Debate Roles: The Responsibilities of Each Debater


Debates often take place between two opposing teams, the affirmative team (supports the motion) and the negative team (disagrees with the motion). A team usually comprises three people, each of whom has unique roles and responsibilities, depending on their sequence of speech. Knowing the specific contributions of each speaker will help you become a more flexible and adaptable debater, so you can always excel regardless of which position you take.


Role of the First Affirmative Speaker in a Debate

The first affirmative speaker is the very first speaker who opens a round of debate. Therefore, they have the advantage of being able to set the tone. The first affirmative speaker’s main role is to lay out their team’s case. After introducing the motion, the first affirmative speaker is responsible for stating their team’s definition of the terms within the motion. They should also provide an outline of their team’s arguments by briefly covering what they and each of the following speakers on their team will be talking about. Finally, they should state and elaborate on their own argument, making sure to support it with evidence before closing their speech.


Role of the First Negative Speaker in a Debate

The first negative speaker follows the first affirmative speaker. Their task is similar to that of their predecessor, in that they need to outline their team’s stance. However, they have the extra task of rebutting the first affirmative speaker’s points. In fact, they could start their speech by stating whether they agree or disagree with the affirmative team’s definition of the motion. If they disagree with the definition, they ought to provide and justify an alternative definition. After defining the motion and outlining the negative team’s case, they should develop an argument of their own and defend it with relevant facts and figures before concluding their speech.


Role of the Second Affirmative Speaker in a Debate

The second affirmative speaker is mainly responsible for rebutting the first negative speaker’s points and stating their own points. Because the second affirmative speaker does not need to define the motion or outline their team’s case, they get the benefit of having more time to spend on building their case. Naturally, this is where the bulk of the affirmative team’s case should be. Ideally, the second affirmative speaker can cover two to three points, ultimately closing their speech with concluding remarks that summarize their points.


Role of the Second Negative Speaker in a Debate

The second negative speaker possesses a similar role to their positive counterpart. They rebut the second affirmative speaker’s points and state their own points, too. Similarly, the majority of the negative team’s case should be explained by the second negative speaker, as they do not need to introduce or summarize the team’s points.


Role of the Third Affirmative Speaker in a Debate

The third affirmative speaker is responsible for rebutting the second negative speaker’s points and wrapping up the affirmative team’s case. Because most of the negative team’s points should have been explained by the second speaker, the third affirmative speaker is placed in a unique position to undermine the negative team’s case. Furthermore, the third affirmative speaker’s presentation should leave a lasting positive impression on the debate adjudicator as they are the last opportunity for the affirmative team to make a case. Summarizing their team’s points refreshes the knowledge in the adjudicator’s minds. Therefore, the third affirmative speaker should be especially organized to end the debate on a strong note.


Role of the Third Negative Speaker in a Debate

The third negative speaker ends the round of debate, allowing them to have the literal last word. Therefore, they shall not squander this opportunity. Instead, the third negative speaker should rebut the third affirmative speaker’s points and succinctly summarize the arguments that their peers have put forth. A strong third negative speaker can truly change the outcome of the debate, even without any new points.


After reading about the roles and responsibilities of each speaker, which position do you most resonate with? Regardless of which speaker you’d like to be, The Global Citizen Education Group’s debate programs are here to help you become an eloquent debater. Begin your debating and find your voice today with experienced coaches you can trust!


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