How a debate works * What you should put in a speech * Debating Do’s and Don’ts

The Cambridge Union’s

The Cambridge Union Schools Debating Competition is one of the largest schools parliamentary debating tournament in the world: last year, we had almost three hundred teams from over 180 schools enter. We feel that the competition can offer those participating in it a wealth of experiences invaluable to any student – from critical thinking to public speaking and self-confidence. We provide several documents to assist you in your preparation: • This document offers a brief introduction to the format of debating that we use in the Cambridge Union Schools Debating Competition, and the criteria for assessment. Even if you have debated before, please study it closely, as the format we use may not be the same as that of other debating competitions you have entered. Our Debating Handbook – also available free from our website – contains more detailed advice on how to give a good speech, and is useful for students of all levels of experience.

The tournament convenors, Andrew Chapman and Sam Dobin, and Nick Long, the Chief Adjudicator, are happy to answer any questions you might have on any aspect of the competition; our contact details are printed at the end of this document.

HOW A DEBATE WORKS Every debate has a motion. This is the ‘topic’ that the debate is about, and always begins with the words ‘This House’. For example: This House believes that Scotland should become independent The topic of this debate is whether Scotland should become independent or not, and the ‘House’ refers to everyone speaking in the debate, and all of the audience. The debate has two sides – Proposition, who have to present arguments to support the motion, and Opposition who have to oppose it. In the Cambridge Union Schools Debating Competition, each side contains two teams – a first team and a second team. To win the debate, your team must defeat the teams on the other side, but also make a more convincing case than the other team on your own side.

speaker 1 7th Speaker . for example. Points of information can either be accepted or declined by the speaker.The debate takes place with all four teams sitting around a large table. Each speaker. and will make the same noise after four minutes has passed.Proposition team 2. who is followed by the first speaker on the opposition. has a special role in the debate.Opposition team 2. and can be used to challenge what is being said. must define the terms on which the debate will be held. The time between these two knocks is the time when points of information can be offered: these are interruptions that can be made by any debater on the opposite side of the house to the speaker. All the speakers in between should add arguments of their own. The table usually looks a bit like this: Each side of the debate takes turns to give their speeches. After one minute of the speech has passed. and they are timed.Proposition team 2. 5th Speaker . So the order of debate is as follows: 1st Speaker .Proposition team 1. speaker 1 6th Speaker . with the arguments developing from beginning to end. from the first to the fourth. speaker 2 The speakers participate in one continuous debate. and should state clearly which direction they intend the debate to take. speaker 1 2nd Speaker . the fourth speaker’s role is to summarise the whole debate: they should add no new arguments of their own. with the first teams at the ‘top’ end.Proposition team 1. More . Each speech by each speaker is five minutes in length. and the second teams at the ‘bottom’ end. the chairman will make an audible knock. speaker 2. the speaking order alternates between debaters on each side of the House. but it is normal – and judges will award points – if one or two are accepted in each speech. Likewise. The first speaker for the proposition. The two sides face each other. to give greater depth and scope to the debate. From then on. speaker 2 4th Speaker . speaker 2 8th Speaker .Opposition team 2. but instead should make their side’s arguments during the debate looks as impressive as possible. they set parameters for the argument. The debate begins with the first speaker on the first proposition team.Opposition team 1. speaker 1 3rd Speaker .Opposition team 1.

