A Student’s Guide to Debate

Debating skills are necessary for academic success for any topic. In order to be convincing, whether it is debating the merits of a shorter work day or the impact of school uniforms, students must understand the basic components of logic and effective communication. The following guidelines highlight the essential elements of orally arguing a point (and winning).

RESEARCH. Find as much information as possible about the subject being debated. Try to dig deeper than Wikipedia. The most up-to-date statistics can probably be found on the Internet, but you should also search the stacks of your local library, especially if you want to glean information that your opponent can’t find. Also, talk to others who have an opinion on the issue and get feedback from both sides of the argument.

PICK A SIDE.Take a strong stance on the topic up for debate. If you even slightly unsure of your stance, it will appear in your debate. To be convincing, you must commit to one side.

DEVELOP YOUR ARGUMENT. Creating your argument should be formulaic like writing an essay. It should have an introduction and thesis, specific supporting evidence, and a conclusion. Unlike an essay, the introduction of your argument should not be long and flowery. When speaking, it is best to get right to the point. Starting with a general thought or anecdote is suitable, but it is easy to lose the audience if you stray too far from the topic.

OVERLEARN. Gather more evidence than needed then pick three or four of the best examples to support your side. It is best to have an excess of supporting information to fall back on if needed.

DELIVER. A confident delivery is critical to your credibility. If speaking in front of an audience, it is common to lose that confidence that you possessed when rehearsing. There are a few helpful techniques that can help make you appear more confident.

First, be sure to employ good eye contact. Second, speak with a strong voice with varied tone and pace. Third, stand up straight and do not shift from foot to foot or fiddle with your hands. If you are jittery, hold your hands behind your back and take long, slow breaths.

CONCLUDE. After you have disproved your opponent’s point with your confident delivery and strong factual evidence, repeat your thesis to end the debate.

Your presentation and appearance matter just as much as your content. Dress appropriately, prepare clear and concise notes, and understand both sides of the argument. Your debate must not be an oral presentation of a written essay. Practice speaking aloud in front of others to gain confidence and get comfortable with speaking without your notes.

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