A debate is a formal, friendly competition between two people or two teams that take opposing sides on an issue -- a proposition side that is in favor of adopting a resolution and an opposition side that refutes the resolution. To craft a debate speech that grabs and holds the attention of the judges and audience, set the tone by using simple words precisely and accurately. Inaccurate word choice opens you up to attack from your opponents. Do not use casual, rude or offensive language.
Open the Debate
Introduce the topic in the first paragraph then make a statement that clearly and specifically identifies the team's position -- in favor or against the motion or issue under debate. Define and explain any complex scientific or technological terms or processes your audience needs to understand the topic before stating if you are for or against the resolution. For instance, if the debate is about a resolution to ban a specific environmental hazard such as shale oil drilling, explain the process of drilling through rock -- hydraulic fracturing known as fracking -- with a high-pressure mixture of chemicals and water to release resources of oil and gas
Present the Context
Explain the context -- the related circumstances and events in real life that relate to the topic. For example, if your team is against fracking, offer examples and statistics about groundwater contamination and earthquake events over time that scientists believe are related to shale drilling. The opposition could show how fracking decreases the country’s dependence on foreign energy products and helps stabilize the economy. To capture the emotional impact of the topic, tell an anecdote about someone who has personal experience with the topic or use a short famous quote, proverb, saying or poem and explain how it relates to the topic.
Provide an Overview
Make an attack that goes beyond a mere rebuttal of a particular point with an overview of the debate so far. The idea is to evaluate the arguments made by the opposing team and to point out any flaws in the general approach. For the fracking issue, you could point out that arguments about an environmental phenomenon should not be based primarily on an economic or foreign policy issues. The opposition could question the scientific evidence against fracking procedures or point out that the argument so far ignores some important factors such as the opportunity fracking offers to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.
Direct Audience Attention
Insert transition markers to keep the arguments in the middle of the speech from merging with each other. For example, instead of just saying “furthermore,” refer specifically to each point as either first, second or third point. For instance, you could say: “Now let us look at why the opposition’s first point concerning environmental contamination is flawed.” Use a signpost such as “For my first rebuttal, allow me to address the opposition’s second point about dependence on foreign oil.” Eliminate “deadwood” such as “as you may know, as I mentioned before, in the final analysis,” or "Ladies and Gentlemen." A short pause is more effective to help keep the audience’s attention.
Conclude with a Theme
Sum up the key points you have presented and if time permits what the other speakers have presented. Refer back to the introduction’s anecdote or use a quote that vividly conveys the theme of argument such as what attitudes toward fracking have to say about a future of economic stability or environmental devastation. Debate speeches often end with a flourish -- a showy, emotional or dramatic tone that conveys intensity of feeling.
A native of New Orleans, Amanda Petrona holds a Bachelor of Science in anthropology/social psychology and Master of Arts in English. She taught writing, research and literature at LSU Baton Rouge. Petrona founded Wild Spirit Louisiana, an organic farm, nature conservatory, and education center for sustainable and holistic living.