Debating Decorum & Tactics
Why is decorum important?
Consideration and civility are paramount to club conduct, ensuring that even the most aggressive debates are not personal.
Parliamentary debating is meant to give the illusion that people actually believe the positions they are advocating.
The Toronto Debating Society promotes a balance of fun and formality.
Treat everyone in the process with respect -- we are all participating to learn and have fun.
The "spirit" of the debate should reflect the tone of the motion. Some of our topics are serious and should be treated as such. Others are light hearted and should also be treated as such. Use your discretion appropriately.
When you arrive at the podium, thank the speaker for the introduction and greet the house. E.g. "Thank you, Mister/Madame Speaker. Ladies and gentlemen of the house, I am here tonight to…."
Address all your remarks to the speaker, or to the House (i.e. the audience and the camera). Do not speak directly to your opponents; do not directly address the adjudicator.
If you wish to refer to your opponents, use the name of their position: e.g. "My honourable opponent, the leader of the opposition, claimed that…."
Timing: a single indicates you have one minute remaining; adouble bell means you are out of time. There is a 15 second grace period ato allow you to finish your current sentence and, if you have not done so already, conclude your speech by thanking the House and asking the House to support your position. E.g. "…this concludes my final point. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. For the reasons I have outlined in my case, I ask you to please, support the motion."
Specific camera notes
Do not use any last names on camera. (Privacy concerns for videos on YouTube).
Remain standing behind the podium to stay "in frame."
If you are unsure how to address the camera, the best thing to do is treat it as a single audience member (i.e. make occasional eye contact).
While you are not at the podium, banging on the table and heckling are within the acceptable realm in the spirit of fun. (Heckling is an occasional single-word outburst; e.g. "source!", "shame!")
Do not use props in your presentation. (You may find it permissible to bend this rule during a comedy debate - use your best judgement).
Electronic devices used to communicate, or search the internet, are not permitted during a debate. This prohibition also applies before an “Impromptu Debate,” where advance research is specifically disallowed. However, an electronic device may be used in lieu of paper notes.
Do not use offensive language or obscene gestures.
Respect any decisions made by the speaker if they become involved in a debate. (This rarely happens).
What wins a debate
In general, debates are made up of two members, or teams of two. Each aims to win the debate by convincing the audience that they have made the stronger case for or against the motion (or topic being debated)
Ultimately the winner of a debate is judged by their persuasiveness. Persuasiveness is determined by a number of so-called 'winnability factors'.
Winnability factors include:
Clearly defined resolution
Substantive arguments with supporting examples
Style / Rhetorical fluorish
Well executed Points of Information (when applicable)
Summary speeches that are on point
Clearly defined resolution
In Parliamentary debate, the Prime Minister outlines the motion at the beginning of his or her speech and defines the meaning of any terms in the motion which require interpretation. The definitions provided must have a clear and logical link to the motion. In addition the definition must be debatable that is not so narrowly defined as to restrict the ability of the opposing team to reasonably debate the motion. The definitions should reflect the commonly held meaning of the terms
The Prime Minister is responsible for presenting and defending a sufficient case for the resolution. The case is made up of the arguments a debater uses to further his or her case and persuade the audience. Each argument should be fully explained and supported by reasoning, examples, case studies, facts and any other material that attempts to further the case.
The elements of a persuasive argument are that they be:
Relevant to the issues of the debate
They should be developed logically in order to be clear and well reasoned and therefore plausible. The conclusion of all arguments should support the member’s case.
Debaters should ensure that the matter they present is consistent within their speech and their team.
Ultimately the arguments presented should assist the audience and adjudicator to assess the persuasiveness and credibility of the matter presented.
Style is the presentation of the speech. It is the style and structure a member uses to further his or her case and persuade the audience. The elements of style include eye contact, voice modulation, hand gestures, language, the use of notes and any other element which may affect the effectiveness of the presentation.
Eye contact will generally assist a member to persuade an audience as it allows the member to appear more sincere.
Voice modulation will generally assist a member to persuade an audience as the debater may emphasize important arguments and keep the attention of the audience. This includes the pitch, tone, and volume of the member’s voice and the use of pauses.
Hand gestures will generally assist a member to emphasize important arguments. Excessive hand movements may however be distracting and reduce the attentiveness of the audience to the arguments.
Language should be clear and simple. Members who use language which is too verbose or confusing may detract from the argument if they lose the attention of the audience.
