Stanford Invitational Tournament

Choose the right debate program & format

What is the difference between Speech and Debate?  Speech is primarily a persuasive activity.  Students give prepared or extemporanoeus speeches (depending on the speech event) and their speeches are judged against the speeches of other competitors on their merits and persuasiveness.  Debate is an adversarial activity, meaning that students speak in response to the points made by their opponents (this means that debaters respond directly to what their opponents say, and the winner is determined based on who "won" the arguments).  In a nutshell, speech is adjudicated in a comparative manner (was my speech better than my opponent's?) whereas debate is more directly adversarial (did my arguments defeat the arguments of my opponent?).

What do you want to achieve?  Forensics (speech & debate) offers a unique and rewarding mix of academic and extracurricular opportunities that provide a wide range of benefits to students, whether they learn the basics and are occasional competitors or become experts in an event and compete every weekend.  No matter their level of involvement and commitment, there is a format of debate beneficial for every student.

Students who participate in speech & debate learn a variety of skills which are directly transferable to a wide range of academic and real-world situations.  For starters, all formats of speech & debate teach the vital skill of public speaking, useful to a student nowfor the confidence to speak up to answer a question or in making a presentation in front of a class, or later in life as a professional who has a busy slate of meetings, press releases and pitches.  Regardless of what area of study a student elects to follow, public speaking skills honed in competitive debate will be of immense assistance, from the foundational confidence to speak in front of others to developing logical framework for approaching new and unexpected challenges as they appear in an extemporaneous manner.  For more information, see our Why Debate? page.


The below is tailored to high school aged students (rising 9th-12th graders).  For more information on our Middle School sessions, see our Middle School Programs page!



If you aren't sure that competitive speech & debate is the right pick for you, we also offer Public Speaking Programs designed to teach the same basic foundational logic, rhetoric and argument skills without the focus on a specific competitive format.  If you want to learn more about the art of public speaking but aren't interested in joining a competitive speech & debate program in school, our Public Speaking Programs might be the right choice for you!


If you are not sure between competitive speech & debate, we offer a series of combined "forensics" programs:

Our Forensics (Speech & Debate) programs combine both competitive speech & debate into a single program to register for!


If you are interested in competitive speech (see above for details; speech is fundamentally comparative):

There are several program options in our competitive speech (Individual Events) division:


I'm still not sure which type of competitive speech is the best fit for my interests.  Help me start off on the right foot!  We offer a Beginners' Introduction to Competitive Speech series specifically for students just starting out in speech & debate because we know that it can be hard to make a choice about specific programs.


If you are interested in debate (see above for details; debate is fundamentally adversarial):

How serious do you want to be about the activity?  All formats of debate involve some level of preparation.  However, the exact amount and type of preparation varies widely across formats. The main types of debate are ranked below in terms of their general research burden and in terms of the “upfront” level of commitment necessary in order to be a reasonably well prepared competitor in an event.  If you set your mind to it, any of the formats are options; however, much like you wouldn't set your sights on running a marathon without being prepared to devote substantial time for training, it might not make sense to select one of the more time-intensive types of debate if your goals are to simply explore what debate is and to gain some simple skills.  This is not to say that any of the debate formats are “easy” or that a serious student wouldn't be well suited to any of the formats; this is simply an attempt to provide some general comparisons and observations about each type of debate.  For someone who is knowledgeable about debate, the below summaries will be overly simplistic; this list is meant merely to provide some baseline guidance to anyone interested in getting into competitive debate.

Differences amongst the programs and types of debate: Note that these events are ordered from most to least rigorous/difficult to master.  At the top end, policy debate has a large research burden and success generally requires students to be familiar with a large literature base.  At the other end of the spectrum, parliamentary debate rewards students for being broadly familiar with a range of material, and does not expect familiarity with a large literature base in order to succeed.

Similarities amongst the types/formats of debate:

How do you pick the program and/or type of debate that's best for you?

Ok, I figured out which kind of debate... which program is right for me?: These suggestions are by no means your only choices, however generally we'd suggest the following program pairings as starting points for a beginner in each of the formats of debate (this doesn't mean that these programs are only for beginners):

I'm still not sure which type of debate is the best fit for my interests.  Help me start off on the right foot!  We offer a Beginners' Introduction to Debate series specifically for students just starting out in speech & debate because we know that it can be hard to make a choice about specific programs.