General Rules & Guidelines for Debating
The aim of this page is to give you an idea of how to debate. It's not just a simple case
of standing up and saying the first thing that comes into your head. There are certain
rules and guidelines which have to be adhered to if you want to have any chance in a
This is not the page with all the answers. It is only a rough set of guidelines to help
get you started. Everyone should try to find their own strengths and failings.
In the Debating Union we practice British Parliamentary style, which is now the
official style of the World Championships. In the U.S., Canada, etc. a very different
style is practiced.
• 1. Speeches should be SEVEN minutes in duration. Speakers exceeding this
may be penalised but should never be substantially less than this. In general you
should speak for at least 6:45 and generally no more than 7:20-7:30. Ideally stay on
your feet until you hear the 7th min bell and then finish (i.e. Mr. Speaker sir, I beg
to........) and be in your seat by 7:15. Your times will be recorded by the timekeeper
and given to the adjudicators as they leave to make their decision.
• 2. In general most debates are in English. The main competitions are all in
English but occasionally there are other Language debates usually in conjunction with
some other event/soc. Debating in Europe, Asia etc tends to be in the local language.
At Worlds there is an English as a second language competition.
• 3. A bell will be rung after the expiration of one minute and six minutes. The
bell will be rung again at seven minutes and at regular intervals after that.
4. If the chair of the debate is the head of the host society
he/she usually has a title e.g. Speaker, Auditor, etc. Most often
the proper form of address is Mr Speaker/Madame Speaker.
You must also acknowledge the adjudicators, if there are any.
Some speakers will also acknowledge other members of the
house, it is basically just a matter of personal preference as to
how you begin your speech after acknowledging the chair and
adjudicators. (e.g. "Mr Speaker, Madame Secretary,
Adjudicators, Ladies & Gentlemen........................).
• 5. Points of information may only be offered after the expiration of one
minute and may not be given after the expiration of six minutes. Points of information
may only be given to opposing speakers and should generally be not more than 15
seconds in duration. The chairman may request a speaker to end a point of
information at his/her discretion. Adjudicators also frown upon barracking (constantly
interrupting the speaker by offering points) and the chair is expected to control this.
Acceptance of points of information is at discretion of the competitor holding the
floor. In competitive debates only the competitors may offer points of information
however in non-competitive debates points will often be accepted from the audience.
Once you have accepted a point of information you can't just ignore it and carry on.
You must deal with it or risk the adjudicator's wrath.
• 6. In most societies Maiden speakers (i.e. speakers making a speech for the
first time) have the protection of the chair. Other speakers may not offer them points
of information unless they choose not to accept the protection of the chair. Even if
they reject the protection of the chair most experienced speakers will not offer them a
point unless they run into difficulty and it can help them. If you are good enough (or
misfortunate enough depending on how you look at it) to be making your maiden
speech in an intervarsity (rare but it has been known to happen) you do not have any
• 7. Points of order concerning the procedure of the debate must be addressed to
the chair. These can be brought at any time and take priority over all other speeches.
However these are only used in exceptional circumstances when the rules and
standing orders are being abused and the speaker making the point must be certain
that the point of order is appropriate. In British Parliamentary there is no such thing as
Points of Personal Privilege (which are used in the US/Canada). At
Worlds/Europeans it is made clear to the competitors in briefing that ONLY points of
Information may be offered. Repeated attempts to offer any other sort of Point can be
heavily penalised by the adjudicators.
• 8. Speakers must observe parliamentary language i.e. bad language is not
• 9. The use of Props is not permitted in a debate.
• 10. No amendment to the motion is permitted. You must debate the motion as
presented and interpret it as best you can. You cannot define a motion in a Place/Time
Specific sense (i.e. you cannot set the debate in Dublin 1916 and therefore attempt to
limit the scope of the debate and information which the other teams can use)
• 11. The "house", which will often be referred to, is basically the chairperson
competitors audience etc.
12. The speakers are evenly divided on both sides of the
motion. Speakers for the motion are the "Proposition" or
"Government", speakers against are the "Opposition".
• 13. The opening Prop speaker (sometimes called "Prime Minister") has to
define or interpret the motion. If this definition is unreasonable or irrelevant then the
opening opposition speaker may challenge the definition. But if the definition is
relevant but just doesn't suit the opening opp. speaker attempting to redefine may not
go down well with the adjudicators. If a definition is given and all the other speakers
or teams completely ignore it then the defining speaker is effectively out of the
debate. Definitions must also be fair and debatable "Truistic" or Self Proving
arguments are not accepted. (e.g. The sea is full of water is pretty hard to reasonably
argue against)For full guidelines as to who can redefine and when please refer to the
Rules of British Parliamentary (e.g. the Sydney 2000 Rules).
