On-line Debating Tutorial:
Please note that these guidelines
are for British Parliamentary Style.
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
competitive debate. 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.
- 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
- 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 special protection.
- 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
- 8. Speakers must observe parliamentary
language i.e. bad language is not permitted.
- 9. The use of Props is not permitted in a
- 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
- 11. The "house", which will
often be referred to, is basically the chairperson competitors audience
- 12. The speakers are evenly divided on
both sides of the motion. Speakers for the motion are the
"Proposition" or "Government", speakers against are
- 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 humour.
- 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
- 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.
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 canít remember the exact
details of the fact you want to use donít 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 case.
- 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