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The People Speak: Global Debate Format

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The People Speak Global Debate Format is audience friendly debate. Public Forum Debate is a team event that advocates or rejects a position posed by the resolution. A central tenet of the debate is that the clash of ideas must be communicated in a manner persuasive to the non-specialist or “citizen judge.”

The debate should:

  • display solid logic, reasoning, and analysis
  • utilize evidence but not be driven by it
  • present a clash of ideas
  • counter the arguments of the opponents (rebuttal)
  • communicate ideas with clarity, organization, eloquence, and professional decorum.

Format of the Debate

First Speaker - Team A 4 Minutes
First Speaker - Team B 4 Minutes
Crossfire 3 Minutes
Second Speaker - Team A 4 Minutes
Second Speaker - Team B 4 Minutes
Crossfire 3 Minutes
Summary - First Speaker - Team A 2 Minutes
Summary - First Speaker - Team B 2 Minutes
Grand Crossfire 3 Minutes
Final Focus - Second Speaker - Team A 1 Minute
Final Focus - Second Speaker - Team B 1 Minute

Prep Time (per team) = 2 Minutes


In order to understand a topic one must read current material about it. Such current material may be found by both electronic or print means.


Access good search engine like GOOGLE (, Yahoo (, Alta Vista ( or MSN Search ( Type in key words of the topic (ie..."Tax Cuts" or "Armed Pilots"). The search engine will list websites which discuss that issue. Click on those sites to read and download material.


You may access the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in your school library. The Guide lists articles in current periodicals by topic. Look up "Hijacking", "Airline Safety", "Tax Cuts" or other issues and make a list of magazines which carry stories by date and page number. Then read the articles. Copy parts which are good evidence. The New York Times index (available in most public libraries) will allow to you search articles in the New York Times (usually on microfilm). You also should look up the key definitions of words in the topic in a good unabridged dictionary or a topic specific dictionary (i.e..Blacks Law Dictionary)


Since you will be debating before a citizen judge from your community, it would be helpful to research polling data on how citizens feel about the issues posed by the topic and why they feel that way. This polling information can be used to select arguments which will address citizen judge concerns. Evidence: Hall of Fame Coach Esther Kalmbach once defined evidence as "a reason for a judge to believe an argument." Evidence may of course be "hard evidence": facts, statistics, quotations from experts; but "soft" evidence is also persuasive: examples, anecdotes, analogies, stories. Debaters will want to find a wide variety of types of evidence that will be persuasive.

Debatepedia's Global Debates articles:

Debatepedia's resources are also a very good place for researching this topic. They include:

Keep in mind that all of the above articles on Debatepedia are on a wiki, which means that ALL OF YOU CAN ADD AND EDIT ANYTHING. Just click "edit", add pros and cons and supporting evidence, edit existing content, and help improve Debatepedia's articles on this topic. Keep in mind that these resources will continue to exist on Debatepedia beyond the Global Debates as resources for the general public as well as decision-makers. Your research and edits on Debatepedia, therefore, are truly acts of global citizenship.

Choosing Sides

There are two commonly used ways to decide which team will debate on which side of the resolution.

A coin toss

One way to decide the speaking order for a Global Debate is to have the teams flip a coin. The team winning the coin toss may choose either: Side of Topic: Pro or Con or Order of Speaking: First or Last This choice is very strategic. Considerations may include:

  • Is one side of the topic more intuitively acceptable to citizen judges.
  • Is our team significantly stronger on one side.
  • Are opponents significantly stronger on one side.

Should our team pre-empt them by "choosing" our opponent's best side.

  • Is first speaker position critical to "sell" our case by making a good first impression.
  • Is the final "last shot" speech critical for us to have the last word to the judge(s).
  • Are our opponents so effective in first (or last) speaker position we wish to pre-empt them

by selecting that position for ourselves. Once the coin toss winner selects either a side or a speaker position, the coin toss loser then has a choice. If the winner selects a side, the loser selects a speaker position. If the winner selects a speaker position then the losing team selects the side of the topic. The above list of options should be carefully studied by both teams. Please realize the con side of the topic may begin the debate and argue directly against the adoption of the topic before the pro side says a word.

Assigning Sides

A simpler alternative is to simply assign the teams to sides. Generally, when assinging sides, the pro side will speak first. For students ne wto debate, it is probably easiest to simply assign the sides in advance.

Speaker Duties

The first and second speakers should prepare in advance the reasons for adoption (or rejection) of the topic. Arguments should be carefully worded to be accurate and persuasive.

The first crossfire should be used to clarify arguments and define where clash exists. Probing questions to expose weakness are useful. Both debaters should stand during two person Crossfire.