• 14. The last speaker on each side is expected to sum up his/her side's
argument and rebutt or refute the arguments of the other side. Generally this speaker
will not add a great deal of new information to the debate.
15. Rebuttal is vital in any competitive speech. Any
argument left unchallenged is allowed to stand. The later
you come in a debate the more rebuttal you must use.
Rebuttal basically involves ripping the opposing side's
argument apart and exposing its weak points. However
don't forget to make your own argument and ideally use
that to rebutt. It is important to also point out that unlike
the style of debating in some countries you do not have
to defeat every one of the opponents points (but of course
all the Key ones must be knocked down). If the
Government makes 19 points and you only manage to
hammer 17 in the time allowed then you will win and
any attempt by the Government to point out that 2 of
their arguments are left standing is basically grasping at
• 16. Be careful to avoid leaving statements hanging in mid-air. If you say
something important back it up. Just because you know something is true and where
it came from that doesn't mean the audience/adjudicators know where it came from
and why it's true. To a certain degree the safest bet is to assume that the audience
know little or nothing about the subject.
• 17. Specialised Knowledge should not be used to unfairly define a motion. If
you are a Legal, Scientific, Management, Computer etc student then you must
remember that others in the debate may be "experts" in another field of study. Unfair
definitions would include things like why the case of Smith versus Jones is more
important to company law than Ryan versus Kelly. (These are just examples I have
no idea if these cases even exist).
18. Just because you may not be competing this does not
mean that you can take no part in the debate. All debates
are usually opened up to the floor after the last speaker and
once the adjudicators have retired. Often there is a prize for
the best speaker here, but time allowed is usually no more
than 3 min. to allow as many people take part as possible.
• 19. Heckling is also common in some debates. This involves members of the
audience offering some good-humoured abuse to the competitors. However there is a
fine line between heckling and barracking and members of the audience should
remember to respect the speaker. Heckling can be scary at first but you will soon get
used to it.
• 20. Private Members Time, PMT, is a period of time at the start of each debate
where members may bring up a motion or issue that they wish to see debated.
Speeches here are limited to 3 min. This is often a part of the debate, which is not
only used to raise issues but also where many speakers show off their wit and
• 21. Remember you do not necessarily have to believe the side of the motion
you are on. You just have to make it appear as though you strongly believe in it for 7
min. In competitive debates you will have very little choice as to which side of a
motion you get.
• 22. No matter how bad you think your speech is try to stay up for the full
seven minutes. If the audience is giving you a hard time just remember that they
probably want you to walk off so don't give them the pleasure. If the chair doesn't
control the audience ask him/her to and put him on the spot with the adjudicators. Of
course you have to be able to handle a reasonable amount of heckling.
23. You don't have to be a genius for facts and figures to
do well. If you can remember an example, or fact which
you researched, to back up your argument use it. However
if you get stuck and can’t remember the exact details of
the fact you want to use don’t worry about it. If the
underlying details of the report, research etc are correct
then the chances are you will not be challenged and the
point will be made. If an opposing member corrects you
and gives you the correct name of the report, researcher,
institute etc then they are an idiot for backing up your
• 23. You don't have to be a genius for facts and figures to do well. If you can
remember an example, or fact which you researched, to back up your argument use it.
However if you get stuck and think that a fact, figure or example is needed and you
don't have one, try making one up. It can be risky if you get caught by a member of
the opposing side who actually knows what they are talking about (it can be painful,
believe me) but it can be very effective if you get away with it. This is not, however,
a replacement for good research, only a fall back if you're in trouble
• 24. If you can use humour it can be extremely effective in a debate. You can
ridicule and destroy an opponent's whole speech with a one-line joke attacking it. But
don't go over the top, while humour helps, adjudicators may not be impressed by
stand up routine with little substance. Although humour can be an advantage don't
worry if you can't crack a joke to save your life (or speech). You'll be surprised at the
number of speakers who have to really struggle to include humour in a speech while
others do it with ease
Speaking order in a Debate
The speaking order depends on whether it is individuals or teams, or both, and the
style being used in the competition but it generally follows either "Times" or
(1.) Opening Prop.
