Debating societies

Many universities have debating societies.

Debating is the formal way of discussing and deciding issues of the day. This can involve individuals or groups and the winner of the debate is usually decided by the outcome of a vote or judging panel. It takes place in many environments including parliaments and meetings.

By taking part in a debate you can improve your skills in presenting an argument and public speaking. By judging you learn how to analyse information.

Debating can take place in many forms. The most popular is British Parliamentary Debating. This is used on the competitive circuit between schools and universities.

British Parliamentary Debating

Very common on the debating circuit.

It usually involves four teams of two people, with two teams either side of the table.

First Prop and Second Prop sit on one side. First Op and Second Op sit on the other side of table opposite the First Prop and Second Prop respectively. At one end, the judges sit and at the other the person who is speaking stands.

A motion is presented by head judge (usually flanked at either side by wing judges, one of whom is keeping time). Most motions are presented as "This House believes..." (THB) followed by a statement.

Everyone in each of the teams makes a speech, usually five minutes in length, although seven is not unheard of.

The speakers come in the following order

  1. First Speaker, First Prop
  2. First Speaker, First Op
  3. Second Speaker, First Prop
  4. Second Speaker, First Op
  5. First Speaker, Second Prop
  6. First Speaker, Second Op
  7. Second Speaker, Second Prop (usually summating the argument or the Proposition)
  8. Second Speaker, Second Op (usually summating the argument of the Opposition)


The head judge usually calls all the participants and divides them into teams. At Opens and competitions, people can choose their teams and they are usually of the same university/department.

The participants are then presented with a motion. They are then given some time to prepare, usually 15 minutes.

Each speaker usually speaks for five minutes. The first minute is protected (no one on the opposite team may rise or put forward a point of information (POI)). After the first minute, the gavel (hammer) is hit once. The opposite team may now put forward points of Information. After four minutes, the gavel is hit once again. The final minute is now protected. When the five minutes is up, the gavel is it twice and the speaker is expected to finish their speech quickly. If this does not happen within 15-20 seconds, the gavel is hit continuously to signal that the speaker should stop.

To put forward a Point of Information you must first stand and many usually present an arm pointing approximately 45 degrees downwards. Some will also say "but mister/madam speaker". This is not considered rude, although can be disruptive. Many debaters (especially novice one) break off their speech and tells the person presenting the POI to sit down. Many of the experienced debaters just flap their arm/hand to get them to sit down. You must sit down if told to do so by the speaker.

A Point of Information maybe presented as a point or a question.

Most speakers stick to the three points system (they make three points and then explain them in more detail). This has become standard and makes it easier for judges to judge you.



A debater is an ironman if they act as a team (cover two positions) and speak twice. This can be a very difficult position and is rarely done unless there is a shortage of participants.


Open Floor Debate

Balloon Debate

The Balloon Debate is a popular and easy game to bring people into debating.

A number of people are chosen and they are asked to stand up one at a time. They are offered a pile of paper with the name of famous people on each paper. They are then given 60 seconds to present the case for not throwing them out of the balloon. After everyone has spoken, the floor casts a vote on which people should stay in the balloon (deciding on the character and the speech, not the actual person who made the speech) and the balloon debate then goes into the next round. The participants are presented with other people and it continues until only one person is left in the balloon.