Want to Learn How to Debate Well?
Then read this guide on how to debate well in the parliamentary style! It’s got all the tips and tricks needed to construct and deliver a great speech.
What Is The Parliamentary Style?
British Parliamentary style debate is a major form of academic debate and is recognised by many international debate associations, such as the World Universities Debate Championship, as the official style of debating. It consists of four pairs, classified under “government” and “opposition”. These are the pair’s names:
Opening Government (first pair):
Prime Minister – defines the motion and presents his arguments. Deputy Prime Minister – challenges LO and presents his arguments.
Opening Opposition (second pair):
Leader of the Opposition – challenges PM and presents his arguments. Deputy Leader of the Opposition – challenges DPM and presents his arguments.
Closing Government (third pair):
Member of Government – challenges both LO and DLO and introduces new arguments for his side. Government Whip – briefly adds to OG’s case and consolidates his pair’s arguments, while rebutting both OO and CO.
Closing Opposition (fourth pair):
Member of Opposition – challenges PM, DPM and MoG and introduces new arguments for his side. Opposition Whip – briefly adds to OO’s case and consolidates his pair’s arguments, while rebutting both OG and CG.
British Parliamentary style also incorporates Points of Information (POIs). These occur when the speaker yields the floor for 15 seconds to hear from a speaker from the other side who has manifested an interest in doing so.
They are used to rebut arguments and disrupt the speaker mid-point. In any speech, there are periods of time at the start and at the end called “protected time”. This time doesn’t allow POIs to be given.
If you don’t know what the parliamentary style is or you just need to remind yourself, find out above. I will be using the terminology from there in this guide. With that out of the way, let’s dive straight into it.
How Do You Debate Better?
Debate is all about constructing logical and rhetorical arguments in order to construct a better case than that of your opponent.
The two things that are the most fundamental to incorporate in your debating in order to develop a strong case are structure and analysis. I’ll just repeat it because it’s that important: the most fundamental things you want in your speeches (apart from the ability to use basic logic to formulate an argument) are structure and analysis.
Once that is in your head, I’ll explain why, and how you can improve.
Structure makes what you are saying clear for everyone, judges and opponents alike. With a good structure, people will know exactly what you will/did talk about, and therefore give you more credit.
A good structure to follow consists of asking 4 questions relating to your point. The first one is “What is your point?”, followed by “Why is it true”, “What are its impacts” and “Why are these impacts important?”
Concentrating on fewer arguments but analysing them strongly is better than spitting out dozens of arguments with little to no analysis. Structure also makes your whole speech clearer, giving the people listening something to expect, instead of something to decipher.
You can make sure you analyse well enough by using 2 minutes of your allocated speech time per argument you make, instead of brushing past less relevant & explained arguments. Think about it – would you rather have 2 shoes made of a fantastic material or 4 muddy shoes with cheap and ugly material?
Here is structure in a speech I would recommend:
Introduction – Tell everyone why voting for/against the motion would result in [argument 1] and [argument 2]. One sentence is enough.
For example, “In this speech, I will tell you why voting for compulsory military service unites a country and gives all of its citizens skills and friendships.” The judges are now expecting two things. After the introduction comes the rebuttal.
Rebuttal – After you’re done with your one sentenced intro, add a phrase such as, “but firstly, some rebuttal.” Focus on rebutting the arguments of the person who went before you, as well as that which you wish had been done before. Keep this part under 90 seconds.
For example, “Even though the government would be paying for the service & training, in the long term, an increasingly skilled workforce results in a better economy.”
Argument 1 – Start with a relevant topic sentence. For example, “Conscription creates social cohesion”. Explain why that is in around 2 sentences.
For example, “People from different social backgrounds are brought together for a year, regardless of their religion, race, or financial situation. This creates long-lasting friendships between people from different backgrounds and annihilates false stereotypes, reducing racism, discrimination and hate crimes, and therefore creating social cohesion.”
Once you have done that, explain how this does something very important.
For example, “This social cohesion is important because it leads to a better functioning society, especially in the social aspect, which, in turn, raises the people’s quality of life.
With a reduction in discrimination, because citizens learn a lot about each other and so overcome institutionalised prejudice, people are more willing to talk to each other.
This leads to a more social society, and so a greater quality of living. By voting for the motion, you are therefore voting for a reduction in racism and hate crimes, as well as an increase in the people’s quality of life.”
A link back is important as it shows the argument is relevant to the motion, as well as the motion’s direct impact on various things.
Argument 2 – See the structure of argument one. Here is a full example:
“All citizens gain essential skills through this compulsory national service. Through the constant camaraderie, the discipline needed and the material learnt during the service, all citizens are improved.
The fact of constantly being around other people increase’s one’s social skills, which, in turn, increase his/her happiness (humans are social animals, and so are happy when with others they like.)
All the skills they learn give them enough opportunity to do whatever they want in their life, instead of, for example, being stuck as a clerk in some store. With the training received, all have an opportunity to work in a field they want to work in, provided they try hard enough.
Finally, this motion would reduce crime, because the would-be criminals would now have an opportunity to change paths with their new skills, and some would want to get rid of their life of crime.