(2.) Opening Opp.
(3.) 2nd Prop.
(4.) 2nd Opp.
(5.) 3rd Prop.
(6.) 3rd opp.
(7.) Last Prop.
(8.) Last Opp.
(1.) 1st speaker from opening prop.
(2.) 1st speaker from opening opp.
(3.) 1st speaker from 2nd prop team.
(4.) 1st speaker from 2nd opp team.
(5.) 2nd speaker from opening prop.
(6.) 2nd speaker from opening opp.
(7.) 2nd speaker from 2nd prop.
(8.) 2nd speaker from 2nd opp.
(1.) 1st opening proposition.
(2.) 1st opening opposition.
(3.) 2nd opening proposition.
(4.) 2nd opening opposition.
(5.) 1st closing proposition.
(6.) 1st closing opposition.
(7.) 2nd closing proposition.
(8.) 2nd closing opposition.
If there is a mixture of teams and individuals (e.g. in Times final) the Individual
speakers are inserted in the middle of the debate i.e. after the first speaker for the last
team and before the last speaker for the for the first team.
(1.) 1st speaker from opening prop.
(2.) 1st speaker from opening opp.
(3.) 1st speaker from 2nd prop.
(4.) 1st speaker from 2nd opp.
(5.) 1st proposing individual.
(6.) 1st opposing individual
(7.) 2nd proposing individual.
(8.) 2nd opposing individual.
(9.) 2nd speaker from opening prop.
and so on.
Naturally the actual order depends on the number of teams/individuals debating.
Researching your debate
Research is vital and cannot be avoided if you want to make a winning speech. Some
people say that only a small portion of your research should appear in your speech
and the majority will come into play later. I have yet to see the "later". This may be in
the form of points of information but that is assuming that you can predict what
information you will need to contradict what the speaker says. If you have
information don't keep it to yourself, USE IT.
Look for facts and examples more so than statistics. While statistics can very handy
for filling up a few minutes, they are also boring. Your information should back up
your argument and be memorable. If you find a little known fact that will surprise the
audience and catch their attention use it strategically. Place it at a crucial stage of your
speech in a way that everything falls in together and the audience becomes convinced
of the truth of what you are saying. Remember that your argument is the most
important part of your speech and your research should back it up, not the other way
There are invaluable sources of information all around and you will very rarely come
across a motion which you can find absolutely no information if you look hard
Type any subject into the Internet and you are likely to get back 100 sites with useful
information and "Greater than 250,000" of utter rubbish (e.g. this site). However
there are a couple of good places to start. On the main page of this site you will find
links to a couple of research webpages which give pros and cons about many topics.
They are www.Debatabase.com and www.Youdebate.com
Although you may complain about your library it is still an invaluable source of
information. Look around the sections which relate to your motion and flick through a
few books that look relevant. A good source of historical information are the
"Chronicle" style, black bound, journals in the history section of a good college
library. These are updated monthly. If you don't know where to go for information
take the keywords from the motion and type them into a nearby terminal. It should
give you the book references you need.
Yes there are books available which give Pros and Cons of vatious topics. They
should be used with caution and not a complete replacement for your own arguments
and research but they are a good start point and particularly useful in the first 2-3 min
of your 15 min prep at Worlds style events. Not surprisingly the best of these books
is called Pros and Cons
o Journals Room:
This is easily the best source of information on any campus. If you have a motion
dealing with a topical political, cultural, or scientific subject then the first thing you
should do is look through the back issues of Time and Newsweek. These contain a
huge amount of information and not only on current affairs. If you've never read them
it is well worth spending a short time flicking through them so that you get a feel for
the sort of information they carry and where to find it if you need it later. If you want
more information then there is bound to be some information about it in other more
specialised journals but it may be harder to find. You could also look up the past
issues of newspapers on microfilm but you really would want to know exactly what
you are looking for
o T.V. & Radio:
While it is unlikely that TV will oblige you by broadcasting a program dealing with
the subject behind your motion while you are preparing for it you can still use them
for information. If you know that there is a documentary, special report or debate on a
topical issue why not watch, or listen to, it. You don't have to go out of your way or
sit there taking notes like a lecture but if you have nothing better to do you might be
surprised how much of it you will remember if it comes up later.
