How to Win a Public Forum Debate Round

In Public Forum, the name of the game is judge adaptation. What will work in front of one judge will not work in front of a different judge. However, there are certain baseline requirements for winning a public forum round that need to be completed regardless of which type of judge you are in front of. Your constructive speech needs to be well-constructed and persuasive. Your rebuttal needs to cover all of the opponent’s critical points. The summary and the final focus need to effectively crystallize the round and zero-in on the most important points, such as to drive home your victory in the mind of the judge. These are only general requirements -- when we understand what type of judge one has, more can be understood about how to persuade them. Some judges will prioritize speaking and communicating in a persuasive manner, while others will privilege the team that exhibits mastery of technical skill. We’ll discuss how to win each type of public forum round: traditional rounds and technical rounds.

Traditional Rounds

In traditional rounds, one should prioritize persuasion above all else. Speaking well and confidently is among the most important things you can do to win over a traditional (“lay” or “flay”) judge. This consists of modulating your tone, making eye contact, minimizing stuttering and/or fluency breaks, and using a mix of ethos, pathos, and logos to persuade your judge. Of course, you also need to demonstrate to your judge that you have greater mastery of the topic at hand than they do, so high-quality refutation and substance debating is still a must. In addition, presenting a clear & cogent narrative is paramount to making the result of the debate clear to the judge. Finally, crossfire is much more important in front of traditional judges, because it is a chance for the judge to directly compare the competency of the debaters.

Technical Rounds

In technical rounds, one must win the “flow.” The flow refers to the note-taking system used by judges and competitors that emphasizes responding to every key point your opponents make and not “dropping” (or forgetting to respond) to an important argument. When winning the flow, a debater needs to have several responses to each contention brought up by the opponents, respond to (or “frontline”) the contents of the rebuttal, and collapse onto one important argument into the back-half of the round. In technical and traditional rounds alike, weighing is critical. The summary and final focus particularly will need to provide reasons why their arguments outweigh those that their opponent has made. This is because there will inevitably be a large number of arguments in every round, so showing the judge which one to listen to is the only way to reliably achieve victory.