Speaking Like a Pro: Verbal Joust

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 they 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 his/her position.

• Each speaker introduces the topic (with a few general sentences concerning the problem) and his/her position.

• The speakers in turn present several (two or three) constructive arguments, supporting each of them with facts/evidence/examples to substantiate their claim and rebut the opponent’s arguments.

• The speakers can ask each other questions. They don’t have to come to agreement.

• A one-to-one debate is supposed to last about 10 minutes.

• To conclude a debate you can choose one of these strategies:

1. Thank each other for the discussion that helped you see the issue from a different perspective, but reaffirm your stance.

2. Meet each other half way by making partial concessions and admitting certain strong points in your partner’s arguments.

3. Admit that your partner’s position is stronger.


  • Prepare thoroughly in advance for both positions.
  • Work out a number of arguments on both positions to keep them up your sleeve.
  • Attack the position, say “the idea is wrong.”
  • Use cautious language, e.g. tend to, may/might/could, is likely to, etc.
  • Focus on the strong points of your position.
  • Maintain eye-contact with the audience and the opposition.


  • Falsify or manipulate facts.
  • Cling to one and only argument or mistake another fact for another argument.
  • Attack the opponent, or say “my opponent is wrong.”
  • Exaggerate, especially using strong words, such as always or never.
  • Disagree with facts or obvious truths for the mere sake of it.
  • Read from your notes. Never!

Useful Expressions

Expressing disagreement

I see what you mean but …

I see what you mean, but I do not think so

I am not convinced …

I do see your point but …

I agree up to a point.

I’m not at all convinced about that.

I can’t agree with you there.

That’s not how I see it.

I beg to differ.

I partially agree.

It’s very unlikely.

I don’t entirely agree.

There may be some truth in what you are saying but…

Let’s look at it from another point of view/ from a different perspective.

Expressing opinion

If you ask me, …

As far as I am concerned …

It’s obvious that…

Nobody can deny that …

I reckon that …

To my way of thinking …

In my opinion …

In my view …

To my mind …

I am fairly sure …

Admitting that you are mistaken

I must admit it is true/ I was wrong

I hadn’t thought of/ didn’t think of

I suppose you are right