This involves a group of people getting together to discuss a motion and come up with
ideas. The group meets in a room and trash out the various issues involved from a
definition and line to examples and the other sides possible strategy. One member
writes down all the ideas and this is best done on a blackboard so a tutorial room is
sometimes used. However these can also become side-tracked (one I was at lasted
over three hours and only twenty minutes were spent discussing the motion). If used
effectively they should work well and we may start doing them on a more regular and
organised basis. Even if you don't want to hold a brainstorming session don't be afraid
to ask other debaters for ideas, most will be glad to help and may even have debated
the motion before.
o A word of caution
There are many other sources of information if you know where to look. Perhaps the
best source is your own memory. If you remember some fact but are hazy on the exact
details of where or when you heard it don't be afraid to use it. A debate isn't an exam
so the information you use doesn't have to be 100% accurate just sort of, from a
certain point of view of course.
However remember an outright lie can be considered unethitical and some more
"conservative" people in debating would like to report students who break local codes
of ethics to their home college officials. These people have lost all sight of the goal of
debating and believe that an inability to stick to the moral code they subscribe to
means you can be expelled from college. They take no account of the fact that people
get facts wrong and often in an attempt to win will use facts they have not "properly
researched". In my opinion this is an extremely dangerous trend in debating and
while rare you should ask for clarification on the situation if debating outside the
British Isles and Worlds competitions (particularly in eastern Europe). Of course by
even advocating a lack of research I can be accused of unethical behaviour by these
people. In response I say that my view of debating is that it is a pastime not a
research conference. I will never condone blatant lies but I recognise that the world
is far too vast for mere mortals to research the hundreds of topics that could arise at
worlds and the human brain could never store that volume of information. You are
dealing with young people who have to absorb and remember vast amounts of
information. Facts will muddled and quotes not properly referenced. That doesn't
make their central point any less valid. The cut & trust of debating is to undermine
and highlight flaws in the opposing side’s logic and fact. That their facts are
accidentally flawed is not justification to seek to formally punish them and have them
expelled from college as some misguided academics would seek.
Structure of a Speech
Ideally you should try to have a structure to your speech. If you do then it is more
likely to be a good speech. If you don't have some form of structure you may be
penalised by adjudicators and you may ramble. You don't have to use a strict structure
just have a mental layout of what you want to say and when. In fact if you have too
rigid a structure then you will find it impossible to stick to it, when you have to rebutt
and deal with points of information.
The following is a rough outline of how to structure your speech. In general just use
these as guidelines and, ideally, develop a style and structure which you are
1st Minute (0:00-1:00):
(Can't be given a point of information).
• Win the audience, perhaps with a joke.
• Don't rebutt another speakers speech.
• Define your speech, i.e. say what you will address and how.
• Ideally be able to state your argument in a single, short sentence.
• Define your team approach i.e. say, roughly, what your partner will say (or
2nd Minute (1:00-2:00):
• Don't take any Points of information until foundation has been laid i.e.
until you have developed your speech a bit.
• Layout your argument.
• Usually best to propose/oppose on 3 points. (e.g. Political, Economic,
• Begin your first point.
3rd-6th Minute (2:00-6:00):
• Accept 2 to 3 points of information. Say outline political aspects and deal
• Then take a P.O.I. on that. Do the same for the other aspects (i.e.
Economics & Social).
• Use these four minutes to make all your points. Effectively this is your
• Refer back to the single, short, core sentence one or two times.
7th Minute (6:00-7:00):
• Once the sixth minute bell has gone you can't be offered any points of
• Finish the point you were on as quickly as possible.
• Don't introduce any new points or arguments.
• Sum up. Reiterate your main points and arguments (and those of your
partner if you are the second team speaker.).
• Ideally, if possible, restate the single, core sentence as the last thing you
• Stay on your feet until you hear the bell.
• Finish, immediately if possible, "Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to ...............".
• Be back in your seat by 7:15, if possible, and no later than 7:30.
One thing you are bound to notice at any debate is the different speaking styles used
by the competitors. Speaking style is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of
debating to attempt to "teach". You will have to develop your own style and
preferably one that comes naturally to you. However there are a couple of things to be
kept in mind.
1. You must speak clearly and loudly enough so that
your voice can be heard by everyone. Remember the
adjudicators will sit towards the rear of the hall so at the
very least they must be able to hear what you are saying
if you are to have any chance of winning. However you
shouldn't shout as the halls have generally been designed
so that your voice will carry towards the back.
