The 12 Best Debate Tips We’ve Ever Heard


In honor of February 12th, today we’re going to share the 12 best pieces of debate advice we’ve ever received. Read and absorb these nuggets of wisdom below.


1. “Know the internal link scenario.”

No matter what event and what topic, everything comes down to internal links. How does one argument connect to another? If it doesn’t seem to make sense to you, chances are it’s because it actually doesn’t make sense. Figure out where the logical breakdown is, and explain that to your judge.


2. “If you don’t win the ballot, you didn’t win the round.”

No whining. Fundamentally, all debate is a persuasive communication activity. If you didn’t win the round, even if you were sure you were going to, it’s because you messed up somewhere. Maybe the judge was wrong, but if they were wrong it can only be because your explanation wasn’t clear to them. Figure out what you needed to do to persuade this particular judge, and regroup. Sulking and blaming others for your losses will never help you grow.

3. “Think like a human, not like a debater.”

Too often, debaters freak out when they hit an unfamiliar argument, and the round completely breaks down. This is because they’re scrambling to find “the right debate argument” to make, instead of keying in on obvious responses. The next time you see something new, take a deep breath and think to yourself “how would I respond to this if my friend said it to me?”


4. “Most good debates are ties. You gotta give the judge a reason to break the tie.”

Once you get to the level of evenly-matched debates between talented competitors, the truth is that there are many rounds where the judge could easily vote either way. Your job is to figure out why they should pick you, and explain that to them clearly, early and often.


5. “Look and sound right, no matter what you’re saying.”

Fake it until you make it. It’s much better to actually know what you’re talking about, but everyone occasionally stumbles into unfamiliar territory. In these situations, confidence is key. Judges want to make the “right” decision, and seeming like you’re certain you’re winning is a good way to capitalize on that.


6. “Debating your way will work better than debating the ‘right’ way.”

You’ll always do better when you keep the debate in your wheelhouse. If you’re just not a fast-talking, technical person, you’ll do better by tailoring your arguments to suit that style than by trying to transform yourself into someone who runs 12-off. The reverse is also true. Do an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and then work on emphasizing your strengths, while downplaying your weaknesses. You gotta do you.


7. “When the round is going off the rails, hard stop and reboot.”

We’ve all had those debates where mid-round we were sure we were destined to lose. Fight those feelings! Never give up. Instead, stop, and take a minute to figure out what new direction you can take. Dropped a counterplan that solves the aff in the 2AC? Hey, you can always go for theory. And so on.


8. “Know where the debate is headed before it starts.”

Ask yourself before the round even begins, and then again when you start prepping for every speech “how am I most likely to win the debate? How are my opponents most likely to win the debate?” Your goal should always be to place yourself in your opponents’ and judges’ shoes, and then cover the flow accordingly.


9. “You’re always telling the judge a story. Make it one they want to believe in.”

Whether you’re an LDer talking about Kant, a policy kid reading 8 politics disads, someone rocking a nontraditional argument about identity, or anything in between, you are ALWAYS telling the judge a story. The winner is usually whoever told the most salient, believable story. Don’t forget to tie everything together into one neat little package, and never underestimate the power of a good story.


10. “Research should be open and honest.”

Don’t just research by trying to find a specific card. Even if you find it, you may miss out on a cool position you never anticipated. A better technique is to begin your research process open to anything you might discover. This will help you develop a strong foundation of background knowledge in the topic, as well as give you opportunities to stumble upon unique, creative arguments. And, yes, it will also make it easier to choose good search terms when eventually you need to find that one special card.


11. “Winning is important, but it isn’t everything.”

The skills you learn and the friends you make will stick with you a lot longer than your record will. As we’ve said before, the people you meet in debate will probably become your best friends, so you should start treating them that way now. Above all else, never sacrifice your integrity for a W. You have to be able to live with yourself at the end of the day.


12. “When in doubt, just say the opposite of what the other team said.”

The strategy of just asserting the contrary is surprisingly underutilized. Sometimes, the best argument is simply “no, the opposite.” If they say “economic growth is good,” why not say “economic growth is bad?” You should always be ready for that direct clash.


What’s the best advice about debate you’ve ever received? Tell us in the comments. Maybe your contribution will make our next list!


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59 Responses to The 12 Best Debate Tips We’ve Ever Heard

  1. Hello whats up I read this debate advice its wonderful and i love the information this is so fucking good

  2. Specifically for NFL Nationals, I believe it can be very helpful to enlist the help of local folks in assisting your debaters with knowledge of judges in the area in which Nationals is being held. It really helped my policy team at Dallas Nationals a few years ago to have a former Texas small school policy debater, Obie Lansford, who went on to debate at the highest level in NDT at Baylor, help us with his knowledge and experience with all judges from Texas, both folks coming in from the college circuit and UIL league judges and coaches. That kind of assistance is so wonderful to have, for a team coming in from a different region.

