  • Resolving any definitional issues.
  • Refuting the Affirmative team's arguments up to this point, focusing on the Second Affirmative's arguments.
  • Providing two to three arguments against the motion.

Debate Definitions

Debaters often find themselves spending excess time defining terms, so it is important to consider whether a definition is necessary before committing to it. Factors to consider are the context of the debate and the spirit of the motion. It is also effective to ask yourself questions such as: will my speech be difficult to understand without a definition? Could the opposition misinterpret my meaning without a definition?

Making an Effective Debate

When debating, the most effective approach is to ensure that you have a proper definition so that the debate is successful. This is paramount to a successful debate and can help to prevent the dialogue from degrading.

Understanding Debate

When engaging in a debate, it is important to understand the context and consider the recent events that are related to the topic in order to determine an accurate definition. A successful debate should involve interesting points, evidence, and remaining objective while logically, ethically, and emotionally appealing to the audience. It is also essential to vocalize arguments and use techniques such as altering tones of voice, using pause for emphasis and projecting one's voice.

Maintaining eye contact, avoiding filler words, and keeping language simple are key components of a successful debate. Additionally, maintaining a relaxed posture and avoiding nervous gestures help to ensure a successful delivery. In British Parliamentary debating, the four teams of two speakers will aim to win the debate on the provided motion.

Avoiding Unhelpful Behaviors

It's important to know which behaviors to avoid when participating in a debate, such as giving false evidence, attacking speakers, interrupting other debaters, disagreeing with facts and judges' decisions. Additionally, it is necessary to recognize certain fallacies such as false dichotomy, assertion, morally flawed arguments, correlating rather than causating, failing to delivering promises, and straw man arguments.

Debate Topics for Children

A debate can be a great way for children to not only practice thinking critically and understanding different perspectives but also as a fun learning game or hobby. Examples of debate topics suitable for younger audiences include:

  • Should mobile phones be allowed at school?
  • Is global warming a problem?
  • Should violent video games be banned?
  • Is school detention beneficial?
  • Are celebrities good role models?
  • Does social networking have a beneficial effect on society?
  • Are single sex schools more effective than co-ed schools?
  • Do celebrities get away with more crime than non-celebrities?
  • Is cloning animals ethical?
  • Are humans to blame for certain animal extinctions?

Finding Debate Opportunities

There are opportunities to debate in both physical and virtual settings. Most universities have debating societies and webpages with advice and tips. There are also services such as Toastmasters and Meetup to find local debates or explore societies like The Cogers, Sylvans Debating Club, and The Association of Speakers Clubs.

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