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How To Be a Debate Team Star

There's nothing like a verbal smackdown. And there's no better place to get your brawl on than your school's debate team.


  • Step 1: Prepare and deliver a rebuttal based on your notes and prior research. Refute your opponent's arguments in the order they presented them – it shows the judges you were paying attention and helps them follow along.
  • TIP: While talking, if you feel the urge to say "um," learn to take a quick breath instead.
  • Step 2: Keep your concluding summary simple and concise. When critiquing your opponent, avoid focusing on specific points and instead attack their major themes. Now sit back and wait for victory.
  • FACT: Did you know?
    Famous former high school and college debaters include James Earl Jones, Bruce Springsteen, and Oprah Winfrey.
  • Step 3: While your opponent is talking, take quick notes. This is a time to be thinking on your feet and creating your rebuttal points, so don't worry about the neatness of your handwriting, just as long as you can read it.
  • TIP: Most of the nation's top debate teams employ the practice of speed talking, or spreading, at times reaching 400 words per minute.
  • TIP: Check in with your teammates to make sure you're not repeating or contradicting someone else's argument.
  • Step 4: Building a strong case statement is only part of the battle. Preparing rebuttals and understanding your opposition's argument is vital. Research every counterpoint imaginable and think through any questions you anticipate being asked by your opponent.
  • Step 5: Dress the part. Boys should wear a nice pair of pants, a dress shirt, a sports jacket and tie, and dress shoes. Girls should opt for a skirt or suit. Leave garish jewelry at home.
  • Step 6: During the debate, stay calm and confident. Talk quickly but clearly, pause at appropriate places for dramatic effect, and make eye contact with the judges as often as possible.
  • Step 7: Hit the books for some heavy research. Ahead of the actual debate, your team will be assigned a pro or con stance on a specific topic – called a resolution. Besides gathering evidence that supports your stance, study the history related to your resolution, and any current news articles involving your topic.

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