    • Rachel Stevens says:

      Great point, Fred! Nationals always has an unfamiliar pool full of judges with diverse paradigms/stylistic backgrounds, so anything students can do to “find their footing” in that environment is super helpful! We also prepared a guide with some tips from students who have done well in previous years here

  3. Rhea says:

    Amazing. Seriously. I’ve got this debate tomorrow,and I am an absolute loser with anything to do with public speaking! This helped a lot, though. 🙂

  4. azra says:

    thank you

  5. Tiffany says:

    I am the only policy novice girl on my team my partner was a guy I have know forever I thought they just put me in policy because I sucked at speaking but it turns out that my partner and I were one of the best novice we had on our team. We were just novice so we did not go that far, but we went pretty far. We have gone to sems, finals, and quarters.

  6. mayra says:

    they are really good tips, but you should add that a debater must be proud,bold and confident enough, a debater should have the ability to face audience.
    along with that body laugeuge and eye contact also matters.
    as I am a professional debater so I have the experiance of it

  7. Thomas Getari says:

    on a great debate the best weapon is confidence.

  8. Areeba says:

    NT GUD!!!!!!!!


  9. Unkmown says:

    Which is better? Long cut or short cut in problem solving? Please tell me it’s long cut and state me your reason. We really need it because of our debate and accidentally chose long cut. 🙁

  10. this tips for debates are wonderful

  11. funny quick joke says:

    Hi, guys, did everyone just came here to work on their debate? i sure did… lol

  12. satyappani says:

    rather than speaking some really outward comments and despite of the fact that some are really abusing these words the article looks cool not in case of gaining experience but providing some fine tricks …

  13. Elizabeth says:

    This is awesome advice! We debate often in our Modern World History class and our teacher picks random people to head the debate. I just wanted to be ready for any debate.

  14. Marshmello says:

    Omfg This Advice was awsome thanks a million my god this is so going to help me on Monday

  15. itstianaagain says:

    Thanks so much for this information. I myself is a young debater so I took the time out to experience real life examples debaters come across and to prevent that I searched ways to get the crowd out my head, and always remain confident and thinking like a human. It was very considerate of a person to willingly make such great tips on how to be a great debater. Thank you! 🙂

  16. spongebob says:

    great advice for my pal squidward

  17. olivia villa says:

    I have a debate today and I think this helped me gain a lot of confidence right now that’s werid uh.. thx guys

  18. sharkquisha says:

    I don’t like it I love it

  19. allera says:


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  22. Link says:

    Wow this is the best list of all,especially the last one.this is so helping me to get my nerve to go away from me cause this monday im practicing these things ans I’ve never done it before

  23. YaYaYa says:

    I found these tips very helpful. Thank you SO much for the info. Now I might actually get somewhere in this debate!

  24. M5 says:

    I am not good enough in debate bt this tips boost me up.and some day I’ll be good enough 4 it .thanx

  25. Alexus says:

    I have made it to state with my partner as CX Novice and I would like some tips on how to run a CP, more accelerated T, and how to run a Kritik.
    If you would please leave comments, Thank you.

    • Rachel Stevens says:

      Hi ALexus, please send me an email at rachel [dot] stevens [at] If you could provide a few specific questions/areas of confusion, that would help me provide you with better advice. Thanks! 🙂

  26. Watch your language guys says:

    watch your language guys Jesus.
    (*o*) +++++++++
    –[ ]–
    _/ \_________

  27. S. Barrientes says:

    The best way to make the debates much more effective for everyone is to have them in a closed to the public. It should be just the candidates and the ones asking the questions. I will guarantee that the questions will better received and answered. There will in my opinion less interruptions without a rowdy audience egging their favorite on. It can still be televised live but without the audience.

  28. Ally says:

    Thanks for the advis I have a debate soon and it has helped

  29. “Yes, my friend some one can’t €veryone but everyone can help someone”!!!

  30. My dear,friends tomorrow a debate will bacome in our school between class 9 girls vs boys..the motion is:Living in the villages is better than in towns& i am going 2 depict on the motion…

  31. Vick Smith says:

    I think that there should be one more tip “Never forget what side you are on.” this has happened to me before and has ruined the debate for me.

  32. Human says:

    Thx for the advice

  33. Hayley67 says:

    this is fucking amazing I love this website

  34. Paul Ruzicka says:

    For a college class, my daughter has to debate in favor of a position she is actually morally and ethically opposed to. How does one go about doing that effectively?

    • grehmke says:

      Hi Paul, Sorry for slow reply. I’m not sure what to advise. A key benefit of debate is for students to better understand views they oppose. The goal is to better understand why people we disagree with believe what they believe. I read recently that a proven way to alter others views is to state them sympathetically, list the advantages, and then let them discover the problems with their views. There are often strong arguments for bad ideas. So it is good to have these put on the table and understood. But I agree that it is challenging to have an activity where young people are asked to advocate ideas they believe to be wrong or immoral. — Greg Rehmke

  35. Human Being says:

    A great piece of advice that I once got is the following: “You’re not trying to convince the judges, you’re trying to convince them that they always agreed with you.”

  36. Jordyn says:

    My one tip would be to convince your judge, not your opponent. Your opponent can bring up all the evidence they want, but if the judge is on your side, you’ve won.

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