So, the other day, I talked on stream about my debate club activities and how it works and stuff and Roybert prompted me that I might as well write about it. Hence, here we are and I’m looking forward to explaining how I got into it, how debating works and what I like so much about it!
So, first things first, I’ve been in the debating club of our university for about two or three years now and I love it… but since I’m in Germany, I don’t know how exactly the terms are called in English, so a lot of it may be wrong due to me trying to translate things from German. So, in case you wanna get into it yourself, I’m pretty sure some things are called differently in English but I couldn’t find the terms that I needed for the format that we debate in at our club. BUT I did find a great source for some terms as well as the British debate styles that you can check out over here.
Frankly, I’m not good at speaking in front of people. That’s a bad thing because I’ll have to do that as part of my job eventually when I’m a teacher. I tried out Drama for that but it’s not quite the same… While I love the Drama club that I was a part of in school and while I loved working on plays at our university, it is too time-consuming for my schedule right now. The debate club, however, meets up once per week and doesn’t usually require meeting up on weekends. On the contrary, there are times where you can join for a tournament but you don’t have to do it if you aren’t available. I got into it through a friend and a lot of other friends were actually in there already and it just worked out. Holding a speech in front of the two sides and the jury is more akin to teaching, from what I can tell, resulting in me getting better at speaking in front of people. Teaching, in essence, is about argumentation and delivery as well, so, those skills are being trained here and in the long run, it’s probably gonna help me out, I guess? But mostly, it’s fun. I’m having a lot of fun and I can still create this “role” and play it out as if I’m on a stage, which is great.
Now, how do debates actually work? Well, debates are essentially arguments or discussions that you have in the form of speeches. There are two teams in the form of the proposition (or the house/parliament/government) and the opposition. We debate in the “OPD” format (Open Parliamentarian Debate) over here which is the most important format in Germany alongside the “BPS” (British Parliamentary Style) format. In the OPD, you essentially have 3 speakers in both teams as well as up to 3 “free speakers” that can add further arguments to the debate. The speakers in both teams have 15 minutes of prep time to develop a strategy and come up with arguments. I’ll get into that later! Each speech is about 7 minutes long (based on the host’s preference). The free speakers have about 3 minutes and 30 seconds of time (again, based on the host’s preference). The 7 minutes of speak time have a grace period in the form of the first and the last minute as a grace period where no questions can be asked. Between that, you may take or reject a question from your opposing team that may help you or actually obstruct you in a way.
The “house” essentially is for the notion or topic that we’re debating. The notion can range really from joke debates to political, economic, ecological, sociological, and other topics but generally, you either get a fact sheet beforehand or you have to improvise in your prep time. The opposition is against the notion, essentially opposing it. An example for a notion would be “The house wants to limit the amount of time that people can spend with streaming services (i.e. Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, HBO, Disney+, etc.).” This was actually a notion that we debated over a while ago in our debate club with the opposition winning. Now as far as the order in which the speakers talk goes, the house starts with the opening speech followed by the first oppositional speech, followed by the second speech by the house, followed by the second speech by the opposition. Then the free speakers are able to hold their 3.5-minute speeches where they take a side. The opposing site can reply to these speeches accordingly in a short one-minute speech. After the free speakers are done, the opposition holds their last speech followed by the house holding their last speech. The last two speeches can’t contain new arguments.
What I love about debating is that essentially you just have a lot of different ways to link your arguments together and potentially “destroy” your opponents’ upcoming arguments. I like to think about what the “obvious” arguments against or for the notion are and I try to either change the definition accordingly in the first speech or I try to counter upcoming arguments that could be named in one of my speeches so that the opponent may run out of options. It’s always fun when that works out but you can also try to just hold your speech without much of a Rebuttal (reply to the opposing side’s speech, often reducing its impact or relevance) and there are a lot of ways of going at it for that.
Generally, you have a “Status Quo” (Where are we now?), a “Goal” (Where do we want to go?), and a “Mechanism” (How do we get there?). You can start at any point but usually going from SQ to Goal via the mechanism or from the SQ using the mechanism to the goal is the easiest way of getting your point across. There are other strategies as well but I think this post is already long enough as is. And well, you can use all the rhetorical devices in your repertoire to link these arguments together and to deliver them properly, creating an impact in the process. You can repeat your stronger arguments more often, explain them again, and use metaphors. You can try to diminish the effort of the opposing side by ridiculing their arguments (without attacking or insulting them, of course, because an “ad hominem” usually results in a penalty). More importantly, though, your gestures, your facial expression, your body language and generally, your presentation is what really drives your speech and it’s important to at least “look” as if you know what you’re talking about… and I frankly love that. I love overexaggerating certain things and putting on a show of sorts and I think that that may prove to be really useful to make Philosophy and English Studies vivid and exciting in schools!
All in all, it’s just a lot of fun and I really enjoy debating with people over serious topics and stupid topics. It’s a passion of mine but from time to time, I learned that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea even though I’m having fun. A lot of people IRL get upset with you or actually take it as an insult to them or a personal attack when you argue with them in a simple discussion. Hence, I try not to do it as much anymore, especially as my phrasing often leads to further issues with people, getting me into trouble in the process because I sometimes just forget to mention certain things and because I sometimes phrase things weirdly. Debating has helped me improve at that but what’s even better is that I can debate with people that I like and care about in that club and those people know that what I say isn’t necessarily my opinion but rather my team’s side. Sometimes, you’ll have to be the bad guy but everyone knows that you’re not. It’s a role and it’s all just fun and games. And you can get a little bit competitive as well which is a lot of fun.
Either way, I’ve been rambling and I just really love the debate club and figured it’d be fun to talk about it today. If you have any questions, let me know and if you wanna read more about this, I’ll see what I can do about this.