• How debates work

    Two teams of three speakers go head to head, one in favour of the motion and the other against, before taking questions from the audience. Before we vote, a trained debate judge offers their feedback to help the audience analyse the arguments and make a decision. 


    About the speakers

    Each speaker is a member of the Great Debaters Club, our training programme for people who want to improve their debating skills. They don't find out which side they'll be on until after they volunteer to speak, requiring them to defend opinions they disagree with.

    How to take part

    You can cross-examine the speakers by asking questions or making comments. Plus you get to vote and decide who you think deserved to win the debate. After that, we invite a small group to take part in a short focus group to explain how they voted and why.

    The rules

    One of the things we're proudest of is that we can always count on our members and guests to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for our speakers, so we don't have too many rules. So here are the few we need you to remember:

    • Keep it civil - disagreement doesn't need to be disagreeable. If you have an issue with someone's else's viewpoint, talk about the argument not the person. We are very proud of how civil and inclusive our debates are and we want to keep it that way. Also, it's just heated rhetoric, not a logical argument that anyone can independently examine, and that really irks us.

    • Please be brief - we don't impose time limits on audience contributions during the Q&A, but we do ask that you think carefully about the point you want to make and do so briefly, rather than thinking aloud with no end in sight. We also ask that you do not interrupt the speaker when they are responding to you or follow up with more questions after they have finished.

    • Respect the speakers' privacy - the reason our members volunteer to speak in a debate is to test their ability to think differently, speak publically, and withstand criticism. Part of this is being willing to defend a position they don't necessarily hold in front of a live audience who often feel strongly on the subject. We therefore ask that you do not video them or attribute arguments made during the debate to them in public or on social media without their explicit consent.

    • No heckling - stepping up to speak in public and submit yourself to the judgement of your peers takes a lot of courage no matter how experienced you are. Please respect this by waiting to be called on by the debate Chair before sharing your views with the room. We do want to hear from you, but only if you show the same courtesy to others that you would in turn expect from them.

    • If you break ANY of these rules - you will receive ONE polite reminder of the rule followed by ONE final warning. After that we reserve the right to take action to prevent further disruption, which includes ejecting you from the debate and/or refusing you entry to all or any future debates.

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