How to Choose Your Debate Event

By Elena and Lily

When we went into high school, we both knew we wanted to be involved in various extracurricular activities (we are overachievers after all) and one that stuck out to both of us was debate. We ended up joining debate for different reasons, and we decided on our debating events for different reasons, but choosing a debate event can be difficult, especially if you don’t know where to begin. 

To learn more about some of the benefits of debate and why you should do it, check out this article we wrote last month here!

Photo by Jacqueline Kelly on Pexels.com

What are the events?

Depending on where you live, the events may vary, but there are generally 4 main events in high school debate. The 4 events we would consider to be the “main” events are Congress, Lincoln Douglas (LD), Policy (CX), and Public Forum (PF).

Congress

In many states (not all!) Congress debate is considered to be not as competitive as the other events, however this isn’t entirely true. There are some states where Congress is extremely competitive, and on the national circuit (more commonly referred to as nat circuit), Congress can get really, really tough.

Just as the name suggests, Congress basically consists of mock-Congress sessions. You sit in a room with a number of other people, which depends on the tournament, and you switch off giving 3 minute speeches and questioning each other on various bills.

Congress is an event that will help you learn about more issues, understand politics, and help you develop your speaking skills. There’s a lot of work involved when you have more bills, but you don’t necessarily need as much work done for each bill as you do for each resolution in the head to head events.

Lincoln Douglas 

Lincoln Douglas, or LD, is the only “main” event where you debate 1 vs 1. LD is a very interesting event because you’re expected to debate the morality of a resolution, not necessarily about implementation. This event has recently drifted to be in a strange place, where no one really knows where it’s going to go, which is why judge adaptation is extremely important in this event. 

Each round ends up taking about 50 minutes, so there isn’t an overly large amount of time to get into a lot of specific details, though a lot of judges may want to see that. Although a single round likely won’t tire you out, an entire day of doing LD is extremely exhausting.

In LD, you have to learn to adapt the round to be what the judge’s vision is quite often, which also forces you to look at issues in a different light. In LD, the topic changes every 2 months, so you’re going to get a few topics every year.

You’ll also have to be ready to apat to a more progressive debater, especially if you normally debate traditional arguments. If you get a progressive judge and debater. You have to be ready to make a good debate on a traditional case. Which can be hard to do if you’re not ready to adapt to every situation. 

LD is the event for you if you enjoy working on your own, want to learn more about morality, and if your main goal is to learn how to create a convincing argument. Although in the other events, organization of arguments is also important, it’s more important to be organized in LD as you debate a lot more heavy ideas in a short amount of time.

If you don’t understand why debating morality is interesting, check out this article on why philosophy is interesting.

Policy

In Policy, you debate the same topic all year round. The resolutions are made to have space in them, so you aren’t debating the exact same thing over and over. The rounds are much longer than in LD or in PF, uand as a general rule, the speed at which you speak in Policy is going to be faster than in any other event.

Policy is a team event, meaning its 2 vs. 2. This is a reason a lot of people will or won’t choose the event. Having a partner can be comforting and helpful for some, but some people may find it more difficult to debate with a partner. Keep this in mind when choosing your event. 

Policy is considered by many to be the hardest event, which can be appealing to a lot of people, but also can scare people off. Especially watching varsity policy teams compete can be intimidating. There is generally, though not always, a lot of spreading (speed reading) and yelling involved. 

Policy is very appealing to a lot of debaters who want to run less traditional cases. There is a lot of acceptance for identity based cases and less resolution based cases in Policy then there is in any other event. The different cases you’ll see is one thing that makes policy hard, though you’ll learn how to respond to them.

Having the topic year long may make this seem untrue, however, policy teams normally have and run many different cases in order to stay on top and to not allow anyone to be able to prep them out for every tournament. Having a year-long topic with many changing cases can be fun; you have to learn how the debaters debate, their strengths and weaknesses, in order to win. Instead of just prepping them out well; although this is true for any event. 

Policy rounds are very long and can be grueling. One round can last two and a half hours and completely tire any team out. But, in a good round, this is so rewarding. You can debate bigger cases and have more in depth discussion about them, where in LD you may not be able to have a full debate over all the important parts, simply because of the time you have. So, although they may be long, they can be exceptionally rewarding. 

Don’t let the intimidation of the event scare you off from joining a really fun event that can be really rewarding with a strong partnership, however, if hearing it’s hard deters you; it’s probably best you look elsewhere anyways. 

Public Forum

PF is what you’d expect debate to be. It’s a 2 vs. 2 event, just like Policy, you speak slower than Policy or LD, and you’ll be debating a lot for judges that don’t know debate jargon.

For the first semester, there’s a new topic every 2 months, but for the second semester, it’s a new topic every month. You debate the resolution and the impacts, but you don’t debate the morality of the resolution as you would in LD or as you sometimes do in Policy. 

What makes PF especially interesting is that the affirmative side, or side in favor of the resolution, isn’t always the side to speak first. Each round starts with a coin flip which results in the winner of the coin flip to choose either their side or if they speak first or second, and the other team gets the other choice. This can make a whole day of tournaments more fun as each round doesn’t have the same exact structure.

This is the event for you if you want to have concise debate and debate more topics every year while still doing a head to head event. 

How to Choose

Especially at first, you may feel like there’s no way you can choose. You might be interested by more than one event, or you just might not know where to start in your decision. Don’t forget, you’ll probably be able to switch events if you aren’t’ happy with your initial choice.

For some more tips on how to make decisions, check out this article here.

Talk to Others

Our first tip we’ll give you is to talk to others, whether it’s some of the more experienced debaters on your team, your coach, or other novices. Talking to people is going to help you think about what aspects of each event are most appealing to you, and what your goal is in joining debate. 

Pros and Cons

Make a list of the pros and cons of all the events you’re considering. This will help you think about what your priorities are and what you want to do. 

Include every aspect you can think of that’s either a pro or a con.

Flip a Coin

The tried and true method: flipping a coin. 

If you get down to two events, or you make a bracket out of the four events, you can flip a coin to figure out what you want to do. If the coin lands on one side and you feel like it’s wrong in your gut, you’ll know what the right decision is and if you find yourself happy about a side being up, you’ll also know the right decision.

Don’t Worry About It

When it comes time to make a decision, you’ll know what you want to do. If not, people will help you figure it out.

Whatever decision you make, you’ll most likely be happy about it. We don’t know anyone who isn’t doing an event they enjoy. 

Choosing a debate event may be hard, but when it comes down to it, the decision you make usually ends up feeling like the obvious choice.

We hope we’ve helped you learn more about the debate events and how to choose yours! If you enjoyed today’s post, please leave a like and a comment, and if you enjoy our content, please follow our blog and subscribe to our rss feed. For more content, you can check out our social media pages and our patreon which will be linked down below. We have a lot of really cool things coming out on both of them very soon, so stay tuned for that! If you have any suggestions for next month’s articles, leave a comment down below with your suggestion, dm us on social media, or send us a message through our contact page. As always, stay safe and keep on overachiving!

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