and. Some other debating competitions differ from this. Speakers who make better arguments are more likely to win! So what makes an argument good? Firstly. and what is it about the drugs policy that will them commit crime? Why will they commit crime rather than doing something else? This kind of analysis makes the argument a lot deeper and thus more effective. we will judge debaters on the following areas: Arguments – Each speaker needs to make arguments to explain why their side of the house is correct. The judge should be convinced that the argument presents an important and compelling reason to support or oppose the motion. Definitions must be reasonable. Who is it that will be committing the crime. it needs to be well chosen. explain what they will take the key words in the motion to mean. It should also be convincing! Arguments that are fully explained step-by-step will be a lot more convincing than assertions that something is or will be the case. available from our website. . the argument isn’t very convincing. delivery or rhetoric. This is a well chosen argument. WHAT YOU SHOULD PUT IN A SPEECH In the Cambridge Union Schools Debating Competition. it will not receive much credit. It should be clear and comprehensible to the audience. unless a definition is utterly absurd and unarguable it must be followed by the rest of the debate. not speaking style. This means the debater may have sometimes have to explain (briefly!) why an argument matters. If the argument seems trivial or unimportant. Example: you want to make the argument that a new drugs policy will increase crime. so be sure to check the judging criteria before preparing for any other competitions! In our competition. A note on definitions . the argument needs to be well made. but if you just say that it will increase crime and explain how terrible crime is. Much better to explain why crime will increase as a specific result of the drugs policy. This is very important to remember. A speaker who ignores a definition and hence produces a speech that is essentially irrelevant to the rest of the debate cannot hope to achieve any sort of recognition for that speech.information on the roles of speakers can be found in the Cambridge Schools Debating Handbook. However.It is the role of the first speaker for the proposition to define the motion. They should describe how and to whom any policy they propose applies. Speakers speaking later in the debate will also need to make sure their argument is new – we won’t offer much credit to arguments that are re-hashing points that were made earlier in the debate! Secondly. and should not be used by the First Proposition team to gain an unfair advantage. debaters are judged primarily on the argumentative content of a speech. if necessary. leave room for debate on both sides.

Accepting four or five will stop you from making enough arguments to support your position. be on the lookout for inconsistencies in the opposite side. today I’m going to show you why Scotland should become independent firstly for reasons of culture. Speakers who have a strong general knowledge and who can draw on this knowledge to support their case will tend to score higher than those who cannot. or illogical – it’s up to you. have offered. but some prefer to rebut at the end of their speech and others (especially summary speakers) like to ‘interweave’ rebuttal and into their constructive case.Points of information should be offered by all speakers throughout the debate. If the speech is muddled or rambling. but first some rebuttal … now onto my first point … now onto my second point etc etc” Points of information . and will also be marked down.Each member of a side should work together as a team. In a five minute speech.A good speech should be structured in a coherent and obvious manner. Apart from the very first Proposition speaker. Simply listing lots of examples won’t be an effective way of convincing the judges that your side of the house is right! Rebuttal – As well as making arguments of your own. If you have taken a point. and we will penalize any speakers who make up evidence to support their case. Teamwork . who begins the debate.Evidence and examples – It is important for arguments to be supported by credible examples and evidence that illustrate why the argument is correct. This might involve explaining why their arguments are unimportant. and significantly strengthens the forcefulness of your case. .“Ladies and Gentlemen. although that will depend on what has been said so far! Most speakers like to rebut before presenting arguments of their own. Also bear in mind that examples are only illustrations of broader arguments. In a five minute speech. and thirdly in terms of its political standing in the world. Good structure enables your points to come across far more clearly. your speech will be a lot less convincing. it should be brief and as clear as possible – aim only to speak for 5 seconds. you need to rebut them. it usual to spend at least 90 seconds on rebuttal. Any examples you use should be factually correct. Be careful not to contradict or be inconsistent with anything that your partner. If your point has been declined. lets you make the most of your time. you should rebut it at once. The constant and/or noisy offering of points can be very disruptive. and must accept at least one. Most obviously. During a speech. irrelevant. please respect the speaker’s decision and do not offer a point again until the debate has moved on. you should ideally accept two points. When you give a point. or earlier speakers on your side. this involves signposting points . every speaker must spend a considerable amount of time on rebutting the opposite side. explaining why it doesn’t weaken your case. More detailed ideas on giving good rebuttal are provided in our Debating Handbook. and if you spot them point them out in your rebuttal! Structure . Teams who offer none will be marked down for this. Likewise. secondly for economic reasons. you should show a willingness to accept points. you will need to convince us that the arguments of the other side are not very good! In other words.

