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! 1-Week Public Speaking Introduction: designed for students with no prior experience 1-Week Advanced Public Speaking Program: designed for students with prior public speaking experience 2-Week Public Speaking Experience: combines our 1-Week Public Speaking Introduction and 1-Week Advanced Public Speaking Program sessions 2-Week Public Speaking + Intro to Debate: combines our 11-Week Public Speaking Introduction and 1-Week Introduction to Argumentation & Debate   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! Our 2-Week Forensics Experience session combines our 1-Week Introduction to Competitive Speech and our 1-Week Introduction to Argumentation & Debate prgram into a single program.   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: 1-Week Introduction to Competitive Speech program: This program is an excellent start for a total beginner with no prior formal experience in competitive speech!  You'll learn the basics and become familiar with the different styles and formats available for competition, and you'll be ready to continue on into one of our more advanced competitive speech programs in subsequent weeks. 2-Week Core Individual Events Program: This session is the most common program selected by students in competitive speech.  You can expect to have enough time to find, cut, prepare and hone a piece so that it is competition ready! 3-Week Individual Events Experience: The 3-Week Experience allows attendees to work on a second event or piece in addition to the basic 2-Week curriculum of the 2-Week Core session. 1-Week Individual Events Workout: Only recommended for students with significant experience who are schedule constrained for the 2-Week and 3-Week sessions, as this is not designed as a stand-alone session and there is not sufficient time to complete an entire curriculum.   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. The 1-Week Introduction to Competitive Speech program is designed to teach the basic skills that a student needs to succeed in competitive speech with the goal of allowing a student to continue into a subsequent program at a level beyond beginner/novice.  There is also a survey component which exposes students to the different events in competitive speech so that they can make an informed decision about which event to choose for their entry into competition. We also offer the 3-Week Beginners' Core Flex Package: this session combines the 1-Week Introduction to Competitive Speech program which combines the basic skills and tools a students needs with a survey of the different competitive debate formats plus two weeks of competitive speech camp form of the 2-Week Core Individual Events Program. We also offer the 4-Week Beginner's Experience Flex Package: this session combines the 1-Week Introduction to Competitive Speech program which combines the basic skills and tools a students needs with a survey of the different competitive debate formats plus three weeks of competitive speech camp in the form of the 3-Week Individual Events Experience. If you're not sure that you're ready for or interested in competitive speech, we recommend our Public Speaking 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. Policy Debate: At one end of the spectrum, policy debate is a very rigorous format which requires a great deal of research, leaving the student an expert on a specific area.  Students across the country will be preparing for and debating on a single, broad topic selected by the National Forensic League for the entire academic year.  Topics vary widely by year; however, all topics are about big picture issues that policy makers consider, such as how to protect the marine environment, US support of UN Peacekeeping Operations, deployment of US troops in bases abroad, mandated action to increase energey efficiency, etc.  The result of having a single year-long topic that is standardized across the country is that students become experts in the topic, and a well-prepared student will be familiar with many hundreds of pages of research material on the topic. Policy debate is a two on two format; a student and one partner compete against other teams of two students at tournaments (teams of two students competing against one another). In general, evidence (researched material) will always outweigh analytic arguments.  Debates about the credibility of sources are common, and teams build “cases” solely from the research that they have done (although many debate “squads” write cases as a group and multiple teams from the same school might argue essentially the same case).  Debate camps like SNFI also do substantial research and produce cases, files, and the other pieces of research that a student uses in policy debate. Suggested program pairing for beginners: 2-Week Core Beginners' Policy Program, or if time allows the 3-Week Beginners' Policy Experience for further opportunity to reinforce the concepts learned in the program with additonal practice debates in front of experienced debate critics. Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Lincoln Douglas (LD) debate is generally about questions that are of a deeper moral or philosophical nature.  Here, the debate will be about "big issue" or moral questions such as whether we should prioritize security or liberty, whether the US should intervene in foreign countries to protect human rights, etc.  The topic changes every two months, and is standardized across the country.  Whereas arguments of pragmatics often are effective in policy debate, LD is more often about the principles and philosophy, and an LD case is structured around a philosophical objective, with arguments supporting why that objective ought be valued over all else (for example, security is most important, and then principled arguments explaining why that is the case).  There is a lesser research burden for LD versus policy debate, and an LD case is often substantially written by a student, with pieces of quoted research brought in at strategic locations (as opposed to a policy case being all about the evidence). LD debate is the only format that is one-on-one.  Some students prefer this style for the ability to control your own destiny, as you win or lose based solely on your own arguments as opposed to also relying on a partner. Suggested program pairing for beginners: 2-Week Core LD Program (there is a group for beginning/novice students), or if time allows the 3-Week LD Experience for further opportunity to reinforce the concepts learned in the program with additonal practice debates in front of experienced debate critics and prep on an additional topic area for the coming season. Public Forum Debate: Public Forum debate has the most in common with policy debate structurally. The topic changes each month, and again is set nationally.  Although the topic areas in Public Forum are broadly similar to the topic areas in policy debate, the topics are somewhat narrower so that students can master them within a month (you couldn't be fully proficient at a broad policy debate topic in only a month).  The format is similar to policy in that cases are written and the topics have more of a practical, policymaking bent than the philosophical issues that tend to be discussed in LD. Public Forum debate is a two-on-two activity (teams of two students competing against one another). Suggested program pairing for beginners: 2-Week Core Public Forum Program (there is a group for beginning/novice students) or if time allows the 3-Week Public Forum Experience for further opportunity to reinforce the concepts learned in the program with additonal practice debates in front of experienced debate critics and prep on an additional topic area.  