The third and fourth speakers have two duties: To attack (refute) the case (arguments) of their opponents; and to answer attacks made upon their own arguments by their opponents. The speeches should reflect analysis and refutation with an emphasis on clash and adaptation to the issues raised in the previous speeches and crossfire.

The second crossfire should advance the debate by finding areas of agreement and attacking arguments with which the debater does not agree. Previously prepared dilemmas may be posed. Contradictions should be exposed.

Both debaters should stand during two person Crossfire.

The summary speakers should consolidate their positions by defending the most important point in their own case and attack the most important point in the opponents case. Select only the most important issue or issues and cover them thoroughly, but do not rush.

Grand Crossfire: The purposes of grand crossfire are to find areas of agreement, highlight clash, and expose areas of opponent weakness to bring the debate to its final focus. All debaters should be seated during Grand Crossfire, but should be able to see the judge(s), audience, and camera. The Crossfire TV Show on CNN is a good model. The first question is asked to the team who just ended their summary by the team which had the first summary. After the first Q and A any debater may question and answer at will.

Final Focus: The purpose of the Final Focus is to restate the reason(s) why your team has won the debate. Judges will be instructed that new arguments in the final focus are to be ignored.

Tip: Delivery should be conversational and extempore in style but absent flaws like vocal pauses, fast delivery, poor articulation, and lack of vocal variety.

Speech Development

Speaker 1

This speaker position for both sides must be concerned with constructing and presenting a logical argument with evidentiary support. This is the one time in the debate where specific preparation can be used as a tool of the debate. Due to the uncertainty of whether this will become the first or second speech in the debate, a 4-minute speech for and against the resolution is warranted. Reserving time for response in the Speaker 1 position is not practical.

Introduction to the issue

An overview of the issue presented in a compelling introductory remark or quotation to alert the judge to the importance of the topic.

Definition of terms

Whenever a debate focuses upon an issue without support of a clarifying plan or value, the topic must have its own agreed upon parameters. Often this is accomplished with a field definition from an expert; occasionally the topic is self-evident. In the latter case, it may be left to the judge to interpret the topic.

Analysis of the issues

Traditionally, three issues are considered sufficient to establish a warrant. These issues can be abstract or concrete, or a mix of both. However, to be successful, each should be an independent reason to vote for the topic. Given the nature of the audience, a most logical progression would be:

  • Personal story or narrative story to provide context for the judge to understand what is at issue.
  • Example from the news to show timeliness and to support the analysis and to show the debater as knowledgeable about the subject.
  • General or theoretical issue to establish the argument beyond the particular and to provide grounds for revisiting this speech later in the debate.
  • Supporting analysis may draw from areas including, but but not limited to, pragmatic, philosophical, historical, and economic areas of analysis.


Why does this issue matter to us? Answering this question in closing provides reasons for the judge to care; while focusing the entire speech into a short, memorable summary. Speaker 2 – This speaker position for both sides will have the burden of analyzing the opponents’ position and explaining flaws in the ideas presented by the other team. While this speaker might present prepared arguments from briefs to establish new points, the judge using media analysis is now looking for the fight. Argumentatively, at least, the judge places an expectation that the two sides will clash. This speech may take the form of a line-by-line refutation of the opponent’s position, but this form is rarely followed in media debate. Instead, the speaker should identify the most attackable issues advanced by the other side. In this manner, the most memorable opposition points are refuted with memorable counter-points. Time vested in responding will permit only one or two key responses. A suggested form for this debate would be: I. Introduction which links the 2nd speech to the 1st speech, probably with a story or quotation. II. An overview of the issue to be discussed. a. Statement of what opponent said. b. Reasons and/or proof of why opponent is wrong. c. Explanation of what this means for the topic. III.(a second issues as in II above) IV. Closing which solidifies both of your side’s speeches.


Summary is an odd speech. The purpose is implied in the title. Because the summary speaker will have listened to partner respond in the 2nd speech and in the give and take of the Crossfire, the summary should manage all of what the judge has heard to this point. Something like this: I. Brief overview of the debate so far. II. Focus on the key idea, maybe with a fresh antidotal story or other framing quotation. III.What does this all mean? The implications for the judge and the world provide a clear summary focus.

