How to Prepare for a Debate Speech in #5 Steps: A Detailed Guide

What is debating?

Debating entails two sides speaking for and against an issue, with specific time allocations during which any interjections are controlled. Teams must prepare for a debate speech in order to have a good flow of arguments during the debate session. Debaters must exercise caution and argue as a team to avoid contradicting what other members have said. The subject of debate is usually pre-arranged. In some instances, one may support ideas that, usually, they would not agree to.

Why is debating important?

In general, the benefits of debating include:

  • It increases learners’ confidence, poise, and self-esteem
  • It helps learners acquire multi-faceted knowledge across different subjects. Debating helps learners acquire a sense of empowerment, as they will know specific global issues and ways through which the government or society can solve them.
  • It encourages teamwork among members of the debate team. Debate teams must work together to coordinate their arguments and even plan for rebuttals against the other team.
  • It improves learners’ abilities to develop informed arguments, reasoning, and evidence.
  • It provides an active, learner-centered activity that improves speech composition and delivery.
  • It improves learners’ critical thinking, analytical, and note-taking skills.
  • It is a social way of expressing one’s point of view on a topic. Debating teaches students to accept different points of view and to learn how to agree to disagree.

This infographic lists the importance of debating as we learn how to prepare for a debate speech.

Key terminologies in debating

  1. Negative constructive debate. This is when the points passed across by the affirmatives have flaws and the negatives use evidence to highlight the lack of practicality in their arguments.
  2. Debate evidence brief. This is when debate teams present a case study of the literature, statistics, and expert opinions they used to support their arguments. It is usually done to ensure the credibility of sources used in the debate.
  3. Debate argument. These are statements that you use in debating when convincing other people that your position is the correct one. In the discussion, both the affirmatives and negatives put forward their stand on the topical issue.
  4. Debate supporting position. This is the position that each debate team stands on, that they support using evidence and persuading the audience that their position is better than the opponents.
  5. Debate proposition. This is a statement that affirms or denies something. The proposition may be a topic, resolution, or motion in a debate.
  6. Permutation. This refers to competition tests in terms of potential combinations of plan and counterplan. It is frequently used as debate slang.
  7. Debate position. This is the stand taken by both debating teams; whether to support the debate topic or oppose it.
  8. Mock debate. This refers to a display of the setting of the original debate. It prepares students to build confidence and bring out their arguments logically before the actual debate day.
  9. Statement of significance. This refers to a detailed description of the importance of the debate topic.
  10. Contention. This refers to an advanced point made in a debate, which brings out a heated formal argument between the debate teams.
  11. Refutation. This refers to proving an argument, statement, or opinion false by using relevant evidence.
  12. Counter-claim. Refers to a claim made to rebut the opposing side’s previous claim.
  13. Parallel-reasoning. They are often in terms of questions, where you are asked to identify arguments with the same logic. This means that two arguments will have the same structure but different concepts behind them.
  14. Burden of rejoinder. This refers to answering relevant arguments of the opposition to keep the debate progressing.
  15. Burden of proof. This is a legal and philosophical concept with differences for each opposing side. In debates, the burden of proof lies with the person making a claim, but it can also lie with the person opposing a fact.
  16. Full narrative account. This is presenting your arguments in chronological order to ensure you persuade the audience to agree with your position on the debate topic.
  17. Framework for debate. This is the set of rules judges will use to evaluate the accuracy of acclaim based on known facts or criteria revealed in a debate.
  18. Fact debate brief. The debater clearly presents the evidence they intend to use to support their arguments. They define key terms and include a thesis that summarizes their position and proposal on the topic.
  19. Statement of significance in debate. This is used to develop your debate speech and what you aim to accomplish.
  20. One-sided debate. This debate presents arguments and supporting evidence for only one side of the debate motion.
  21. Debate critique. Refers to analyzing both the positive and negative aspects of the arguments presented in a debate.

The basic debating skills


This is the most important debating skill, as it is how you communicate your arguments. Content and strategy matter when you deliver your points in a confident and persuasive manner.


When debating, it is important to find a balance between talking fast in a way that sounds intelligent and holds the listeners’ attention and being slow enough for you to be understood.


Tonal variation makes the debate presentation interesting. Listening to one tone for an entire debate session will bore the listeners’. Ensure you project your voice to the back of the room and incorporate dramatic pauses.


Debating is all about expressing your points clearly and concisely. Ensure to keep your arguments short and simple. Longer statements will distract your train of thought and veer off from the main points. Long words make you sound clever but may also confuse your audience.


