Guidelines on Verbal Jousts (One-to-one debates)

Debating may not be something that you encounter on a regular basis in your everyday life, but the skills you develop while debating are incredibly valuable, especially if your professional interests lie within the field of diplomacy. Debating encourages participants to structure both their thinking and speaking, construct compelling arguments and be ready to substantiate whatever they claim. Moreover, if participants are allocated a position in a debate and have to argue against their personal views, they learn to look at things from different angles and be tolerant to other opinions.

A verbal joust is a one-to-one debate which has the following procedure:

  • The topic, which usually represents an idea/policy/strategy, etc., is chosen and announced in class. It is called a motion and is usually formulated as two opposing sentences e.g. Public speaking skills can be developed and mastered to perfection/The gift of public speaking is inborn.
  • A pair of students is allocated a motion, each student having to substantiate their position.
  • Each speaker introduces the topic (with a few general sentences concerning the problem) and his/her position.
  • The speakers in turn present 3 constructive arguments, supporting each of them by facts/evidence/examples to substantiate their claim and rebut the opponent’s arguments.
  •  The speakers can ask each other a question. They don’t have  to come to agreement.
  • A one-to-one debate is supposed to last about 10 minutes.

There could be variations in the format of a verbal joust for technical or practical reasons. For example, while a pair of students are debating in a verbal joust, the audience can divide into two parts and act as ‘seconds’ for either contestant, thinking of tricky questions to the opposition.

Another option is to first announce the motion and poll the audience, take down the number of those in favour of the idea/policy/strategy and those against it. After that, allocate the position to the speakers,have them debate the motion and poll the audience again. The contestant who managed to convince the audience wins the verbal joust.

Constructing arguments 

Arguments are constructed as follows:

CLAIM — present the argument in a clear statement, which will explain why you support or oppose the motion. The validity of the argument can be checked with the help of  the ‘because’ link back to the motion.

REASON — explain the argument and expand on it, give reasons why it is important. Be very clear and consistent at this stage, you need to walk the audience through the logic of your argument.

EVIDENCE — substantiate the claim with facts, statistics, examples, prominent cases, expert opinion. It is always a good idea to think of a few, rather than one isolated example or fact. The more evidence you can come up with, the fewer chances there are it will be rebutted by the opposition.

The best strategy is to start with the strongest and most important arguments.