For students with tight schedules we also offer an abbreviated week-long Beginner's Public Forum Program. Parliamentary Debate: Parliamentary debate has less of a structured research burden that the other main types of debate due to the nature of its topics.  Parliamentary topics are different in every round of debate, so when you are at a tournament a topic is announced and you are given 15-20 minutes to prepare prior to starting the debate round.  You are allowed to bring materials with you into the prep room; however, you can only take what you've written down during the prep period into the debate round with you, and internet is not allowed during preparation.  Obviously the topic couldn't be of a particularly technical basis, or students wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to prepare a case in only 15-20 minutes.  As a result, the topics are broad and mainstream enough that a student can engage with the resolution (the specific topic for a round).  They generally broadly fall into categories such as philosophical issues, pragmatic/political topics (domestic and international) and “fun” topics that might relate to pop culture or other current happenings that aren't really political or policy based.  The Parliamentary format rewards students who are generally well-read and well-informed on a variety of issues, and one of the best ways to prepare is to be a regular follower of the news.  The format is highly extemporaneous, as the topic you will debate can only be prepared starting 15 minutes in advance. Parliamentary debate is a two-on-two activity (teams of two students competing against one another). Suggested program pairing for beginners: 1-Week Parliamentary Program or 2-Week Parliamentary Program, both of which offer a group for beginning/novice students. Similarities amongst the types/formats of debate: The first speeches are “constructive” speeches, during which you present and develop your case, respond to the arguments presented by your opponents, present evidence, etc.  Each person in the round will give a constructive speech (so there are 4 constructive speeches in policy, Public Forum and Parliamentary, and 2 constructive speeches in LD). After each constructive speech, there is a cross examination period during which the other team may ask the speaker questions.  In Parliamentary debate, cross-examination happens during speeches; the opponents may offer a “point of information” during a constructive speech, and it is customary for a speaker to accept one or two of these POI questions during their speech. Following the conclusion of the constructive phase of the round, there are a series of rebuttal speeches.  In a rebuttal speech, the goal is to tie up loose ends and show why and how your team has won the arguments necessary to won the round.  In general, new arguments are not allowed during the rebuttal speeches since there wouldn't be adequate opportunity for the opponents to answer or rebut your new argument. All of these debate events are adjudcated on a comparative basis.  This means that the judges are looking to see which team's arguments defeat the other team's arguments. How do you pick the program and/or type of debate that's best for you? Consider your motivations for wanting to do debate and think about your goals: How serious is the student about competitive debate?  How much time do they plan to commit to the activity?  What type of skills do they hope to obtain?  Each of the events has its own strengths and characteristics, both in terms of skills gained and preparation for a career in competitive debate. Check in with the coach: One of the most important issues to consider when you are deciding on a type of debate is the level of support that a student will receive from their school's debate program.  Many schools tend to field competitors in a subset of the events, for a number of reasons including the skills of the coaching staff and the size of the school's squad of students.  Some coaches prefer that beginning (novice) students start out in a specific event in order to provide a more consistent experience for incoming debaters.  After a semester or a year of debate, many students elect to switch to a different debate event than the one which they started out in.  It is important to make sure that the event that a student begins competing in will be supported by their school's squad and also is generally available in their region.  We suggest that you reach out to your student's coach to get this information.  While there are many benefits and skills that are transferable across events, it's likely to be a better experience for a beginning student if they are able to begin their competitive career in school by competing in the same event that they work on during their time at camp. Competitive speech & debate seems like it is too much for your goals and interests?  Consider our Public Speaking Programs, where you'll learn the same baseline skills without the substantial focus on adversarial competition that comes with a debate format. 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): Policy Debate: 2-Week Core Beginners' Policy Program, or if time allows the 3-Week Beginners' Policy Experience for further opportunity to reinforce the concepts learned in the program with additonal practice debates in front of experienced debate critics. Lincoln Douglas: 2-Week Core LD Program (there is a group for beginning/novice students), or if time allows the 3-Week LD Experience for further opportunity to reinforce the concepts learned in the program with additonal practice debates in front of experienced debate critics and prep on an additional topic area for the coming season. Public Forum: 2-Week Core Public Forum Program (there is a group for beginning/novice students) or if time allows the 3-Week Public Forum Experience for further opportunity to reinforce the concepts learned in the program with additonal practice debates in front of experienced debate critics and prep on an additional topic area.  For students with tight schedules we also offer an abbreviated week-long Beginner's Public Forum Program. Parliamentary: 1-Week Parliamentary Program or 2-Week Parliamentary Program, both of which offer a group for beginning/novice students. 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. The 1-Week Introduction to Argumentation & Debate program is designed to teach the basic skills that a student needs to succeed in competitive speech & debate with the goal of allowing a student to continue into a subsequent program at a level beyond beginner/novice.  There is also a survey component which exposes students to the different formats of debate so that they can make an informed decision about which event to choose for their entry into competitive speech & debate. We also offer the 3-Week Beginners' Core Flex Package: this session combines the 1-Week Introduction to Argumentation & Debate which combines the basic skills and tools a students needs with a survey of the different competitive debate formats plus two weeks of camp in the program of the student's choice after the first week (students can choose to continue on with the 2-Week Core LD Program, the 2-Week Core Public Forum Program or the 2-Week Core Individual Events Program). We also offer the 4-Week Beginner's Experience Flex Package: this session combines the 1-Week Introduction to Argumentation & Debate which combines the basic skills and tools a students needs with a survey of the different competitive debate formats plus three weeks of camp in the program of the student's choice after the first week (students can choose to continue on with the 3-Week Public Forum Experience, the 3-Week Lincoln Douglas Experience or the 3-Week Individual Events Experience). If you're not sure that you're ready for or interested in competitive debate, we recommend our Public Speaking Programs.