Ensure you are relaxed and have a good posture. Read through your notes before presenting your arguments to avoid using filler words.

Use of eye contact

Maintain eye contact with your listeners to make the debate captivating, but shift your gaze frequently to avoid staring at one person repeatedly.

Emphasize your arguments using gestures.

What is a debate team?

Each debate involves two teams that take opposing stands on the topic of discussion, either for or against, and an adjudicator. Speakers in both teams alternate in a standard debate session. The affirmative debate team tries to persuade listeners that the topic is true.

In each debate, there are two teams, each consisting of three speakers.  The debate team arguing for the topic is affirmative and the ones arguing against it are negative. Each speaker will speak once and for a defined period of time.

After the final speech, the adjudicator takes time to analyze the arguments, gives feedback, and awards the winning debate team.

Debate Team Speaker Roles

Debating is similar to a sport, as it requires all members to work in unison when preparing arguments for and during debating. Speaker roles might appear restrictive, but they help the debate to run smoothly. Below are the speaker roles:

The order of the debate team speakers is as follows:

  1. First affirmative
  2. First negative
  3. Second affirmative
  4. Second negative
  5. Third affirmative
  6. Third negative

First affirmative

Their role is to introduce their debate team interpretation of the topic, define the topic, outline the team split, and present arguments.

  • Define the topic. The topic definition is short and precise. The definitions specify the important issues in contention and put a boundary on the issues that can be argued in the debate.
  • The team split. The split introduces the first and second speakers in a debate team and lets the audience know which approach your team will take.
  • Present arguments. First and second speakers of a debate team present arguments. The arguments should be different and not contradict each other’s arguments. The arguments should support your team’s contention (agreeing or disagreeing) with the debate topic.

First negative

The role of the first negative is similar to the first affirmative. The only difference is that the first negative is to rebut the arguments of the first affirmative. So, the first negative offers rebuttal and a definitional challenge.

Definitional challenge

In most cases, the definition provided by the first affirmative is adequate for debate. To successfully challenge the definition, the first negative must show the adjudicators that their debate team has the most reasonable definition.


A rebuttal is a counterargument to the main argument and specific issues raised by the first affirmative. During rebuttal, the first negative must ensure that they are rebutting the arguments raised by the first affirmative and not personally attacking them.

Second affirmative and Second Negative

The second speakers of both debate teams have the same roles. They present their own arguments and rebut the opposition’s arguments.

The second affirmative should highlight the major areas of disagreement with the negative team and attack specific areas of arguments raised by the first negative.

The second negative should highlight the arguments raised by the affirmative, focusing on specific points raised by the second affirmative.

Third affirmative and third negative

Third speakers do not present arguments. Their major role is to summarize and rebuttal arguments. The third speaker in a debate should conclude by giving a brief summary of their team’s case.

General debate rules and techniques

A debate is structured and complies with some rules and techniques to ensure that it runs smoothly and efficiently. They include:

  1. There are two teams in a debate, each consisting of three speakers.
  2. Each debate team has three constructive speeches and three rebuttals. The affirmatives have both the first and last speeches of the debate.
  3. The affirmative has the right to make reasonable definitions of the terms used in the topic. If the negatives oppose the definitions, then the judge has the right to choose which debate team shows a better representation of the definition.
  4. The affirmative debate team must advocate for everything on the topic. There is no changing of positions when debating.
  5. All facts presented must be accurate. Use of visual material is permitted. Once used, the opponents can use it as a rebuttal if desired. An assertion made by any debate team must be proven with substantial evidence.
  6. During questioning, the questioner should ask direct, clear, concise questions relevant to the debate. The questioner must ask questions as statements, rhetoric questions, and comments are not allowed. During this time, the questioner can ascertain facts and tear down the opposition’s position on a certain issue that can be used later in the debate.
  7. Each speaker is questioned as soon as they conclude their debate speech. They must answer all questions asked independently without consulting the team members.
  8. No new arguments are introduced in the rebuttal stage. The affirmative must reply to the major negative arguments before the last rebuttal.
  9. The adjudicator must make a fair and sound decision based on the material presented, not the knowledge they possess on the topical issue.

How to prepare for a debate speech

A debate is more than an argument, an opportunity for well-informed people to exchange ideas and formulate arguments on an important policy or issue. When preparing for a debate, keep the following tips in mind:

1.     Brainstorm ideas as a team

Working as a team ensures that you are all on the same page and reduces the chances of contradicting each other during debating. It is important to choose a team leader as they are able to offer a final decision whenever there is a disagreement about definitions or arguments.