and reading a pre-prepared speech means you will not be responding to the dynamic of the debate as it has unfolded. Even if you have to leave quickly to get back home. we will reward speakers who show passion. Just be careful to make sure these enhance. DO speak to the judge for feedback. it’s better to keep talking – you never know what ideas will pop into your head as you speak. It’s much better to write important ‘key words’ on small postcards and use these as notes. and we see the same problems crop up year after year. or explaining an argument in a lot more detail than has yet been done. The following tips are designed to help you avoid the most common pitfalls! DO speak for the full 5 minutes. your judge will be able to give you advice for the future. This means either making at least one argument that nobody on your side has made yet. do spare a few moments for some quick pointers. humour and outrage where appropriate. Apart from the final speakers on each side. but we cannot give it a high score if it contains nothing new of its own. Even if you’ve run out of ideas. expression and style are important to keep the speech interesting to listen to. and make sure you don’t misrepresent what they have said.Delivery – We will reward speakers who use good delivery to enhance their arguments. rather than distract from. It will also harm your delivery if you are hunched over a text. We penalize it heavily. Likewise. fluent and audible at times. practice with a friend the day before the debate. whose role is to summarise. In fact. Sometimes speakers prefer to spend their time explaining how important their partner’s point was – this might be an entertaining speech. We will reward speakers who engage in the debate. Debating is supposed to be spontaneous. your arguments! 10 DEBATING DO’S AND DON’TS We’ve watched a lot of schools debates over the years. Your speech should be clear. Variations in tone. DO make sure you offer new arguments. We can’t reward you for sitting down and saying nothing. Careful listening to your own team will help you avoid contradicting or repeating what they have said. so you need to show us that you are doing this by standing up and offering points of information! It’s really not as scary as it might sound. Whether you’ve won or lost. Listen carefully to the other side as well – it will help you find ways to rebut them. so you can learn as much as possible from your round. it’s quite common for debates to be won by teams who appeared to run out of things to say mid-speech. and it doesn’t matter that much if your point isn’t very good – you can always offer a better one next time! If you’re worried about making / taking points of information. conviction. every speaker needs to offer a substantial new contribution to the debate. volume. . DO offer plenty of points of information. struggling to find your place. DON’T read a pre-prepared speech. DO listen carefully during the debate.

Take the time to explain in depth why the other side have got it wrong. If you would like any further information. We make sure we only use experienced judges who can offer useful coaching advice to the debaters speaking in the round. and to point out any arguments made by your side. If you can. Making your speech ‘funny’ at someone else’s expense is both cruel and unnecessary. We will be happy to help with any inquiries you might have.com . A lot of speakers rush through their rebuttal very quickly at the start of their speech. DON’T insult or mock other speakers. which your opponents have not responded to. Olga Polunina and Adam Rothwell . Some of the best debaters in the world lost their first round of the Cambridge Union Schools Debating Competition. DON’T be disheartened if you lose. Sam Dobin and Nick Long Adapted from an original guide by Pascal Millare. We look forward to seeing you in the competition! Good luck!! Andrew Chapman. Shane Murray. use your rebuttal not only to counter the other side’s arguments but to support your own case as well. You only have five minutes.DON’T rush your rebuttal. and this is a terrible missed opportunity. especially if it’s your time. We recommend spending between 90 seconds and two minutes on rebuttal. 3 should be your absolute maximum. so you don’t want to waste too much time responding to the other side! Even if you have run out of things to say. take the opportunity to discuss the reasons with your judges. *** We hope this advice has been useful in giving some form of introduction to the British Parliamentary debate style. don’t be tempted to fill the time with a question and answer session. DON’T accept too many points of information. then feel free to contact us on cambridgeschools@googlemail. and use their feedback to do better next time. It’s better to take a pause to gather your thoughts than let yourself be distracted by a barrage of questions. and your attack will be a lot more effective. If you have lost.

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