Constructing a speech


There is more to a debate speech than the mere delivery of arguments and rebuttals. No doubt these two elements form the backbone of a debate speech. However, the following elements are crucial in making a speech interesting, memorable and easy to follow for the judges. When the judges have an easy time following a Debater’s speech, they will always be more inclined to give more points in return.


The First Impression


It is critial that Debaters make a good first impression on the judges within a debate. Making a good impression straight away leads the judges to believe that the debater is capable of making a good speech to follow and induces them to give higher scores if the debater is able to fulfill this potential. Many debaters, however, will merely launch into the speeches’ contents, which makes the remarks appear more utilitarian. A good introduction is thus essential in raising the expectations of the judges.

A good introduction also serves to differentiate the speaker from the other debaters in the round and get more attention from the judges. Debaters can consider using the following elements to create effective introductions to their speeches. Debaters should allocated about 20-45 seconds for the introductions but this will depend on the time available for the speech and the amount of substantive matter which needs to be covered.




This technique is commonly used by the First speakers of both teams. The speakers open their speeches by contextualizing the motion in real world events. This shows the judges that the speakers understand the relevance of the motion and why the motion is being debated. The contextualisation also provides the speakers with an opportunity to make their stance as sympathetic as possible.

In a debate about the use of nuclear technology, the First Proposition Speaker can open by citing the depletion of natural resources as well as the need to find sustainable and cheap energy sources in the developing world. The speaker may also highlight the increasing concerns over carbon emissions and global warming, factors which will support Proposition’s arguments in favour of nuclear technology. The First Opposition Speaker, in contrast, will contextualize the debate by referring to nuclear accidents, such as those in Japan, as well as the threat of nuclear weapon programmes in North Korea and Iran.




The overview is a technique more commonly used from the Second Speaker onwards, although the First Opposition Speaker may also use it. Here, the Debater makes a critique of the approach being taken by the opposing team. This is an attack on the opposing team which goes beyond a mere rebuttal of a point. Here, the debater makes the assessment of how the debate is proceeding and why the opponent’s general approach is flawed. This assessment will also serve as a pre-cursor to the evaluative component of the Summary Speeches and signals to the judges that the Debater has the ability to look at the debate critically.

For instance, in a Debate about globalisation, the Second Proposition Speaker can note that the Opposition has focused mainly on social and political issues and criticise this approach during the overview as globalisation is primarily an economic phenomenon. The Second Opposition Speaker, in response, can note during the overview that the Proposition had primarily used examples from developed countries and has ignored the impact on least developing countries in order to put globalisation in a good light.

Prominent Example


Another interesting way to open the speech is to use a poignant example in support of the team’s stance. This has the effect of quickly grounding the debate in reality and putting a clear metal image of the debate in the minds of the judges. This technique differs from contextualization as the Debater is only using a single example for its impact rather than the explanation of the broad circumstance. Thus, going back to the motion on nuclear technology, the speaker can open with a detailed example on the reactor meltdown at Chernobyl and the resultant radioactive fallout over Europe. While all the speakers on the floor have the option of opening the speech with an example, they will have to be aware that this will necessarily take away an example which could have been used for an argument or rebuttal.


Personal Anecdote


This technique is especially useful in establishing a rapport with the judges and the audience. This allows the debater to create some differentiation from the rest of the speakers while making the topic a little more interesting. Ideally, the anecdote should be related to the motion.

On some occasions, Debaters can get an additional benefit from this technique by becoming authority figures. For instance, on a motion about the United Nations, a Debater who has worked or interned at the UN will be able to speak with more authority. Thus, the Debater can make reference to an incident or episode during the stint at the UN. Since it will be clumsy and possibly counterproductive to say “I have worked at the UN so I know more about this than anyone here,” a good way to claim authority will be subtly working in the Debater’s UN background into an anecdote or story.



The use of famous quotes related to the topic can also be a good way to start a speech. These are formulated well and are usually short and sharp, which allows the debaters to proceed quickly into these speeches. Debaters should avoid the mere recitation of the quote prior to proceeding to the case. Instead, they should explain how the quote relates to the motion at hand.




The use of humour can be effective in easing the tension in the room and establishing a rapport with the audience and the judges. Although the Debater is free to use any type of jokes or quips, it will be best if there are related to the topic in some way.

The use of humour always involves some risks. If the humour goes unappreciated, the silence will be awkward and deafening and the Debater will be embarrassed. Worse, the humour could backfire if it ends up offending the audience or the judges.