2.     Conduct good research.

There is no substitute for good research. Seek high-quality information from reputable sources, including those that do not align with your particular stand on the debate topic. This enables your debate team to have different viewpoints to formulate effective arguments.

3.     Use research to create arguments

Effective debating relies on an argument using evidence to advance a claim, that is, the conclusion you want your audience to agree with. Avoid listing down information without formulating strong arguments.

Ensure to divide the arguments among the debate team members before the debate date.

4.     Arguments for both sides

If you are going to present arguments for a specific statement, it does not mean that you should not explore arguments against the statement.  You have to be ready for arguments from your opponents by trying to foresee what they could ask you. This will ensure you are ready for questions from your opponents.

5.     Prepare your speeches

As a debate team, discuss your arguments and any new ideas that emerged in the writing process. Clarify how the new ideas will fit into the first and second speakers’ arguments. Introduce the idea of making your arguments ‘REAL’ that is:

  • Reason
  • Evidence
  • Analysis
  • Link

If you have never participated in a debate, it would be difficult for you to start. Hence, if you prepare your speeches well, your presentation will be smooth and help you win.

The above points also answer the question “how to prepare for a debate in class”.

Summary of key steps to prepare for a debate speech.

How to conduct a class debate

Introduce the topic

All debates start with a topic or a resolution. A resolution is the stand that the debate teams will either argue for or against. The topic of choice should be one that students can relate to and one with a practical application. Ensure that the audience understands the issue and definitions of the topic.

Assign the affirmative and negative

There are two sides in a debate. The affirmative team argues in support of the resolution, and the negative oppose the resolution. In a class setting, group the participants into three; the affirmative, negative, and the judges. The judges will decide which group presented a stronger argument at the conclusion of the debate. Each group will choose three speakers to present their arguments to the rest of the class.

Give time for research.

The students will need ample research time to ensure they understand the debate topic in-depth.  Encourage all students to form a strategy they will use during debating. During rebuttal, the students should discuss with their teams the points put across by the opposition and decide how to counter them.

Keep track of time

In a formal debate, the speakers follow a set of orders. The most basic structure is as follows:

  • The affirmative debate team’s first speaker presents arguments supporting the resolution. (5-10 minutes)
  • The first speaker of the negative team presents arguments opposing the resolution. (5-10 minutes)
  • The second speaker of the affirmative team presents further arguments in support of the resolution, answers questions that may have been raised, and identifies areas of conflict. (5-10 minutes)
  • The second speaker of the negative team presents further arguments opposing the resolution and answers questions raised by the affirmative speaker. (5-10 minutes)
  • A short recess can be allowed for the teams to prepare their rebuttals. (5 minutes)
  • The negative team begins their rebuttals, attempting to defend the opposing arguments and defeat supporting arguments without adding new information. (3-5 minutes)
  • First rebuttal of the affirmative team. (3-5 minutes)
  • Both debate teams get a chance for second rebuttals for closing statements, with the affirmative being the last to speak. (3-5 minutes)
  • No interruptions are tolerated during this time. All speakers must wait for their turns.

Post-debate discussion

When the formal debate ends, allow members of the audience to ask questions and contribute their thoughts and opinions on the arguments raised. Debate team members may also seek to reflect on their performance and seek feedback from the teacher.

Make a judgment

In a debate, the winner is usually the one who presents the strongest argument.  To determine the winner, have the audience vote on which debate team they felt had the most convincing arguments. Also, weigh which team communicated clearly and rebutted their opponents’ arguments best. This combination will identify the debate winners.

How to debate well

Arrange your arguments in a systematic manner

The order in which you present your arguments to your audience has a massive effect on how they perceive your debate speech. The five steps of how to effectively assemble your arguments are as follows:

  • Introduction. Express why the topic is important to the audience and you.
  • Statement of fact. Highlight the debate thesis and explain why the current issue exists to your audience.
  • Confirmation. Explain your main argument and why your stand is better.
  • Refutation. Acknowledge your opposition – give credit to their arguments before challenging their perspective on the topic.
  • Conclusion. Highlight your major arguments and leave your audience with a rhetorical question to think about.

Enhance your presentation techniques

#1. Presenting your arguments effectively ensures that the audience is keen during debating.  Use figures of speech, antithesis, and metaphors to express arguments in a dynamic manner. Be creative and make your presentation more interesting.

#2. Focus on your gestures, tone, and body language to convey important points to your audience.  Your facts may be accurate, but much of your speech will be forgotten if you miss conveying the message skillfully to your audience.