• 2. Try to avoid monotone. If you are making an important point use your
voice to stress it and make it stand out. Try to slowly increase the stress and force
behind your voice as you go through your speech. Build up to a high point and make
this the crucial point of your speech. However don't bring the audience on a
rollercoaster ride. Don't start high, fall down, build-up and fall down again, it looks as
though you are only convinced about the truth of half your speech.
3. Keep eye-contact with the audience and don't stare at the
podium. It gets easier to do this after some experience and
once you use fewer notes. Some people like to pick out
individuals in the audience and look at them. Others just
speak to the audience as a whole. However you do it make
sure to scan the audience and move your gaze to different
parts of the hall regularly.
4. Use your body language to back up your speech. If you stand
rigidly and don't move then you will find it very difficult to have
any real conviction in your voice. Use your arms and facial
expressions to convey your emotions and back up your speech.
However don't go overboard, you want the audience's attention to
be focused on your speech not your arms. Try not to have anything
in your hands. Some people like to carry a pen and end up waving it
about like a baton which can distract the adjudicators. If you really
need something use index cards.
5. You don't have to stand strictly behind the podium.
Move around a bit and face different sections of the
audience at different times. Apparently studies have
shown that people tend to prefer to be able to see the
whole person as this is supposed to indicate that you
aren't hiding anything. However, once again, don't go
overboard. It annoys people (and more importantly
adjudicators) if you walk too far from the podium. Try
not to go more than 1-2 meters away from the podium.
One way to ensure this is to leave your notes on the
podium, you'll find yourself reluctant to move too far
• 6. Don't be too complicated. If your argument is too elaborate people may
have difficulty following it. Don't use 15 syllable Latin words when a 2 syllable
English word will do. Remember you are trying to convince the audience that your
argument is the best and not that you consider your talent wasted on them (even if it
7. Use humour to help win over the audience and make
your speech stand out. If you have a natural talent for
comedy or impersonations etc. then use it. If you don't
then don't worry about it, even the most serious of us
can be funny at times (often even without meaning it).
You can work out a few put downs and one-liners in
advance but be careful. If a joke sounds too prepared
than it may bomb. Try to make it sound spontaneous
and it's more likely to be successful.
• The best thing to do is watch other speakers and see how they combine the
various elements. Experiment with different styles and try to find one that you are
comfortable with. However the only real way to develop a good style is to try to
speak on a regular basis and listen to the advice of adjudicators and the more
Points of information
• Points of Information are a vital part of any debate and should not be
underestimated. Before and after your speech you can't just sit quietly and enjoy the
other speeches. You must keep the adjudicators aware of your presence, ideas and
argument. Also P.O.I. can be used as a weapon to undermine, and even destroy, an
• When giving a point of information you are expected to stand up, hold your
left hand out (place your right hand on your head, honestly!) and say "On a point of
information sir". Different people use slight variations on this but this is the basic
one. Often speed is important to get in first, but that is no guarantee that you will be
accepted. So you should make sure that you have enough space to stand up quickly
and at a split second's notice (without sending your notes flying towards the podium).
If you can do without a bench for writing, then a front row seat is ideal. If however
you can't then use a seat at the end of a row so that you need only stand out to the
side. Once you have been accepted stand facing the speaker at the podium but also try
to half face the chair and audience, if possible.
Keep your P.O.I. short and to the point. The max. time
allowed is 15sec but you should try for between 5 and 10 sec.
Remember that many speakers like to take a P.O.I. and then
use the time to check what they will say next while half
listening to the person offering the point. Once they know
what the next part of their speech is they work out an answer
to your point. If your point is only about 5 sec. in duration it
doesn't give them enough time and is more likely to catch
them (especially if the point is weak and wouldn't work well
if they had time to think about it). It looks bad if they have to
stop to think what to say, especially if they have to ask you to
• Timing is important. If a speaker is in full stride and knows exactly where
they are going for the next few seconds, he/she is unlikely to accept a point. Wait for
a pause, for breath etc. by the speaker and then offer the point. Obviously you have to
be quick and good reflexes are needed to be on your feet literally within a split
second. I've found that a point is more likely to be accepted in this type of case but
you can't wait for too long as the point could then be out of place.
• Different people have different styles when it comes to Points of Information.