The first opposition speaker attempts to weaken or nullify the case for the government, usually by refuting the main arguments of the case. This is called refutation. The Opposition analyzes the first speaker's arguments, pointing out logical weaknesses, factual inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the main lines of proof.
The opposition is not obliged to dispute or disagree with every argument, or even every main point, of the governments case. In fact, many debaters miss important Opportunities for winning arguments because they feel compelled to negate each of the ideas their Opponents introduce. A speaker should, however, address the vital issues of the other side, whether by strategically agreeing with them or contesting them
Most good debates are won or lost in the rebuttals. The rebuttals are the summary speeches for each side of the debate, the last opportunity each side will have to explain why they should win. Rebuttals are a final opportunity to contrast the major positions and philosophies of the proposition and opposition. The shorter time of rebuttal speeches necessitates selectivity. Rebuttalists should paint the "big picture" of the round, sorting out the decisive issues from those that are less important.
The opposition has the first rebuttal speech. This speech should offer an effective summation of the main issues of the debate, demonstrating how important points for the opposition undermine support for the motion.
The Prime Minister has the final speech in the debate. This speech should summarize the entire debate from the perspective of the government, focusing the discussion on a group of powerfully unified ideas. They should summarize the important arguments and contrast the main arguments of the Opposition with those in favor of the motion.
Points of information
Points of information are a dynamic and enjoyable part of parliamentary debate. A point of information is a brief rejoinder (10 seconds or less) to the point then being made by the person speaking. It may be a concise statement or a pointed question.
Each speaker in the debate should both offer and accept points of information. A speaker who declines to accept any points may seem to fear the opponent's arguments. On the other hand, a speaker who accepts too many points of information loses control of his or her speech. Usually, a constructive speaker will accept two or three points of information.. Accepting them when offered shows that you are confident of your arguments and prepared to defend them.
Points of Information are an opportunity for a member of the opposing side to interject with a question or comment during a speech. The member making a Point of Information will usually try to either throw a speaker off his or her train of thought or raise doubts about the argument in the mind of the audience. A Point of Information is not intended to give rise to a dialogue nor is it intended to be a speech that allows the opposing member to dominate the current speaker’s time allotment. (Note that the time allotted for the speech is not increased to offset the interruption.)
Points of Information can only be offered after the first minute and before the last minute of a speech.
Typically the Speaker does not need to become engaged in POI’s unless he/ she feels that the person requesting the POI has grossly overstepped their boundaries.
The major characteristic of delivering a POI is to destabalise your opponent's:
< Thought process
< Composure (it’s a jungle out there folks)
Delivering a POI
If your offer is accepted, be brief! A good POI should be delivered succinctly in a few seconds. Remember:
< Make certain you can be seen by the member having the floor
< Keep your POI short and to the point: try making the POI in 5 and no more than, 10 seconds
< Aim to make it a sharp question; one that demands an full answer
Handling a POI
As the debater holding the floor, you have to make the acceptance or rejection of POI explicit.
< A hand waving the offering debater to sit down, or a “No Thank you” is quite acceptable
< “I will take your point in 20 seconds” is also perfectly acceptable
< Leaving the offering debater standing ignored for more than 10 seconds is not acceptable
Once accepted the member who should address (or at least give the appearance of addressing) the Point of Information quickly and then return to the arguments he or she wishes to make. A quick comeback is the ideal, but even experienced speakers will usually think of these the next day. The most important thing for the speaker having the floor, is to stay focused on his or her arguments.
The Speaker and POI
Typically, you would not expect or require the Speaker to be involved in POI’s; if this occurs, this indicates poor judgement by one or both sides. However, the Speaker is expected to make sure that the rules of the house are maintained and POIs are not abused. This includes:
< When a POI is offered outside the restricted time period, the POI becomes overly extended, or a POI is delivered without express consent, the Speaker must admonish or dismiss the offering party.
< POIs are adjudicated as an integral part of a debate based on its general impact towards the debate.
< POIs themselves affect the debate significantly, making some arguments look stronger than the others, so indirectly POIs are already taken into account when the adjudicators mark each speech.
As a debater, by verbalising an opposing idea, you will find that more ideas come more readily with practice. You are able to immediately challenge suspect information, or point out contradictions between speakers. Well chosen and well placed POI can really liven up the debate for the audience.
© (2016) Toronto Debating Society