#3. Delivery varies will the audience side. When presenting to a smaller audience, make more eye contact and speak directly to those listening to you.

#4. Avoid filler words while debating, as you aim to portray mastery of the topic. Try to replace filler words with silence. This gives the audience time to ponder on the last point as you reconfigure your thoughts.

#5. Speak without looking at your notes frequently. It is important to note that a speech from memory is more impressive than that being read on paper. When you memorize the facts and arguments of your topic, you can recount and present them easily and confidently.

Present your rebuttals calmly.

Take a deep breath and calm your mind before beginning the rebuttals. This debate section tends to have a lot of pressure as you must connect the various points and prove to the audience that your resolution is better.

  • Break down your arguments into specific points. By doing this, you avoid adding new information at the last moment.
  • Sum up your arguments into one or two sentences.
  • Focus on the arguments that you have delivered successfully.

Present a passionate debate conclusion

Your closing remarks should take familiar points from your speech. Amplify them with a final appeal to the audience. This can be achieved by a heightened tone of voice and a dramatic pause or allowing your speech to move quicker than it normally would. This last part is crucial in solidifying a win.

How to win a debate

There is no point in having brilliant arguments if you cannot persuade your audience to pick your stand. Persuasive debaters win by employing reason and handy techniques. So, how do you win debates?

Here are some tips on the do’s and don’ts to help you win debates.

  • Stay calm. This is one of the hardest tips for students to follow. Even if you are passionate about the topic, master your emotions and keep a calm composure. If you lose your temper, you lose.
  • Use well-researched facts as evidence for your position. Before the argument starts, gather some pertinent facts that you will use to deploy in support of your stand. Facts are hard to refute; therefore, gather relevant information to support the arguments that will give you an upper hand over your opponents.
  • Ask your opponents questions. If you can ask the right questions, you can control the debate. Ask a question that challenges your opponents’ claims and makes them scramble for answers. Questions such as ‘What evidence do you have for that claim?’
  • Deploy logic in your presentation. Use logic to build your case and show how one idea follows another.
  • Use higher values. Use some emotion on worthy motives that are hard to disagree on, such as ‘Shouldn’t we all be working to make the world a better place by granting entry to refugees affected by civil wars?’
  • Listen attentively. If you want to win a debate, then you should listen more than you speak. Listen keenly to your opponents and their arguments. By listening, you will observe flaws and weaknesses in their position and use them in rebuttals. Also, you might learn something new and informative.
  • Concede a good point. Avoid arguing for the sake of it. If the other debate team makes a good point, agree with it and outweigh it with a different, stronger argument. This makes you look reasonable and knowledgeable.
  • Study your opponent. Know their strengths, weaknesses, and beliefs. Exploit their weaknesses by turning their arguments back on them.
  • Look for a win-win. Be open-minded to reach a compromise that accommodates your main points and those of your opponents.

How to debate effectively

Focus on convincing someone rather than winning

The greatest debaters are those that persuade others by finding common ground rather than going on extreme shifts. To debate effectively, you must find a common point to start with by making others listen to and build on them. You must make room for others to accept your argument with logic and respect rather than show pride and humiliate them.

Remember, the end goal is not to win the debate but to convince your opponents to see things your way.

Focus on debating ideas, not the identity of the individuals debating

In most cases, when a debater feels like they are losing to their opponents, they resort to attacking the identity of the person rather than the argument itself. To debate effectively, both debate teams must focus on attacking the arguments highlighted by their opponents, using pertinent facts and figures and not personal opinions.

What to avoid during a debate session?

To meet the judges’ criteria when considering your debate team for winning, avoid these practices during debating:

  • Publicly disagreeing with the decisions of the judges.
  • Attacking a speaker instead of an argument.
  • Disagreeing with facts and obvious truths.
  • Interrupting opposing debate team members during the presentation.
  • Acting aggressively and offensively towards other debate teams, judges, or the audience.

How to flow in a debate

Flowing in a debate is the technique used to keep track of arguments made by your opponents. To effectively respond to your opponents, you must write down the arguments logically to easily remember.

The basic concepts from flow apply in various settings such as classrooms and courtrooms.

Take inventory. Taking notes as people are speaking in a debate is naturally hard. With time, you develop your own techniques for doing it quickly without missing vital information. Most students prefer using a legal pad and writing utensils. Some debaters opt for pencil as it is easier to correct.

Before the debate starts, divide the pad into four columns for three arguments and a rebuttal.

When the debate begins, start writing down the major arguments raised by each speaker; logically. A good speaker will be well organized, making your work easier.

