5 ways to improve at debating
15 May 2023
Debating is an increasingly popular activity for school-aged children. In Australia, many schools join competitions where students can debate each other or host their own internal debates. A lot of students can find their first debate to be incredibly exciting but also intimidating. That’s because debating is a very unique activity with lots of new rules and concepts to understand.
Once kids get across all of these new rules and experience their first debate, their next question can often be, “How can I improve for the next one?”. At Speaking Schools Australasia, we believe in learning by doing. Simply being involved in debating and having a go can help to bring loads of improvement on its own. However, it can be really helpful to know some specific things you can do to improve as a debater. That’s why we’ve rounded up our top 5 ways to improve at debating.
1. Build up your general knowledge
In a debate, you get given a topic just one hour (and often even less) before it’s time to deliver your speech! The topic can be about anything and often falls into a broader topic area such as education, politics, sport, environment, or general knowledge. Therefore, knowing more about these general areas can be the best way to improve as a debater! We recommend keeping an eye on current news pieces and collecting interesting facts in a scrapbook or a document under these headings.
Some good sources of news for kids include:
2. Learn a strategy for prep time
We’ve spoken about the fact that debating requires you to prepare your speech in a short period of time after receiving the topic. This is called ‘prep time. It’s where all three (or four) teammates will come together to work out their plans for the debate and write their speeches. Improving your strategy for prep time is one of the easiest ways to become a better debater!
Get together with your team and decide how long you will spend brainstorming ideas, sharing your thoughts and writing your points. Our top tip is to bring a stopwatch so you can keep an eye on your time management as a team!
3. Get involved in some practice debates!
Learning by doing is the best way to improve as a debater.
At SSA, a huge part of what we do is facilitate debating competitions and workshops that can offer an opportunity for students to get some more debating practice under their belt. Some schools may only participate in one or two debates per term, which can be too slow a pace to see any large improvement in your skills.
We recommend practising regularly and asking for lots of feedback from your coach, your adjudicator or your teacher after each debate – programs like Debating Pelicans, Debating Hawks, Experienced Debating and Practice Debates can really help get some extra experience in!
4. Work on your structure
If you have all the right ideas for the debate, the next most important thing is to learn how to get them across to the adjudicator.
The structure of your speech can play a huge role in this. Just like a narrative, debating speeches should have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. However, there are some special structures relevant to debating specifically that you should also learn.
One such structure is ‘CMI: Characterisation/Context, Mechanism, Impacts’. You can learn more about the CMI structure using our free video tutorial link!
5. Watch some useful videos online
Improving as a debater is a lot easier when you can learn from somebody who has been working on their skills for years!
Luckily, the internet is full of useful resources you can look at to see how other people approach debating and what the top tips are. Try the Speaking Schools Australasia Youtube Channel, where we have uploaded tonnes of free resources about debating and public speaking.
You can learn about your specific speaker role, how to do rebuttals, and much more just by spending some time on the SSA YouTube!
Following these five steps to improve as a debater can lead to a huge boost in your skills! If you are passionate about debating and want to continue to improve, come along and join us at one of our online or in-person programs, where our expert coaches can help to build you into a confident debater.