What is Public Forum?

Public Forum, or PF, is a popular debate format that students all around the world compete in. PF is a relatively new debate format that emphasizes persuasive speaking and substantive argumentation. In Public Forum, there are two sides: pro and con. The pro is sometimes referred to as the “aff,” short for “affirmative,” and the con is sometimes referred to as the “neg,” short for “negative.” The “resolution” is the topic for the debate. The pro side will uphold & defend the resolution, while the con side will come up with reasons why the resolution is a bad idea. There are two teams in a round, and each team is comprised of two debaters. After the round, a judge will award the victory to one side, and will assign speaker points to all debaters in accordance with how well they presented themselves.

Every month or two, the resolution changes, forcing PF debaters to change and update their research materials and arguments. Tournaments held in the first half of the year use topics for 2 months at a time (e.g. all tournaments in September and October use the same topic, and all tournaments in November and December use another topic). Tournaments held in the second half of the year use topics for 1 month at a time (e.g. all tournaments in January use the same topic, all tournaments in February use the same topic, all tournaments in March use the same topic, etc).

Each tournament is structured differently, but in most cases, the tournament will decide whether the debaters must defend the “pro” or “con” side via either coin-flip or random assignment. Debaters are also usually able to select whether they would like to speak first or second (the con does not have to speak second). Most tournaments have preliminary rounds and elimination rounds: only a handful of students will make it through the gauntlet and into elimination rounds, where they will fight for the #1 spot at the tournament.

The nature of the debate will be defined by the preferences of the judge: some judges will prefer a fast-paced, technical contest, while other judges (typically parents) will prefer a more conversational & traditional environment. It is the burden of the competitors to adapt to the judge’s preferences, which are listed in their judge paradigm. The paradigm can be found on the website Tabroom, commonly used to tabulate debate tournaments. If there is no paradigm listed, debaters are often encouraged to ask the judge about their preferences before the round begins. By the end of the round, the goal of each side is to have convinced the judge to either accept or reject the resolution. With technical judges, debates can become much more confusing and deal with extremely dense subject matter, so it is important to clarify your paradigm and background to your students.