The GREAT Debate Competition provides an informal but highly rigorous debating experience for all those involved. It should be stressed that we do not issue judges with narrow criteria for arriving at a decision, but instead ask them to simply decide which side of the debate, for or against, has made the most convincing argument. The judges’ decision is final!
The GREAT Debate competition places a great deal of importance on the content of an argument. This means the extent to which a candidates argument is well researched, argued and defended is of high importance. Candidates should be well versed in raising a wide range of points, arguments and evidence. A candidate with a good understanding of both sides of the debate will be in a stronger position to carry his/her side of the debate.
The choice of topics reflects the fact that GREAT Debate is not just a debating competition but also a forum for serious discussion and debate on a number of key contemporary issues. To this end the ‘real world’ character of the debate topics is integral to what this competition is all about. Students need to have a good grasp of how the issue they are debating is being discussed and contested in the real world, and to take good account of these arguments when delivering their speeches and answering questions.
It is important that students engage with the spirit of the motion and the side of the debate (for/against) that they have been allocated, rather than trying to interpret the motion narrowly in an attempt to evade difficult issues or avoid arguing the side of the motion they have been given. Candidates need to think on their feet and be able to take on board new points put to them by the opponents during the course of a debate.
Most important is the content of the debate. Candidates need to learn to be effective in convincing others of their arguments and this inevitably requires a combination of substance and style if their arguments are to really hit home. For example, if the judges and audience struggle to hear what a debater is saying – either because they are speaking softly into their notes or garbling their speech because it is too long – this will inevitably reduce the impact of a debater’s arguments. Similarly, making eye contact with the judges and the audience helps to keep their attention and therefore improves the likelihood that they will absorb all of a debater’s points.