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Public Speaking: Formulating Arguments in Debating

Updated on October 12, 2009

It sounds like an old chestnut, but it is absolutely true: Successful debating teams always have strong arguments.

The most important aspect of debating is having good, strong arguments. Without this, your team will surely fail. Your whole case depends on your arguments, and if they are weak at the knees you are sure to lose.

When you are given a topic for a debate, the first thing you should do is brainstorm ideas. When we brainstorm, we don't reject anyone's ideas, we just write them down. The idea of a brainstorm is to collectively gather as much information as possible about the topic of your debate. Write down facts, arguments, good things, bad things. It doesn't matter which side of the debate these are for, affirmative or negative. Just collect as many ideas as possible.

The next step is to refine and organize these ideas, and come up with your team line. A team line is the basis of your entire argument, and needs to be as strong and straightforward as possible. Examples of team lines would be:

"A republic for Australia would mean a fresh identity for the nation."

"Television is the major cause of violence in our society."

"We should allow refugees into Canada as it is the morally right thing to do."

These team lines are short, sweet, but strong! After you have selected your team line, arrange your arguments from weakest to strongest, and divide these up between your speakers.

Remember that third speakers should not introduce and new arguments, especially if they are third negative. When selecting which arguments to actually use, examine them, and think of how the other team may rebut these arguments. If they are too patchy, with lots of room for rebuttal from the other team, then leave them out unless you are desperate. Thinking like the other team also makes you more prepared to tackle their rebuttals.

Now that each speaker has their arguments, find information to back them up, such as newspaper reports, current events, research, statistics. But whatever you do, don't make statistics up! The absolute fastest way to lose any debate is for some overenthusiastic member of your team to start spouting off some statistic that they pulled out of some recess of their muddled minds and not be able to provide a valid and thoroughly verifiable source for that data. Sure, it's easy to say that 87.4 percent of all Americans support extending the war in Afghanistan, but it's a very different matter to be able to cough up a scientifically valid popular survey that proves that percentage!

Now you should have strong arguments, ready to put in to a speech format. Remember to leave time for rebuttal (except for First Affirmative). Try to finish as close to the time stipulations as possible, or you will lose marks for dragging things on.

Here are some example topics for you to practice formulating arguments and brainstorming. Remember to think about both sides, not just the easy side:

"Religion is a non-issue."

"The breakdown of the family unit has dramatically changed attitudes in our society."

"Abortion should be eliminated."

"Cars that pollute the environment should no longer be licensed."

"Rapists and child molesters should be chemically castrated."

Always keep in mind that no matter what the issue, from the defense of North Korean Communism to an attack on the values of motherhood, there is always some way to vividly and effectively virtually any argument!


Continued In Public Speaking: Controlling Your Movements

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