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Speed debating at the Central London Debating Society last night

What is speed debating?

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the famous old proverb goes. Last night’s debate was a case in point. Stranded on an open landing after our room for the evening was double booked, it was clear that our usual public debate was a non-starter as the speakers would have to shout to be heard, while contending with disruption from passers-by. We were about to cancel the event and then suddenly we had an idea: speed debating!

Speed debating is exactly what you think it is. We break up the audience in to four tables of evenly numbered people and then we assign a speaker to each group to make their case for 5 minutes. When their time is up, they switch and move to the next table. We had no idea if we would pull this off until we tried it, but as it turns out, speed debating works brilliantly, especially when you’re in an open space that would normally make conventional debating quite difficult.

The speakers clearly made an impact too. The motion was: ‘This House Would send UK combat troops into Mali’. The preliminary vote (before the debate starts) gave the opposition a massive lead, only for it to be cut to a mere two votes at the end. A great night in all. This House Would definitely recommend speed debating to anyone out on the town with a group of 12 or more people, looking to spice things up a bit.

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The difference between debating and spin

Last night, a newcomer to the debating society asked me if I could ever argue the case for something I didn’t believe in a debate. ‘Those are my favourite types of debates’, I replied. ‘What value does that hold, other than learning how to spin’, he followed up.

Good question, to which I have an equally good answer.

  • Don’t knock spin – yes that’s what I said. There is a difference between spinning (playing up your good points and playing down your bad ones) and lying. You don’t tell the good-looking stranger who you’ve just met that you used to wet the bed when you were a child. Yet you do find a way to work your Spanish villa into the conversation. This makes you a spinner but not a liar – unless of course all you have is a bungalow in Staines, in which case you’re on your own.
  • Defending a view we don’t necessarily agree with is something all of us have had to do at some point in our lives – if you’re a lawyer, a lobbyist, or a PR exec, you’ll certainly understand this. If you’re a doctor, you may be required to recommend a procedure you don’t agree with, such as abortion. If you’re a copywriter, you may have to write a puff piece for something you have no interest in. Also, there is every chance that what you hand on heart believe could actually be wrong, which is why…
  • You should always be ready to critique your own position – the best way to be sure that what you believe is right is to put yourself in the shoes of your opposition. Make every effort to understand where they are coming from. Do your best to tear apart your own argument and rigorously probe it for unproved assertions and logical fallacies. If you still can’t find fault with your argument, then you know you’re right and you’ll be in an even better position to defend it going forward.
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