How to be a successful debater?


Webb Debate Team in the 2018 Championship Tournament at Rim of the World High School

Victoria Liu, Editor of News & Opinion

Argument: Debate is fun.

Evidence: Debate topics range from foreign policies to domestic politics, from the nuclear dynamics in the Korean peninsula to gun control to trade deficit with China. The wide variety of topics in debate makes debate interesting and captivating.

Impact: How to be a successful debater? Here is your free tutorial on becoming the next Noam Chomsky or Alan Dershowitz, some of the best debaters and commentators in the world.

  1. Find your own debating style

Some people prefer the aggressive debating style characterized by high speech tones and fast pace, while others prefer a more quiet and organized style. The lesson here is to craft your own style and find which best works for you. Some people like to start every speech with a famous quote from historians and politicians. Others might like to start with statistics and detailed pieces of evidence. One can also start with a personal anecdote about what happened to a close relative or a friend, and how the story relates to the debate topic. Regardless of what style you want to use, be sure to evoke ethos and pathos to create a more persuasive speech.

  1. Make strong refutations

Refutations should be pointed and straightforward. The first step to refute every opponent’s argument is to “dissect” cause and effects, and correlations and causations. Try your best to disconnect their evidence from their proof. For example, if they say violent video games increases possibilities of suicide, challenge it by saying how suicide rates can be caused by a variety of factors, like depression and anxiety, which are not correlated with video games.

Going off, try to pin negative parts of what you are defending on something else. In the debate about whether we should keep Olympic games, our team pinned the huge economic burden and displacement caused by Olympic games on the malfunctioning of the government in host countries. Then, go on to argue how by blaming the Olympic games for malfunctioning of the government identifies the wrong cause and is misleading.

In addition, simply refuting something as ineffective is not enough. For example, in the debate of “The United States should adopt an America First policy with China,” only arguing ineffectiveness of America First is not sufficient. To be a successful debater, you have to prove how certain proposals are not only counterproductive, but also will cause a huge backlash that hurts American economy and global market.

  1. Identify with common grounds of both sides

Try to identify with goals of the opponent team. If they argue for privacy, then say: we are not against privacy, but we are against the other team’s method to protect privacy. Then, elaborate on how the opponent team’s solutions actually hurts more than it protects privacy. Always surrender and compromise on core principles to win moral high ground.

  1. Always frame the debate in favorable ways

Framing the debate is an important way to present certain concepts in a different light to the judges. If you are on the side to defend America First, try to frame America First as a trade policy that protects core American interests and prioritizes national interests above international interests. Framing it this way dilutes the concept’s divisiveness in the Trump presidency and thus helps the prop side. On the other hand, if you are to oppose America First, frame it as a deeply nativist, US-centric, xenophobic idea, and emphasizes more its dark past.

Good luck on the debating journey!

PS: If you are on the debate team, you will probably know my most famous quote: “There are three clash points in a debate.” My second most famous quote, known only in my own debate team, is: “Debate is not about the truth, but rather about the distortion and persuasion of the truth.”