How to Win British Parliamentary Debate Competitions? Learn What Meta-Debating is and How to Use it with Caution

Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
January 11, 2023
How to Win British Parliamentary Debate Competitions? Learn What Meta-Debating is and How to Use it with Caution

Hi there! In the first part of this article, you’ve covered how to use your delivery skills to dominate your judge’s notes. Now it’s time to focus on the content of your speech.

The key thing here is to be explicit and direct. Don’t make any assumptions about what the judge can and will understand from your argument. You must explicitly tell the judge what they should understand from your point or why your impact is a negative thing they want to avoid. The judge might come from a different background than you and might have different life experiences, which means they won’t necessarily see or understand things the way that you do and they won’t have the same intuitive connections. So be sure to clearly point out the most important links in your arguments. It can sound like: “Why is this true? Because, judge…” or “Why does this matter?” [pause] “This matters because…” as opposed to simply saying “the impact is …”

Next, you want to be explicit about how well you are engaging with your opposing team. This means saying sentences like, “Judge, they claimed (X), but I have three responses! First…” You wouldn’t believe the difference this makes in a judge’s mind, as opposed to just giving multiple responses without explicitly numbering them. Even more importantly, when you’re explicit in this way, most likely, the judge will write down in their notes three answers, and then at the end of the debate when they need to evaluate each team’s contribution, this will stand out even if, during your speech, they weren’t fully convinced by all the answers.

Since, in British Parliamentary, you’re also competing against your opening team if you are in the second half of the debate or closing, you can help the judge see your extension more clearly. Explicitly state at the beginning of your speech what NEW materials you’ll bring in your case compared to what has already been shared in the debate thus far. This sounds like, “Judge, our opening said (X). We will add the specific link about (Y) because the argument doesn't stand, and the impact isn't reached without this explanation because.”

Last, you want to be explicit about what the debate is about and how you think it should be adjudicated. This is often referred to as meta-debating. Let's use an analogy to help explain this idea.

In a boxing match, a boxer tries to land a punch on their opponent and hit them as hard as they can. The more times the boxer hits their opponent without getting hit themselves, the more likely they are to win. Outside of the ring, however, there are often commentators who’ll say things like, “Oh, that was an excellent dodge,” or “Look at her technique – she's dominating the ring!” All of this commentary doesn't help the boxer score more points per se, but it does change how the audience views what’s happening inside the ring. In debate, we call this kind of commentary meta-debating.

Meta-debating is an appeal addressed to the judge about what is happening or has happened in the round. It might sound like this: "Judge, Opening Government missed their burden in this debate when they didn't justify why all drugs need to be legalized," or, “Judge, my extension speaker won this debate when she told you that this would increase voter turnout. Voter turnout is the metric that you should use to decide this debate because…" These statements can be incredibly important in debates that come down to definitions, burdens, counterfactuals, the intent of the motion, and the focus of the debate. All of these concepts aren’t used to debate the motion, but rather explain how the debate should be judged and what “blows” and “punches” should be counted.

For instance, if Proposition and Opposition are fighting about what the words “tiger parenting” or “glorification” actually mean, and if their case rests on one interpretation over another, it's critical that at least one speaker stops throwing punches and takes time to comment on their team’s technique and to explain why their interpretation is better and should be the one that the judge uses.

Another example is the motion, “This House would impose personal criminal liability on police chiefs whose subordinates commit police brutality.” If the Government focuses on why this would be beneficial and practical, then as the Opposition speaker, you could say something like this: “Judge, note that the Government has missed their main burden of proof, which is to show why it's justified to punish a person for an act that they did not commit.” You would, of course, emphasize this line with your voice and your body language as you would be delivering it.

We’ll leave you with a final note: use meta-debating with caution. Sometimes, it can seem a bit patronizing if you start telling the judge how to think, particularly if you're way off the mark.

To wrap up, let’s think back to our ole buddy Lacazette. He might not have cared about being judged, but the truth of the matter is, in any sport—including debate—there will be an adjudicator. Your job as a player in the game is to see those judges as friends who are in need of your help, which is why in these articles, you've learned how to use delivery skills to present arguments and rebuttals in a way that’ll help the judge take clear notes and justify a call in your favor. You've also learned how to use meta-debating when you think it's necessary to help the judge focus on specific parts of the debate. Time to go make some new friends with French football players!

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Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
January 11, 2023

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