Some people (no names) like to virtually barrage opposing speakers with every point
which pops into their head. This can be very difficult to deal with and takes some
getting used to. The trick is to just ignore it if possible and make your speech. If you
decide to use this type of style be very careful. It has been known to annoy
adjudicators if taken too far and there IS a precedence for having speakers
Different people have different styles when it comes to
Points of Information. Some people (no names) like to
virtually barrage opposing speakers with every point
which pops into their head. This can be very difficult to
deal with and takes some getting used to. The trick is to
just ignore it if possible and make your speech. If you
decide to use this type of style be very careful. It has
been known to annoy adjudicators if taken too far and
there IS a precedence for having speakers disqualified.
• Most speakers prefer to just wait and see how a speech develops. This
involves leaving weak points go and use just one or two attacking the central core of
the speech once it has developed a bit.
• When you are speaking you should accept 2-3 points. Watch out for good
speakers. If someone has killed off every other speaker on your side be careful and
don't assume that you can handle them. Accept someone else ideally someone who
has been offering poor points all night. Points should not be longer than 15 sec. but
you can cut that person off before this if they are making a very poor point and
particularly if you have a good put-down to use on them. Always deal with the point
that is offered. Never accept a point as true, unless the offerer has made a mistake and
it backs up your argument. Always try to dismiss a point as incorrect or irrelevant. A
point ignored is allowed to stand and will go against you in adjudication.
Roles in a debate
Prime Minister (Opening Speaker);
It is the duty of the “Prime Minister” to define the topic of the debate BUT it must be
clearly linked to the Motion. In some cases the motion will be worded in such a way
as to permit a wide variety of Definitions (e.g. “This house believes that the Glass is
half full”, Worlds 98.) Others will be tighter motions, which allow little flexibility for
Definition (e.g. “This house believes that Northern Nationalists have nothing to fear
from a United Kingdom” Irish Times 96). As 1st Government you should look for a
twist to the motion. For example “This house would rebuild the Berlin Wall” (Worlds
96) is often defined as repartitioning of Germany and a return to Communism. This
is, in my experience, a very difficult line to win from. Two more “successful”
definitions which I have seen run are that the Berlin Wall represented a division
between East and west and that (a) the EU should not allow Eastern Bloc countries
membership until they have fulfilled certain Social and Economic Criteria. Or (b) that
Nato should not expand membership eastward.
When Defining make sure that you have an argument. You have to propose
something. Saying that something is wrong and this is how it should be is not
enough. You must say that something is wrong and THIS is what you are going to do
about it. “What you are going to do” is the debatable part of the definition.
Example “This house favours Positive Discrimination”. Poor Defn: People have been
discriminated against because of their sex/race/etc and they shouldn’t be in the future
therefore we’ll use something called Positive Discrimination. Better Definition:
People have been discriminated against because of their sex/race/etc and to correct
that we are going to take actions X, Y, and Z under the umbrella name of Positive
Discrimination. You must then fully outline what actions X, Y, and Z are and how
they will work.
It is your role to set out the opposition to the Governments case. You have only 7min
(or less) to come up with your opposition case but provided that the Government have
presented a debatable case you will be expected to handle the limited time for
preparation. Outline and develop your case. Then deal with the points made by the
government and link back the reason for them being flawed to whatever your team’s
central case is. Remember the role of last Opp is to rebut all four Government
speakers in his/her 7 min and sum up the entire opposition case. You have only seen
one speaker so you can’t make a “Last Opp Speech” Look at it in terms of
proportions. You’ve only seen a quarter of the Government therefore at most a
quarter of your speech should be rebuttal. The rest should involve outlining a
“substantive” opposition case.
It is also your duty to decide if the case is debatable. If it isn’t (and be very, very
certain that it isn’t) then you must submit an alternative definition. You cannot
simply say “That’s a Truistic/self proving” argument, spend seven minutes outlining
why and sit down. If you do that then you will have failed to do your duty as 1st
opposition. If you have the ability to spot a truistic argument then you should have
the ability to redefine, or at least to modify the Governments case to make it
Deputy Prime Minister;
You must further develop your team’s argument. Rebut what the first opposition
speaker has said but don’t spend all your time rebutting. Your team’s case can’t have
been fully outlined and developed so to spend 7 min attacking one opposition speaker
is no win tactic.
You must back up your teammate. If he/she has been torn apart then don’t jump ship.
“CLARIFY” what your teammate said. Don’t abandon your case because you realise
that it is flawed. Judges will look out for that and will penalise a “Dump” severely.
