Effective High School Debating Techniques

Gabrielle Applebury
Girl in high school debate

Participating in a debate can feel a bit intimidating, or even scary. With the right preparation and strategies, you can prove your point in an efficient, meaningful way that wins your audience over.

Debating Successfully

There are many factors that come into play during a high school debate. You may be paired up with another individual, in a group, or doing the debate solo with just one opposing person. Take as much time as you can to prepare for the debate so you aren't feeling nervous or on the spot the day of.

Understand Your Audience

One of the most important aspects of a successful debate is really getting into the mindset of your audience. You may have a room full of peers, teachers, parents, or a combination. Depending on what the vibe of the audience is will dictate how you get your point across. Your audience may prefer a more aggressive, straightforward approach, or just the opposite with a more emotionally moving argument that invites the audience in. As you prepare for your debate, take some time to think about how your arguments will be received by your audience and adjust accordingly.

Know Your Core Arguments

It's critical to get to know your core arguments really well. You can do so by trying a few different techniques that can help with memorization. Think about:

  • Writing or typing your main points
  • Rehearsing them in the mirror several times a day
  • Attempting to recite them without looking at your computer or notebook several times a day
  • Stating your main arguments in front of trusted individuals who can give you feedback and who won't be present at the debate
  • Coming up with a rhyme or song that can help you recall your main points
  • Asking yourself why your arguments make sense and backing them up with several supporting details

Anticipate Your Opponent's Rebuttals

Knowing your opponent's core arguments can help you strengthen your own points. Put yourself in their position and try to come up with a few strong arguments in favor of their side. Briefly note what their supporting facts will be. To do so you may need to:

  • Research their main points.
  • Take notes to help you organize your opponent's likely thought processes.
  • Focus on the strongest arguments that they will probably have during the debate.
  • Ask neutral others what they think about your opponent's arguments and note if they agree or disagree with their points and why.

Weaken Your Opponent's Ideas

Weakening your opponent's ideas can help bump up your argument. To do so:

  • Find small details or mistakes that your opponent made in terms of research and cite the correct findings.
  • Note your opponent's arguments and counter them with lots of supporting details in favor of your argument.
  • Note that your opponent did a great job explaining but forgot to cover a certain angle. Use that as an opening to explain your side.

Attack Your Opponent

During the debate, you may have an opening to target your opponent's core ideas and aggressively go after them. This will depend on the audience and whether you feel comfortable with such a direct and intense strategy. If your audience is likely to support a more lively debate, you can hit your opponent's arguments hard.

Girl giving speech in debate class

To do so you can:

  • Bring up your opponent's main points and completely discredit them with supporting evidence.
  • Note that your opponent forgot to mention a significant point and although you can understand their perspective, your argument more thoroughly covers the topic.
  • Agree with some things your opponent said but note that there are several important factors missing from their argument. List those factors.

Emotionally Connect to Your Audience

One of the quickest ways to win a debate regardless of which side you are arguing is to connect with the audience. If the audience feels emotionally invested in what you are saying and agrees with your points, you will feel more confident in terms of your core debate ideas. To do so:

  • Relate your debate argument to the audience in some way by using examples that many people may have experienced or understand.
  • Give a personal example or story that has meaningful details and evokes an intense emotional response.
  • Give your audience an opening to weigh in on your argument or ask them to think about something poignant that you've mentioned.
  • Capture their attention by speaking clearly, making eye contact, and using hand gestures. Make sure you take moments to pause, change the inflection of your voice, and speak at a reasonable volume so you maintain their attention throughout your argument.

Play It Cool

If your opponent is getting worked up, agitated, or nervous, remain calm. If you begin to get drawn into their argument and feel defensive, your points will come across as weaker. No matter what type of emotional response your opponent tries to bring up in you, keep your cool and carry on with your points as intended. This will reflect a confident, stable speaker to the audience which is more persuasive than a reactive opponent.

Finding the Right Strategies for Your Debate

Depending on what type of debate you are participating in, you will need to adjust your techniques accordingly. When selecting what type of strategies to use consider who is mediating, who your audience is, and what type of emotional reaction you are aiming to receive.

Effective High School Debating Techniques