Debate Tips & Tricks

Click Here to download Debate 101: This is a helpful guide to Policy Debate written by Bill & Will Smelko detailing everything you need to know from Rudiments of Rhetoric to Debate Theory.

5 tips to help you win every debate round:

  1. Think as if you were your judge, not yourself.  Remember, the only person whose opinion matters at the end of the round is the judge’s, not yours!  A common mistake everyone in public speaking makes is assuming that because you understand the argument that your audience does as well.  Take into account the judge’s debate experience before using a lot of debate lingo, and make sure you look up at your judge while making a key point.  This will both reinforce your argument because of the eye contact you will make, and it will allow you to look for signals from the judge (ie, shaking her head) that she understands you.
  2. Always think comparatively.  Every argument that you make, at the end of the round, will be compared against something the other team said.  If you’re affirmative, for example, you should always be thinking in the mindset of “how does my plan compare to the status quo?” [i.e., doing nothing, what the negative frequently advocates].  For both sides, the most effective way to do this is through impact calculus.  You should always be weighing the relative importance of arguments, especially ultimate impact claims against each other.  A nuclear attack by terrorists because of the collapse of the Pakistani state is undoubtedly extremely bad, but is the spread of nuclear weapons to many more states even worse?  If you make comparative claims about why your arguments matter more than the other teams,  you can win the debate round even if the other team wins their arguments! A good flow will help you keep track of the arguments. Here is a sample flow chart.
  3. Always act like you’re winning, even if you’re not.  Composure, poise, ethos, whatever you want to call it is an essential skill in public speaking and in life in general.  This does not mean be arrogant!  Rather, it means that you should always display confidence in the arguments that your team is making.  Think about it this way – if the judge doesn’t think you believe in your own arguments, why should he be inclined believe them himself?
  4. Refer to your evidence whenever possible.  Even though your own arguments are the most important, far too many debaters discount the importance of referring to evidence, especially that read in the early speeches.  The 1AC isn’t just a way to fill up 8 minutes, it contains valuable warrants by qualified authors that supports the arguments that you will be making in the 2AR.  If you are making a point that one of your authors makes in one of your cards, saying so will give your argument credence over that of your opponents.  If you’re not planning to refer to a piece of evidence in a later speech, why would you be reading it in the first place.
  5. Remember that debate is a team activity.  Even if you are stronger than your partner, you shouldn’t take over their speech or answer all of their questions in cross-examination.  When that happens, your judge is more inclined to give both of the members lower speaker points, and one debater doesn’t learn the skills necessary to get better.  Instead, make sure that you and your partner are going over arguments together so that you can teach each other the best arguments to make.