When one hears the word ”debating” for the first time, it is very easy to start thinking about the debates that occur in everyday life – arguments where everyone stands by their own opinion and refuses to listen to others, where emotions run high and where the one shouting the loudest emerges as the winner. Formal debating is nowhere close to real-life debating. Instead of an argument, formal debating can be thought of as an intellectual game or a sport, or simply as an interesting conversation with a structure and a set of rules.

Here are some key differences between an argument and formal debating:

  • in formal debating, everyone must follow the same rules
  • everyone gets to speak for an equal amount of time
  • interrupting the speaker without permission is forbidden
  • arguments must be backed by reasoning and evidence
  • instead of trying to convince each other, the debaters are trying to convince the (sometimes invisible) judge who is listening the debate.
  • in formal debate, you often don’t get to choose the side you are on, meaning you might end up opposing something that you actually believe in and vice-versa. Nobody has to know what you’re real opinion is.
  • in formal debating, you should attack the arguments of the opposing side, but attacking or offending the person presenting those arguments is not allowed.
  • no hard feelings. When the debate is over, everyone shakes hands and becomes friends again.

Benefits of Debating

Debating helps to develop a variety of skills, most of which you don’t even realize that you’re learning while debating. Here are some skills that debating helps you to improve:

  • Argumentation skills. While debating, you learn to make arguments that are well-founded, backed up by reasoning and evidence and that are difficult to counter. At the same time, you learn to look for holes and mistakes in the arguments of your opponents and to refute their arguments.
  • Listening skills. Listening what your opponents are saying is a key aspect of debating. If you are not listening to others, you won’t be able to refute their arguments as well as you could otherwise.
  • Public speaking skills. Because our debates consist of people standing up and making debate speeches, debating is a great way to improve public speaking skills such as clarity, structure and style. However, the most important public speaking skill that you learn by debating is self-confidence and trust in your own capabilities as a speaker.
  • Language skills. Our weekly debates are held in English. Because there is no time to write down your whole debate speech beforehand or to constantly look up words from a dictionary, debating is bound to boost your English skills.
  • Critical thinking. Every now and then you might end up arguing for something that you really don’t believe in, or opposing something that you have always believed in. Debating gives you a chance to challenge yourself, to examine your own opinions with a critical eye and see whether the arguments you’ve always thought to be true really hold up in a good debate.
  • Being able to look at issues from somebody else’s perspective. When you end up arguing for the side you don’t believe in, you will have to come up with good arguments to support that side. While one debate probably won’t change your opinion on anything, debating for the side you don’t believe in will help you realize what it’s like to stand in your opponent’s shoes. You might not agree with them, but you can still appreciate the fact that they too have reasons to think the way they do – and they can probably present a variety of arguments to back up their beliefs, too.
  • Making friends. Last but not least, debating is a great way to meet new people - people who, as debaters, are generally intellectual, interested in many different topics, great company and always willing to have a good conversation.

British Parliamentary format

There is a variety of debate formats used in different societies around the world. The format we use in JDS, is called British Parliamentary format (BP) or World Universities Debating Championship format (WUDC). The BP format has many benefits, such as it’s fast pace, short preparation time that promotes general knowledge instead of hard statistics, possibilities for deep analysis and engagement with other debaters. Also, BP format is the most used format globally, meaning that if you participate in a tournament or join a debate society abroad, you can be fairly sure that you already know the rules.

Here is a brief overview of the BP format:

  • Eight speakers, divided into four teams of two. Two of the teams are in the government (proposition) and the other two in the opposition.
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Speech length: maximum of seven minutes
  • Questions (known as points of information or POI’s) can be asked after the first and before the last minute of the debate and only if the speaker decides to accept them.
  • Naturally, both government teams are trying to be better than the opposition teams and vice versa. In addition to this, also the government teams and opposition teams are competing against each other.
  • Each of the speakers has a specific role in the debate.

To learn more about speaker roles and BP format, here "are some excellent handouts explaining all of this. If you would like to read more about debating and BP format, here "is one of the many guide books available on the internet.

Useful links