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Debating Etiquette and Structure

Debating Etiquette and Structure

Hello everyone!

My name is Shreeja Tripathi and I am the Vice President of the National Virtual Medical Society (VMS), as well as an aspiring Medic. This blog is going to outline top tips for debating to the rest of the VMS society members, enabling them to be self-confident in public speaking. 

Just for a little background, I have been debating for years now and participated in various inter and intra debating school competitions. The ability to work in a team, speak in public and perform under pressure are all valuable life skills that have been fostered regularly through debating. Having learnt public speaking techniques, such as how to project my points, pace my talks and emphasise key points, I decided to help run the Debating Society at School to further enhance my leadership skills. Every fortnight, the Debating Society hosts a round of debates where different houses of the School unite to compete in a gruelling intellectual battle. Our recent success in North of Scotland Schools’ (NOSS) Debating Competition, in which our school bagged the ‘best speaker’ prize award, had been a testament to the dedication of our teams. 

Firstly, I’d like to start by saying that I completely understand that public speaking isn’t easy for everyone and can be stressful and this can get in the way of your performance. Fear – sometimes it’s a very helpful thing that keeps us from harm. Although, many times it’s an inner voice and barrier that keeps us stuck. But, how would you feel if I could give you a ‘cure’ to fear? The simple remedy is to reprogramme your ‘fear’ into something more manageable – excitement! Think of how much better you would perform if you were not scared of public speaking, rather excited about it!

Now that we have conquered the fear, let’s tackle how to structure your debate and how to get better at debating. Style is the way you communicate your arguments. This is the most basic part of debating to master. There are many elements to style which affect how you sound and look when debating. There is, however, no correct way to debate. Everyone must find a style that suits him or her. Some very good debaters are funny and loud, some are calm, logical and restrained. The key things are to avoid any obvious errors and to sound natural.

Talk at a pace which is fast enough to sound intelligent and allow you time to say what you want, but slow enough to be easily understood. The ability to concisely and clearly express complex issues is what debating is all about. Short, clear sentences are better and are easier to understand anyway. Keeping a speech concise can become a weak point for some. To help get better at this – I would suggest that you practice your speech whilst timing yourself, this way you can ensure that you speak within the time given! 

The key Mantra is to relax. Fluency, style, strategy come more easily with practice and confidence.

I’ll outline some general tips for a good debate

  • Your points must be relevant to the topic.
  • Provide evidence whenever you can and not your opinion. Evidence can be in the form of statistics, references, quotes, analogies etc. but you MUST also explain the significance of the evidence – how does this support your claim?
  • You must put aside your personal views and remain objective when you debate so your argument remains logical. You can be passionate about a topic, but interest can turn into aggression and passion can lead to upsetting your fellow debaters – we certainly don’t want that!
  • You must speak clearly and concisely – i.e. within the time limit given, a good debater always finishes in the time frame allocated!

Lastly, this blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention what not to do whilst debating!

  • Falsifying, making up or altering evidence.
  • Publicly disagreeing with the judges’ decision.
  • Interrupting other debaters as this can suggest that your argument isn’t very strong.
  • Disagreeing with facts or obvious truths.
  • Acting aggressively or offensively towards debaters, judges, audience etc. 

In the context of VMS live debates, I must say that you are going to get a priceless opportunity to network across and get to know your Medic Mentor family better and last, but certainly not the least… You will be developing interpersonal skills that will be beneficial in all walks of life! If you remember one thing from this blog, remember that “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

I hope that this blog was helpful, and I am very much looking forward to upcoming VMS live debates. We have a lot of exciting things planned for the VMS so make sure that you get involved in all the opportunities that we offer!

Please feel free to get in touch with me directly through the VMS WhatsApp channel or comment on my blog, should you have any questions. Finally, happy debating!

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