If you are the first speaker, you won’t be able to write down the arguments; therefore, list down your own arguments in the first column. This is called pre-flowing and will allow you to follow through with the debate proceedings once you are done presenting your speech.

Infographic summarizing tips to enhance debate presentation skills.

How to organize a debate competition?

Factors and questions to consider when hosting a debate competition include:

  • Who will the competition be for? Your students? Your students and other students?
  • Who will judge the competition? Colleagues? Fellow students? Older students? Individuals from the local community?
  • When will the debate take place? Weekend? Weekday?
  • Where will the debate take place? In the hall or classrooms?
  • Will there be a prize? Could you get a sponsor such as the local university?
  • How long will the debate take? Try calculating the approximate time for each speaker and the judges’ discussion time. You will then add a minimum of 15 minutes for expected delays.
  • How many teams will compete?


  • Once you have settled on a date, you can start advertising. If it is an internal debate competition, this will be fairly simple.
  • If you invite local schools, aim to give them a letter at least 6 weeks prior.
  • Once teams have signed up, work out who will debate who.
  • Make sure at least one person will be in charge of running the debate competition.
  • Print out debate schedules for all participants.

On the day:

  • Aim to prepare at least one hour before the competition begins
  • Set up a PowerPoint slide if you are using it for announcements.
  • Have a quick briefing.
  • Remind the teams which position they are arguing: for or against.
  • Start the debate competition.

Frequently asked questions in debating

1. Why is debating important?

Debating is important because it develops many skills and helps students acquire knowledge on issues surrounding them. Also, it boosts self-confidence as debaters can conduct research and presents their findings to an audience.

2. What do you call a person who debates?

A person who debates is a debater. Debaters are usually in two debate teams that consist of affirmatives and negatives.

3. What are the final steps of making an effective rebuttal?

The final step to making an effective rebuttal is by twisting your own arguments to mount a defense against your own case. Highlight your debate speech with points that you can use to rebut your opposition.

4. What does it mean to dispute an argument based on facts?

This means disputing your opponents’ arguments in a factual and composed manner. An argument is only disputed with facts, statistics, and relevant literature on the debate topic. If the opposing debate team gives misleading information, then you dispute it by stating the factual information.

5. What is an effective strategy for addressing a counter-argument?

A counter-argument is an argument opposed to your thesis. It expresses the view of the person who disagrees with your position.

A counterargument is addressed thoroughly, fairly, and objectively. Listen to the argument raised by your opponent keenly and find flaws in it. Use relevant evidence to rebut the argument put up in a calm manner.

6. What role do the coaching staff/teachers play in preparing students for a debate competition?

The coaching staff, mostly the teachers, in your school seek to accomplish four major objectives. These are to guide, organize, and prepare arguments, strategy, and research priorities. Your teachers have years of experience in preparing debates and help you make decisions on the key elements, such as choosing a debate topic and formulating counter-arguments strategies.

7. Is there a grade requirement for participation in a debate?

No. A debate involves all class members, and everyone is required to participate by offering suggestions on strong arguments and conducting research. However, if you are interested in joining a debating society, you should maintain a GPA of 3.0 and attend weekly meetings.

8. Why and how do we assign debate partners?

Debate partners are assigned to encourage teamwork among students. They are able to build strategies and come up with robust arguments supported by pertinent evidence. Debate partners are assigned by the teacher or moderator according to your perspectives and interests on the debate topic.

9. How do you win an impromptu debate?

Ensure you begin with a strong opening statement, preferably something witty, followed by a direct response to the debate question. Elaborate your arguments by supporting them with relevant evidence, and then wrap it up with a brief summary. End your debate with a question or a challenge for the audience to ponder on.

10. What are the main points to consider when preparing for a debate?

Be well-prepared and confident. When you are well-prepared and have written down and memorized your arguments, you are likely to present the debate in a logical flow. Students should prepare well for the debate topic, do in-depth research, and prepare for counter-arguments.

11. How do I practice for a debate alone?

Practicing for a debate alone is an effective strategy to prepare your mind for the actual debate day. Start by practicing your first constructive speech, think about counter-arguments against your own position, and practice rebuttals with a fellow student. These strategies will set you up for success during a debate.

12. How do you prepare for a debate effectively?

Brainstorm ideas to come up with an informative and interesting debate topic. Secondly, organize the ideas and formulate arguments to support your debate position. Structure your debate speeches to ensure that they flow uniformly and all arguments have relevant supporting evidence. Finally, prepare your final speeches and prepare the class for a debate session.

13. How to prepare for a debate worksheet?

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