Final Focus

The duties of the Final Focus speaker are stipulated in the rules. Final Focus chooses the key issue(s) which matters the most and frames in a final parting focus of why this issue(s) is enough to warrant a ballot for the speaker’s team. I. Statement of the issue(s) and its importance. II. Explanation of the issue(s). III.Appeal to let this issue(s) override all other concerns. (Originally by John Durkee. Rostrum, January, 2003)

Crossfire Tips

Correct Positioning. Debaters should stand during regular Crossfire. All four debaters should remain seated for the Grand Crossfire, but should be able to see the judge(s), audience and camera. Be polite, but firm. Keep questions and answers brief and speaking style conversational. Don't interrupt or talk over another debater unless s/he is filibustering. Don't ever interrupt your partner. Have a plan in mind. What admissions do you wish to gain from your opponents. Which dilemmas do you wish to pose to your opponents. Answering can be as important as questioning. Have brief retorts prepared for questions that you think might be asked. Silence is golden. If you trap your opponent in an unanswerable dilemma, let their silence or frantic babbling expose their weakness. Don't rush in with the next question. Relax. Don't rush! If you can establish one or two points that is enough.

The Final Focus Tips

Ask yourself this question (before your Final Focus): If I were judging this round, what would I be voting on now . Once you decide the key issue, make that your focus. What should be argued? Several choices are available.

  • Answer the argument(s) that you are losing (if losing more than one, pick the most important)
  • Stress an argument(s) you are winning (if winning several, pick the most important)
  • Stress an argument(s) that is most appealing to a citizen judge and clearly win it.
  • Try to "turn" a major argument(s). Show how an opponent's argument proves your point.
  • Expose a major inconsistency made by your opponents - - two arguments they made which contradict each other.
  • Remember, judges are reminded on the ballot that new arguments should be ignored.


The Coin Flip

How does a Public Debate Forum round begin?

With a flip of a coin between the competing teams.

Why a coin flip

The coin toss adds an element of uncertainty and teaches students strategy, since depending on the toss a team may choose to be pro or con or may choose to speak first or last.

How is the flip conducted?

A coin is tossed by one team and called by the other team. The team which wins the flip may choose EITHER the side of the topic they wish to defend (pro or con) OR the speaking position they wish to have (begin the debate or end the debate). Once the coin toss winners select their favorite option (i.e. they choose to have the last speech) then the other team makes a choice within the other option (i.e. pro or con). The analogy here is to football: Toss the coin and the winner chooses to kick or receive OR the side of the field they wish to defend.

Could the con side go first?

Indeed. There is no presumption or burden of proof in Public Forum Debate. The pro side wishes to convince the audience that the topic should be adopted; the con side wishes to convince the audience that the proposition should be rejected. So the con side, knowing the topic, can argue against it as first speaker.

Why not just alternate sides?

Invitational tournament directors may choose alternation but NFL suggests flipping. Alternating sides locks the pro as first speaker and the con as last speaker. It is much fairer for students to have the choice of side or speaker position. All NFL contests will use the flip.


What is crossfire?

Both debaters "hold the floor." But the first question must be asked by an opponent to the speaker who just finished speaking. After that question and answer, either debater may question and/or answer at will. Debaters should stand during regular Crossfire.

Won't this create confusion?

As students practice the format, they will learn valuable lessons: that an advocate may be more effective with good answers then asking questions; that good questions must be brief; that filibuster answers will be exposed; that rudeness will be penalized by judges.

Public Forum Debate sounds like TV debate shows?

Right! Capital Gang, Crossfire, McLaughin Group et al do this each week. Crossfire adds excitement to the debate process which attracts audiences and the media. Your principal will love to see a Public Forum Debate!

What is the Grand Crossfire?

All four debaters have the floor to interact with questions and answers. This is a real test of team work. The first question is asked by the team that had the first summary to the team which had the last summary. After that, any debater may question or answer. Debaters should be seated for Grand Crossfire.

Does the judge ever ask questions?

This is not a common practice.

I'm still worried that the crossfire periods will be "Towers of Babel"

The judge is chairperson of the round and may halt any crossfire out of control. Most debaters will learn that interrupting, shouting, filibustering (all of which may also occur in Policy and L/D cross examination periods) are counter productive.

How can students be taught crossfire skills?

Read James Copeland's book Cross Examination in Debate, National Textbook Co.; read pages TA7 and TA8 of the NFL Manual; read John Munkman, The Technique of Advocacy, Butterworth (U.K.); read the Lost Art of Cross Examination by J. W. Ehrlich, Dorset Press; read The Art of Cross Examination by Francis L. Wellman, [check for used copies at The Munkman is British so (U.K.) might be best]. Also, check your library.


What can a student do to be successful in Public Forum Debate?

Mainly learn to speak well. This is public debate to community audiences.

What can a student study to be successful?

Students and coaches may wish to read Public Argument by Robert O. Weiss, University Press of America, or the long essay by Bill Davis in the November Rostrum, The A-Ha Experience.

Are there sample tapes/DVDs of Past Public Forum Debates?

Yes. Past National final round debates are available on Video and DVD by going to

Main pages for the 2007 Global Debates

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