This would better society, as crime makes no one happy, and quality of life would improve. By voting for this motion, you are voting for a better functioning society, a reduction in crime as well as a better standard of living.”
Why your arguments are better than those of the other faction on your side – The speech above is from someone on the government side who focused on the social arguments of this motion.
A government faction will often concentrate on either the social or economic impacts. Once your faction has decided what arguments to focus on, you need to tell the judges why your arguments are more important than those of the faction on your side.
For example, “The social arguments of this motion are more important than the economic ones as they influence the wellbeing of the people, which is what citizens and the government care about the most.”
Conclusion: Your conclusion should mirror what you have already concluded. In this case, you would say something about how voting for this motion increases social cohesion, reduces discrimination, crime and betters the quality of living of the citizens, which is more important than their financial situation.
POIs: You should try to ask 2 POIs during your whole debate. It shows that you are listening, and, if your point is good, it protects your argument/damages theirs. During your speech, take between 1 and 2 POIs. As long as you don’t take 0 or 2+, you’ll be fine.
If you take 0, the judges will see your case as so weak that 15 seconds is enough to destroy it. If you take more, you won’t have time to finish your arguments. Wait until you have finished your paragraph to take a POI, or you could lose your train of thought. (Say, “I’ll take that later.”)
Try to incorporate as many of these points into your speech. It will make everything so much more clear for everyone. This, in turn, makes debating more fun for you and the others.
Now that we’ve gone over the structure, let’s go over the analysis.
Analysis is important because it tells the judges exactly the result of the motion through a logical train of thought. Let’s imagine this motion: THW prevent countries with an oppressive regime from hosting the Olympic games.
On the government side, you may say that hosting the Olympics is an economic reward because of all the money gained from tourism, TV rights etc. You may then say that the nation doesn’t deserve to get that because of its cruelty/immoral actions. In general, try to steer clear of subjective arguments.
That isn’t enough to convince the judges. You need to go one step further and say that, by voting for the motion, the house would be paying for the oppression of the people by providing the weapons used to kill the citizens.
Immediately, that argument becomes a lot more persuasive, as it shows that, by voting for this motion, we are aiding, say, the unjust stoning of homosexual individuals. If you can analyse well enough to have a clear positive/negative impact of the motion, your argument is going to do well.
So, to reiterate, try analysing your argument to a point where it shows voting for/against the motion is the best thing to do for social/economic/moral reasons. By having a clear result, judges will give you credit because they will understand why voting for/against that motion is good for social/economic/moral reasons.
If you manage to say that voting for the motion would be harmful to society, it will be a lot better than if you just say that animal killing is bad. Often, just going 1 or 2 sentences further in your analysis will win you the debate. This, and the upcoming tips and tricks.
Some Advice on How to Debate Well in the Parliamentary Style:
1) Tell the judges why you’ve won the debate. They are lazy, and, if no one proves you wrong, your point will still stand – meaning that the statement is true.
2) Speak nicely and clearly. It is imperative that you are understood.
3) Don’t be afraid to speak slower, as long as it isn’t too slow. Rushing through arguments doesn’t make them better.
4) Don’t tackle more than 3 arguments in your speech. Focus on analysing instead.
5) No more than 2 POIs, no fewer than 1. This makes your case look strong but doesn’t prevent you from speaking.
6) Don’t be afraid to refuse a POI, and then ask for it 30 seconds later. If you catch them off guard, you’ll make them look like fools.
7) In order not to look like a fool, write down your POIs! You won’t hesitate while giving them, and won’t be in the situation mentioned above.
8) Think about what a judge would like to hear. At the end of the day, their opinion decides whether you win or not. See points on analysis and structure above to know exactly what I’m talking about.
9) Don’t give a POI based on some example – instead, use it to rebut their case.
10) Don’t give a POI straight after the end of protected time, as it allows the speaker not to take any more for the rest of his/her speech.
11) Use all your time! You can analyse even further, conclude very well, rebut points and, overall, make a better case.
12) Treat others with respect. Debating is about arguing in a civilised manner, not hurling abuse down the floor. Wait until the speaker allows you to speak.
13) No ad hominem – for those of you who don’t know what that is, it is when an argument against the person is used to disprove their case. Don’t do it – it ruins it for all.
14) Avoid logical fallacies – they make your case look weak. You can find out about them in the article over there to the left of your screen.
15) Don’t just ignore a good point – address it and link it back to your conclusion.
16) If a victim of an ad hominem attack, don’t take the high road and ignore it. Instead, tell the audience why that claim is false, without committing this fallacy.
17) This relates to treating others with respect – be cool. If someone says something you don’t like, tell your teammate to address it in his speech, do it in yours or give a POI.
18) Judge whether or not you need that fact. In a political debate, sure, use it as evidence. However, looking something up isn’t what is looked for in a debate – logic is.
19) Use logic to your advantage. Point it out when it is lacking, and use it to reinforce your argument.
20) Have fun while debating. It is not something you want to be using to relieve stress – it is instead an opportunity to discuss, listen, and have some fun.
Ready to debate like a pro? Knock yourself out on Qwarul’s debate platform here! And, most importantly, have fun. Don’t hesitate to tell your friends about this guide.