Finishing Strong


The conclusion to a speech is just as important as the introduction. The judges will be close to making up their minds on the score to be given to the speakers and a strong finish could assist in pushing the score a little higher. Thus, speakers should get rid of bad habits such as panicked and rushed endings or incomplete conclusions trailing off as they return to their seats. Instead, they should allocate some time at the end of their speeches for a strong and effective conclusion.


Following the Theme

One technique to wrap up the speech to refer back to the introduction and finish on the same theme. Thus, if an anecdote was used, the conclusion could refer to the same story for a fitting conclusion. The speaker with the UN experience can sum up the speech by referring to the lessons learnt at the end of the tenure.



Quotations work even better at the end of speeches as they are short and can be delivered with a flourish; useful when there will be little time left for the speaker.



Speakers who provide a summation of the key components of the speech just delivered will be able to remind the judges of all the points covered. This will ensure that the judges did not miss a single point. This also lets the judges know that the speaker had complete control over and awareness of the speech.

The summation can also be expanded to cover the key points already delivered by the preceding speakers. This ensures that these key components will remain fresh in the minds of the judges. Third Speakers in particular, should summarise the substantive arguments raised by their teammates at the end of their speeches.


Ease of tracking



Signposting refers to the Debater signaling to the judges on what the various components of the speech are. Specifically, this refers to the Debater declaring what component is about to be delivered before the delivery itself.

For instance, instead of launching directly into a rebuttal, the debater should signpost by saying “For my first rebuttal, let’s address the opposition’s first point on the economic impact.” This allows the judges to know exactly what is happening within a speech. In contrast, a speech without good signposting often leaves judges confused as to which rebuttal was being directed at particular arguments and makes it hard for them to award higher scores.


Transition Markers

Transition markers inform the judges that one particular argument or rebuttal has been concluded and that the speaker has moved on to another component. This simple step alerts the judges that a new argument or rebuttal is about to be delivered and allows them to prepare accordingly. For instance, the speaker may simply say, “The opposition’s first argument has fallen. Let’s see why their second argument is flawed” to indicate that a new rebuttal is being brought in.

Without proper transition markers, Debaters run the risk of having their arguments merge with each other, leaving the judges more confused. For instance, some Debaters merely use“furthermore” as a transition maker to move from one rebuttal to the next. However, because it is an indistinct marker, the judges are uncertain if the speaker was providing multiple rebuttals to one argument or had different responses to multiple arguments.


Tip: One easy way to make it easier for the judges to track the arguments is to list the items to be delivered at the beginning of the speech. For instance, a Debater can declare that the speech will respond to 3 of the Opposition’s arguments to be followed by 2 substantive arguments, it makes it easier for the judges to track the speech. In contrast, if a Debater does not number the arguments, judges may sometimes have difficulty deciding how many rebuttals there actually were and how many arguments were actually raised.

(Note: One issue with this method is that Debaters may run out of time and fail to deliver the promised number of arguments. However, the proper solution is to manage the time allocation properly, rather than to make it easier to drop points through the lack of numbering.”)


Word Choice


The words used by Debaters are the vehicles for the ideas that they wish to convey. Debaters need to ensure that the words that they use are effective and that no wasted words are used within that limited time frame. Debaters should keep the following elements in mind when selecting the words they use for their speeches.



Use only the words which are necessary and remove the “filler” words which have no meaning. These “fillers” include terms such repeated “Ladies and Gentlemen, like, you know, we see that, we say that, at the end of the day, etc.” These words use up valuable time and add nothing to the debate. It is better to pause and breathe rather to than use “filler” words during a speech.



Use simple words as much as possible. The best way to ensure Debaters are able to get their points across is to ensure that every member of the judging panel and the audience understand the words which are being used. Debaters should thus not use a complicated word which could be misunderstood by the judges or opponents when a simple word will do just as well.

For instance, some judges and opponents may well not know what “exacerbate” means but they are all likely to know that the harms are “worse.” (Note – In some debates, especially those with science and technology motions, it will not be possible for debaters to avoid using scientific terms, which tend to be complex at times. However, they should take care to explain these terms when necessary to ensure that everyone in the debate can follow.)



Use words which are precise in conveying the message. This will ensure that the opponents will not misunderstand or misrepresent the arguments being put forward. For instance, they should avoid saying “eradicate the black market” if all they wanted to claim was that the impact of the black market will be “reduced.” Inaccurate language allows the opponents to pounce and attack these areas easily. In this case, the opponents will merely have to point out the impossibility of completely removing an entire black market industry.



Use words which are formal and sophisticated. Although the debate is to be conducted in friendly tones, it is still a formal competition between two teams. As such, the language used should also be sophisticated and casual words should be avoided. Thus, a team should say that the opponents’ arguments are “flawed” or “illogical” rather than saying they “suck” or are “lousy.



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