You will gain more marks for bailing your teammate out than for jumping ship and
engaging the opposition on their ground leaving your teammate behind.
Deputy Opposition Leader;
As with the second government speaker you must back up your teammate. Don’t
abandon your case because you realise that it is flawed. Fix it but don’t get an
entirely new one. A good guideline is that you should spend double the amount of
time rebutting that your teammate and therefore the rest of your speech is reserved for
YOUR team’s case.
Remember that your team’s case should be set up in such a way that it in itself rebuts
the government case. Therefore simply by developing it you are rebutting the
government. If you remember this it should help you avoid the trap that a lot of Opp
speakers fall into of 100% point-by-point rebuttal. There is a misconception that the
opposition just have to oppose and don’t have to lend any constructive argument or
matter to the debate. People will get away with this from time to time but the recent
trend in adjudication is to frown on that. It is an easy way out and doesn’t really lend
anything to the debate. Constructive opposition always looks better than mere
opposition for opposition’s sake. This applies in debating as well as most things in
Member for the Government (3rd Gov Speaker);
You are the first speaker in the second half of the debate. Now you have options to
If there has been a redefinition, and IF it was a valid redefinition then you must decide
if you are going to follow the Government line or switch to the definition which the
Opposition as offered and take them on at that. Be careful. It is also possible to take
a combination of both but you will have to be careful not to tangle your argument up
in trying to tie the two definitions together.
If the Government presented a case, which was debatable but weak and has been
thorn apart you cannot simply stab them in the back. You may however bring in an
“extension” this allows you to bring in a new point of view while still roughly
following the Government line. Again just, as with 1st government, you must present
a debatable definition.
Your role is to develop your team line. As with all government speakers you cannot
spend all you 7 min rebutting the opposition. Outline and fully develop YOUR team
line, showing how it links to AND backs up the original government case. As you
develop your case use it to rebut the opposition. Also remember that a sizable amount
of your teammate’s speech will involve summing up the entire Government case and
rebutting the opposition. He/She will have little time to further develop your team’s
case so you must do a good job on your team line. You are almost in an individual
debate against 3rd Opp speaker and your argument must be fully developed or he/she
will destroy you, and there will be no come back from your teammate. If your
teammate has to spend all his/her time bailing you out then you have failed and have
dragged him/her down with you.
Member for the Opposition (3rd Opposition Speaker);
In my experience this is a difficult position in terms of strategy. You can’t give a
100% rebuttal speech and you also are limited in that your teammate will not be in a
position to spend a lot of time developing your case (see Opposition Whip’s role). It
is up to you to set out AND fully develop your team’s case. Remember you have to
provide matter of your teams argument in such a way that it stands out from the other
teams. You should concentrate on the third Government speaker in your rebuttal.
You must rebut what the 1st Gov team said but it is primarily your duty to take on the
extension provided by the 2nd Gov team. If first opposition have done their job then
the time you spend rebutting the 1st Gov team will in effect be going over what they
have done and impinging on your teammate’s role.
Government Whip; (last Gov speaker)
Both Whips will be penalised if you do not Sum up your side and rebut the
opposition. You can develop your team line a little but the vast majority of your time
must be spent summing up the ENTIRE government case and rebutting the
Opposition arguments. Remember as well that the 3rd opposition speaker hasprobably spent a sizable amount of time attacking your teammate so you should spend
some time on your team line and counteracting the attack on it. In short you must do
3 distinct things: (1) Sum up your team line. (2) Sum up the first Government’s
arguments (3) Rebut the Opposition. Remember that while you cannot stab the 1st
government in the back you should really reinforce your team line and then sum up
the rest of the Government argument.
Opposition Whip. (Last speaker of the debate)
Rebut, Rebut, Rebut, Rebut, oh and sum up. You are in pole position. You have had
almost an hour to develop your speech and this is a huge advantage. You should not
bring new information into the debate but remember that by new information we
mean new core arguments and examples. In your rebuttal you may bring in new
examples, which relate directly to the points you are rebutting but you cannot make
them the central plank on which your entire argument is based. A lot of last Opp
speakers will deal with the Government speakers almost one at a time and this
generally works quite well and lends a structure to your speech.
A lot of last Opp speakers make the mistake of just rebutting and not summing up.
