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How to become better at debating

  • Practice. You won’t get better by reading articles like this. You will get better at debating by actually doing the thing. Go to as many tournaments as you can. Go to as many practice sessions as you can.
  • Practice with the best. Debate against the best people you can find. Listen to how they debate and try to emulate them. Be on the lookout for new arguments that might be useful in other contexts.
  • Evaluate your performance after each debate. Talk to the judges, especially if you didn’t win the round. Focus on winning. Don’t ask what you could have done better. Ask what would have made you win the round or beat a specific team. Think about this question yourself as well. Consider talking to the winning team about it. Debrief with your partner to figure out how you could have found the winning strategy or argument ahead of time. Ask yourself if you need to change anything about how your preparation time.
  • Practice deliberately. Make a list of specific things you currently don’t do well (e.g. rebuttal, giving examples, showing impact). Consider asking judges about this. Before each debate, commit to improving one thing from that list. Evaluate your performance on this issue afterward. Keep doing that until it has become second-nature. Move on to the next issue.
  • Seek to understand the underlying trade-offs involved in similar debates. While topics are rarely repeated word-for-word, many debates share similar trade-offs. For instance, different restrictions on free speech will still share many of the same arguments on both sides. Find out what they are by reading guides (see below), the relevant entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, books on different issues in applied ethics, or thinking about it yourself.
  • Prepare what you can. Get an up-to-date world almanac (German). Consider preparing arguments for common trade-offs (see above). Consider writing a document with reminders for your preparation time and the actual debate.  

Below are some additional resources that I found particularly helpful during my time:

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