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Many of you have experience with public speaking: giving formal or informal presentations in classes, teaching in schools, or maybe even participating in a speaking competition. Debate will let you use and develop those skills, but it will also help you to develop other skills--close reading, interpretation, critical reasoning, argumentation, rhetorical invention--and all in front of a live audience!

"This house believes" that debate will be an exciting and enriching addition to your university experience. So sign on, jump in, "reach higher," and Speak Up!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rules of Debate

Debate rules! At least, it can be quite stimulating, though it does take some getting used to. Please review the rules carefully, and be sure to check this entry regularly for edits and updates. As our debates become more sophisticated and polished, so will our rules.

But this will get us started.

Draft Rules of the CHSS Debate Society

  1. For now, the language of the debates will be English. If there is sufficient interest, we may sponsor Arabic-language debates in the future.
  2. Speeches will be five (5) minutes in length, including addresses, motions/rebuttals, assertions, evidence, and summations. 
  3. An audible notice will be given after one (1) minute and four (4) minutes, and again at the five (5) minute mark.
  4. Speakers will be expected to be in their seats no later than fifteen (15) seconds after the final notice. 
  5. There will be two (2) speeches per side, plus a three (3) minute summation.
  6. First speeches must begin with a formal address. You may use the traditional Arabic greeting, of course, and afterward address the moderator, judges, and audience, as follows: "Mr. Speaker/Madame Speaker (moderator), adjudicators, and ladies and gentlemen...."
  7. The proposition will open the argument with the motion in the following formula: "This House believes/asserts/would..." For example, "This House would require the election of women to 50% of available seats in the government assembly." or "This House believes that electing women to government positions improves the quality of women's lives." ("House" refers to the British "Houses of Parliament.")
  8. The opposition opens their remarks with a counter-motion, thus: "This side of the House would not require the election...." or "This side of the House does not believe that electing women...."
  9. Traditionally, teams not speaking may offer to interject, typically by standing or raising a hand, with "points of information"--clarifying statements or questions--but these points do not have to be accepted by the speaker. If they are, they must not last more than fifteen (15) seconds. The moderator must control teams who interject too often. We will phase this practice in throughout the term.
  10. If teams feel their opponents are speaking unfairly or inappropriately, or are otherwise abusing the debate, they may raise a "point of order" with the moderator, typically by saying "Mr. Moderator, a point of order." If recognized, they may register their complaint. 
  11. Teams and speakers will not use props of any kind, including computer-based presentations or images. Speech only is permitted.
  12. Once the Society has agreed on the specific "motion," it cannot be changed by teams. 
  13. The opening speaker for the proposition must "define" the terms of the motion or interpret it for the purposes of the debate. The moderator may offer clarification. Any interruption by the moderator will pause the clock.
  14. Second speeches by both sides may rebut their opponents points and add new information if helpful. Summations must not add new information, but may both summarize the team's position, reminding the audience of their better points, and rebut their opponents, showing the weakness in that argument.
  15. Remember that it is vital to rebut your opponents: not just to disagree with them, but to show why their arguments are weak or flawed. 
  16. Do not make assertions based solely on opinion or conviction: you must indicate or provide some evidence for each point.
  17. It is not necessary that you believe what your team is arguing (for or against the motion). Parliamentary debate is about testing ideas, and so the opposition and the proposition subject their opponents to rigorous scrutiny--to make each other argue well and responsibly.
  18. While the judges make their determination, comment will be opened to the floor of the House (the audience) to participate by making short statements or points in support of one side or the other.
  19. Plagiarism of texts/scripts will not be tolerated, and if discovered will result in suspension from the Society. Please discuss your arguments with your faculty advisor, and be sure to go over all sources. Direct quotation should not be necessary except in rare cases.
  20. Have fun!

Sound complicated? It is, a little. But after one or two debates, it all begins to make sense. 

Stay focused on what you will gain from this experience: you may make some mistakes (we all will!), but you will get better over time, and the strength, confidence, and understanding you acquire will make it worthwhile. It will prepare you to be better persons, better citizens, and better servants to your nation and region.

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