Essential Debate Skills: What Every Debater Needs to Have in Their Toolbox

After reading about the benefits of debating, you have been thinking of picking it up for a while now. Now is the time to take the next step and familiarize yourself with the skills and capabilities you will need to develop to become a competent debater. Read on to find out more about them!

Debate Fosters Critical Thinking and Analysis

As a debater, one of your main responsibilities is to build a convincing case to defend your stance on the motion. Part of crafting your arguments is conducting research, as they are only truly convincing if they are supported by robust and relevant evidence from trustworthy sources. Through extensive research experience, you will learn to critically evaluate sources and their contents. Similarly, you can analyze your debate opponents’ arguments and rebuttals to detect any logical flaws within them, and utilize them to your advantage. Critical thinking and analytical skills extend well beyond the debating stage into your daily life. For example, when reading the news, you can look at the news outlet, its political slant, and the context to gain a better understanding of the message being conveyed as a whole, rather than simply absorbing the information blindly, protecting yourself from misinformation and hoaxes.

Debate Makes You More Empathetic

When you are preparing your debate game plan, not only do you need to consider what you are going to say, but you also need to anticipate the arguments that your opponents may have, so that you can prepare your rebuttals, particularly for the second and third speakers of the affirmative team and all speakers on the negative team. This exercise requires you to walk in your opponents’ shoes, and view the motion from their perspective, which needs empathy.

Debate Makes You a Better Communicator

Good ideas go to die when they are poorly communicated. Even if you have meticulously prepared the most robust arguments, you still need to express them in a convincing manner. You need to be able to organize your arguments in a coherent and logical fashion, and to choose the right words to appeal to the appropriate audience. This includes conveying your arguments in a calm and non-accusatory manner, and with sophisticated rhetorical appeals:


Ethos refers to credibility or authority. For an argument to achieve the desired persuasive effect with a certain audience group, it has to have a perception of credibility. During a debate, part of an argument’s credibility is the speaker’s characteristics. Extrinsic ethos refers to the speaker’s formal credentials, such as his/her education, profession, experience, and field of expertise. You need to sound like you are well-versed in a topic for the audience to trust you and be persuaded. Intrinsic ethos refers to the speaker’s conduct when presenting. For example, if you used a lot of filler words, like “umm” and “like”, you would sound a lot less credible than if you were to communicate eloquently.


Pathos refers to appeals to the emotions. Specifically, you can utilize pathos by appealing to the audience’s sense of identity, ego, and feelings. To do this, you can try to establish common ground with the audience to create a sense of relatability. You can ask rhetorical questions and make emotionally charged statements that demonstrate your understanding of the audience’s needs and values. When wielding the pathos sword, be careful not to get overly sentimental and detached from reality, as it can erode your credibility.


Logos is defined as appeals to reason and logic. The most common technique in debate is to incorporate facts and figures derived from trustworthy sources to support your argument. For example, if you are arguing about the global economy, citing statistics from economists at the World Bank would be much more impactful than citing the opinion of an amateur observer from a blog article. Other techniques include analogies, which involve drawing parallels between two things, and deductive/inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning goes from the general to the specific, while inductive reasoning moves from a specific example and makes generalizations.

Debate Helps You Become a Better Team Player

Debate is often done in teams, and so preparing and executing it successfully requires collective effort from all members. You need to be able to communicate and exchange ideas with your teammates to collaborate effectively. This involves listening to other people’s points of view, and giving and dealing with constructive criticism so you can strengthen your arguments and make sure your team's stance is coherent. Furthermore, you also need to be able to resolve conflicts in a calm and fair manner, which requires empathy and compromise.

Debate Hones Your Presentation Skills

Presentation skills are related to communication skills, but are more focused on the public speaking aspect. Being able to remain calm and composed while delivering your rebuttals and arguments in front of your teammates, opponents, and the adjudicator(s) takes practice. So does giving eye contact, using hand gestures, maintaining a proper posture, and dressing properly, all of which contribute to your credibility.

Debate Helps You Think on Your Feet

No matter how much planning you have done to prepare for a debate, you can never truly know how the debate will go. You are bound to encounter arguments and rebuttals that you and your team had not anticipated. To succeed, you need to be flexible enough to adapt your arguments to the situation. Debates exert a lot of time pressure, as you only have the amount of time allotted to each speaker to modify your arguments before your turn. Teamwork comes in especially handy here, as your teammates may have ideas that you had not thought of before.

Debate Teaches You the Art of Persuasion

Ultimately, debate is all about defending your stance with strong arguments and convincing the judges that your team is “correct”, or at least that there is truth to your team’s side. Successful persuasion is a higher-order feat that is the result of combining critical thinking, teamwork, communication and presentation.

Develop your debating skills today so you can confidently convey and defend your opinions. Join The Global Citizen Education Group’s debate programs to find your voice.

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