Ideally you should use a summary of what has been said by the opposition up to now
as your rebuttal. However you should also try to have a clearly defined period of
summation. Don’t get carried away with your rebuttal and leave your sum up for the
last 30 seconds. Remember that there are a lot of inexperienced judges out there who
may not recognise that you have mixed summation and rebuttal in your speech and
will, unfairly, penalise you for only spending a few seconds on sum up. Ideally aim
to start your sum up of the Opp case with about 1.5 to 2 minutes left. You can use
your last protected minute to sum up the entire debate and not just your speech, it may
go against the textbook structure of a speech but it is accepted practice.
Key extracts from WUDC criteria
These are key sections from the Adjudication criteria of the World Universities
Debating Championships and are increasingly used at British & Irish IVs and around
1.4 Points of Information
o 1.4.1 Points of Information (questions directed to the member
speaking) may be asked between first minute mark and the six minute mark of the
members’ speeches (speeches are of seven minutes duration).
o 1.4.2 To ask a Point of Information, a member should stand, place one
hand on his or her head and extend the other towards the member speaking. The
member may announce that they would like to ask a “Point of Information” or use
other words to this effect.
o 1.4.3 The member who is speaking may accept or decline to answer the
Point of Information.
o 1.4.4 Points of Information should not exceed 15 seconds in length.
1.4.5 The member who is speaking may ask the person offering the Point of
Information to sit down where the offeror has had a reasonable opportunity to be
heard and understood.
o 1.4.6 Members should attempt to answer at least two Points of
Information during their speech. Members should also offer Points of Information.
o 1.4.7 Points of Information should be assessed in accordance with
clause 3.3.4 of these rules.
o 1.4.8 Points of Order and Points of Personal Privilege are not
1.5 Timing of the speeches
o 1.5.1 Speeches should be seven minutes in duration (this should be
signalled by two strikes of the gavel). Speeches over seven minutes and 15 seconds
may be penalised.
o 1.5.2 Points of Information may only be offered between the first
minute mark and the six-minute mark of the speech (this period should be signalled
by one strike of the gavel at the first minute and one strike at the sixth minute).
2.1 The definition
o 2.1.1 The definition should state the issue (or issues) for debate arising
out of the motion and state the meaning of any terms in the motion which require
o 2.1.2 The Prime Minister should provide the definition at the beginning
of his or her speech.
o 2.1.3 The definition must:
(a) have a clear and logical link to the motion - this means that
an average reasonable person would accept the link made by the member between the
motion and the definition (where there is no such link the definition is sometimes
referred to as a “squirrel”);
(b) not be self-proving - a definition is self-proving when the
case is that something should or should not be done and there is no reasonable
rebuttal. A definition is may also be self-proving when the case is that a certain state
of affairs exists or does not exist and there is no reasonable rebuttal (these definitions
are sometimes referred to as “truisms”).
(c) not be time set - this means that the
debate must take place in the present and that the definition cannot set the debate in
the past or the future; and
(d) not be place set unfairly - this means that the definition
cannot restrict the debate so narrowly to a particular geographical or political location
that a participant of the tournament could not reasonably be expected to have
knowledge of the place.
2.2 Challenging the definition
o 2.2.1 The Leader of the Opposition may challenge the definition if it
violates clause 2.1.3 of these rules. The Leader of the Opposition should clearly state
that he or she is challenging the definition.
o 2.2.2 The Leader of the Opposition should substitute an alternative
definition after challenging the definition of the Prime Minister.
2.3 Assessing the definitional challenge
o 2.3.1 The adjudicator should determine the definition to be
‘unreasonable’ where it violates clause 2.1.3 of these rules.
o 2.3.2 The onus to establish that the definition is unreasonable is on the
members asserting that the definition is unreasonable.
o 2.3.3 Where the definition is unreasonable, the opposition should
substitute an alternative definition that should be accepted by the adjudicator provided
it is not unreasonable.
o 2.3.4 Where the definition of the Opening Government is unreasonable
and an alternative definition is substituted by the Opening Opposition, the Closing
Government may introduce matter which is inconsistent with the matter presented by
the Opening Government and consistent with the definition of the Opening
o 2.3.5 If the Opening Opposition has substituted a definition that is also
unreasonable, the Closing Government may challenge the definition of the Opening
Opposition and substitute an alternative definition.
o 2.3.6 If the Closing Government has substituted a definition that is also
unreasonable (in addition to the unreasonable definitions of the Opening Government
and Opening Opposition, the Closing Opposition may challenge the definition of the
Closing Government and substitute an alternative definition.