The Art of Debating


1. Introduction

By including a debate as a part of the Toastmasters club programme will stimulate a dynamic and informative meeting.

As members practice and become skilled debaters, the club programme can be expanded to include not only inter-club debates but debates with other community organisations.

2. Publicity

In order to provide the club with valuable publicity a topic can be selected which has a current significance in the community and will thus appeal to a wider interested audience who may be invited to attend the debate.

The details of the occasion will need to be advertised in the local news media, bulletin boards etc and letters should be sent to local clubs, schools or church groups.

The results and details of the debate should be published in the local news paper.

3. The Benefits of Debating

Debating is an art which provides an outstanding opportunity to develop the three basic abilities of the Toastmasters “Better Thinking, Listening and Speaking” motto.

In this regard debaters must listen to the opposing arguments, learn to think very quickly, and express ideas in an attractive convincing manner which, in part at least, forms the basis of an impromptu speech.

Nowhere else can a Toastmaster find a more ideal method to develop listening, thinking and speaking skills.

4. What is a Debate

A debate is a friendly, enjoyable and beneficial argument between two teams – a stimulating battle of wits – which should entertain the audience.

A speakers matter, manner and method is important and they will be judged by what they say, how effectively they say it and how well their speeches are organised and inter-related.

A good speech is one which has excellent arguments and examples relevant to the team case and rebutting the points put forward by the other side.

Each speech must be set out clearly and structured in an effective way in order to advance their own case with rebuttal of the other side’s case.

Each team has the task of proving that they are right and the other team wrong.

This is what debating is all about and Toastmasters will find that by participating in debating, their skills of thinking, listening and speaking will be enhanced.

5. Preparing the Case

Preparation for a debate should start with consulting a dictionary in order to analyse the subject.

The teams case should be based on one or two central themes and material to support these themes should be used as a foundation upon which all the team’s arguments may be constructed.

In deciding the team’s case give particular consideration to terms such as ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘too’, ‘more’ etc as these words in the title could affect the subjects interpretation.

Once the interpretation of the subject has been decided the team should express the central theme in a sentence or two which could be repeated during the debate.

Books, newspapers and magazines found in the local library are important sources of information and should provide arguments and examples to support the teams case.

The team should endeavour to find a logical division of their case and allot clearly defined tasks to each speaker in order that the overall theme is presented to the audience in a meaningful, well organised way.

An important point is to determine the likely arguments of the other side and consider counter arguments which will be consistent with own team’s case.

Please note that over-preparation is no substitute for quick thinking during the debate itself.

6. Debate Examples

1. That the best way to ensure peace is to prepare for war
2. That the dead rule the world
3. That newspapers abuse their power.
4. That modern advertising is a curse.
5. That freedom is a myth.
6. That man is a slave to habit.
7. That it is better to plant a cabbage than a rose.
8. That the end justifies the means.
9. That modern literature is decadent.
10. That ignorance is bliss.
11. That sport plays too large a part in Australian life.
12. That the value of the olympic games is over-rated.
13. That English spelling should be reformed.
14. That it is better to have a bee in the bonnet than a chip on the shoulder.
15. That might is right.
16. That the twain shall never meet.
17. That there is no room for the ivory tower in the modern world.
18. That experience is the best teacher.
19. That the written word is mightier than the spoken word.
20. That one can have too much of a good thing.
21. That to spare the rod is to spoil the child.
22. That ambition has been a greater influence for good than for evil.
23. That there is too much talk.
24. That all the world’s a stage.
25. That progress is hindered by tradition.

7. Duties of Speakers

The duties of each speaker is briefly outlined below. For full details each speaker should consult a debating book.

First Affirmative

Defines the subject
Outlines the Government case
Developes own points
Concluding remarks
If the first speaker does his/her job then there is a case to debate

First Negative

Accepts/rejects/modifies/proposes alternative definition
Outlines the Opposition case
Begins his side’s criticism of the general line of the affirmative case
Developes own points as allotted
Concluding remarks

Second Affirmative

Rehabilitates the affirmative definition if necessary
Attacks main line of negatives case by introduction of new material
Development of his sides case as outlined by leader
Presents case in detail
Concluding remarks

Second Negative

Takes up point at issue
Re-establishes or consolidates case
Greater emphasis on criticism and refutation
Developes own case
Summarises case to date, concludes.

Third Affirmative

Need strong introduction
Takes up points at issue
Strongly attacks negative case
If allotted a point developes it
Summarises own team’s and opposing case
Compares and contrasts
Strong conclusion for team argument

Third Negative

Apt introduction, with strong attack
Reinforces team’s case
Sums up argument
Concludes with complete case as to why his side’s arguments and case is stronger
No new matter except to refute affirmatives case
Ends with a strong telling statement

8. General

It is emphasised that there need not be a sharp line of demarcation between criticism and development of new matter. Criticism, defence and new matter may be interwoven. Further, it is not essential that the third affirmative be allotted a point of the teams case.

9. Delivery

Skilled debating demands flexible and quick thinking, changes in interpretation. Each member must thoroughly understand the teams case, and carry conviction in it’s delivery. Sound argument is required. A little humour helps and sincerity, audibility and poise are essential. In fact, the delivery needs all the ingredients of a “BE IN EARNEST” speech.

9. Scoring

A debate is judged on the basis of:
Matter (40%) Is the content of the argument
Manner (40%) is the way it is put across, stance, quality of voice, gesture, persuasiveness, sincerity, audibility and conviction.
Method (20%) is the logical organisation of the case, teamwork, fulfilling the duties incumbent upon the position in the team

9. The Debate Adjudicator

The battle is between two teams so the adjudicator judges only what is placed before him/her. There is no need to be an expert on the subject, but must be unbiased.

It should be noted that as well as giving the decision in a debate, it is the the duty of the adujicator to aid participants by way of constructive criticism in those areas where thoughtful advice may help improve debating skills.

The adjudicator should draw attention, tactfully of course, to forms of address to audience and members of teams.

It is essential to maintain decorum and uplift the standard of debating.

9. Handy Hints

  1. Remember that individual debate speeches are just that – Speeches – with an opening, body and conclusion
  2. Don’t resort to personal attack – target the argument, not the presenter
  3. Stick to time limit allowed – an adjudicator can and will , ignore every utterance after the time limit is up.
  4. Don’t paint yourself into a corner. Avoid the danger of sweeping generalisations.
  5. Humour helps – but the standard rules apply – keep it clean and inoffensive!
  6. Don’t continually look at the opposing team – a common mistake. You are there to convince the audience and judges. Convincing your opponents is a forlorn hope.

» Download Toastmasters Debate Handbook here

  1. Balakrishnan Nambiar says:

    Excellent article, these guidelines will help every toastmaster who might venture into debates.

    All debates are brain stimulating and challenging especially there is no prior knowledge of the subject matter. To master it, just join the debate, irrespective of the outcome.

  2. Yes Bala. Debating does improve ones ability to speak also. You will be surprised when you really practice for a debate. Great fun.

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