How to debate

Points of information are, if you ask me, the thing that makes the British parliamentary debate interesting.

But let me start at the start.

A point of information (POI) is a question or a statement, that is raised while a speaker of the opposing team is speaking. You are allowed to raise a POI at any time in the speech, but not during the protected time. Protected are the first and the last minute of the speech. You will hear a bang on the table (or a similar sound) after the first minute of a speech and before the last minute of the speech. Now its the time to raise your POI.

So you stand up and say “Point of information” or “On this point”. This is almost everything that you are allowed to say, when raising a POI (stating what your point is going to be about is not allowed and you will get penalised for a point like “On the poit of China”). Now you wait. The speaker has to decide if she is taking your point or not. If yes, the speaker is going to allow you to state your point. If not, she is going to say “no”, “no thanks” or similar, and you will see that some speakers will just sit you down with a hand motion. If you got an OK, now you have 15 seconds, not more, to raise one point. So think about what you are going to say. And with that I mean that you have to know what exactly you are going to say even before you stand up. If you dont, it is very possible that you will mess it up. The point is going to be too long or you will not be clear. When I say that you are allowed to make one point, I mean one point, that means that you are not allowed to speak about two problems that they have, even if you believe that they are both equal important.

When to raise a point? Well there are different tactics. But if you would like to make your point, than you need to stand up, when the speaker makes a break. That means, before he/she is going to start to speak about a new argument, or a new issue. Otherwise you are likely not to get the point. But you also need to stand up if the speaker is in the middle of something, but you would like to make something obvious to the judges. That means, that if the speaker is saying something really weird, you stand up immediately, even if you know that she is not going to take the point. You will make it obvious to the judges that you know that the point that the speaker made, is not a valid one. Some speakers stand up at the last 10-5 seconds because they know that they are not going to be taken, but they have offered one more point. Most judges are going to record how many points you are going to offer.

You should offer at least 5 points in every speech of the opposing side, so that the judges see, that you are involved in the debate even if you are not speaking. This is even more important if you are one of the first speakers, because there will be almost an hour of the debate, but you will not speak any more. But don't make too many points. That means that you should not be standing up and sitting down all the time, because you are going to disturb the speaker and the judges can penalise you for that.

I can also advise you, to try to make a point about the argument, that you are going to make. That means if you are the first speaker of the second government, you should make a POI about the argument that is going to be your extension, so that the argument gets into the debate early, and that way you can make it more important.

A good idea is, that you have a paper on the table on witch you write down the points that you would like to make and with that you share your points with your debate partner, and with that your debate partner is going to get an idea about what you think and about what things you are going to use in your speech.

At the end, let me say this. Use your points wisely. Be funny but on the point. Short but kill their argument with the point.

Here are more resources, if you have more questions about points of information in different debate formats:

Lecture on Points of information in debate - Sarina Selleck
Video lecture about Points of information by Rhydian Morgan on World Debate Institute
Lecture by Alfred C. Snider "Points of information class"

How to make a proposition case is probably the most important question. The debates are good or bad mostly because of the propositions case and the proposition is mostly punished if the judges feel that the debate was bad.

I will write about a plan/model proposition case here, because its most widely used in the British parliamentary debate format. I will prepare another article about the other prop cases.

If we compare the proposition case with a “real” government change in a law/policy, the first question that you need to answer is, why are you doing it. So there must be a problem. And this is the first thing that you should speak about. Is there something wrong in the world? If there is you should spent some time on explaining the problem. Show the judges, that the problem is important and that it should be solved.

After the problem you should propose a solution. In the debate jargon its called a plan or a model (the British or IONA – Islands of the Northern Atlantic use the word model). In this model you should answer a couple of basic questions. Who is going to do it. What he/she/it is going to do it and how it is going to be done. Your plan should be precise, but it should not go into too many details or technicalities. That means that you can specify that a group of experts is going to do something, but you don't need to name them, or where you are going to find them. The plan should be direct and it should do exactly what the motion says. If you have a closed motion than you can use the wording of the motion for your plan.

After you have proposed a plan/model, all you need to prove is, that it will have benefits, or that there are arguments why you should do that. While learning about how to make a good debate, probably the best advice that I received, how to make an argument is, ask the WHY question. And then some more. And more. Until you get a stupid answer. Example: THBT EU needs a standing army and you run an argument that the EU is going to be more important in the international arena. WHY: Because having an army makes you an important player in the arena. WHY: because if you have an army you can threat other countries. WHY: because you can bomb them and they dont like it. WHY: because their people will die and this the governments dont like that. WHY: well if you have noone to govern, than being a prime minister is not fun. WHY: well, now you can stop asking the question.

Don't forget to link every argument to your plan/problem. That means, that at least at the end of your argument you should say, why is your argument important for your problem or model.

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