Debate 101 Method

Debate 101: 1st Speaker

First speakers should focus on the delivery of the main case, setting the foundation for your side to win the debate.

First speakers should focus on the delivery of the main case, setting the foundation for your side to win the debate. What should you do as a first speaker? Firstly, take a breath and stay calm.

The first minute of your speech is called the Golden Minute. That’s because you have to make your speech appealing in just under 1-2 minutes. The way to do that is to make your setup concise, catchy, and understandable. So what is a setup?


The setup is sort of the ‘background’ section of your speech. What is the motion really about? Why is it worthwhile to implement this policy? A basic setup should ideally consist of these things:

  1. The problem in the SQ (i.e. status quo or current state)
  2. Stance and mechanism
  3. Definition

Here are some things to remember:

  • The problem in the status quo

This part is important because there’s almost always an issue in the real-world that can be solved through your motion.

Ask these questions: (a) does the problem not have successful solutions in SQ? (b) can the problem only be solved through this motion? (c) does the problem have an immediate impact to the actors?

At this point, it’s good to simply have an overview of the problem. Your arguments should detail the specific ways you solve it.

  • Stance and mechanism

This part details the specific actions in your policy that are important for the debate to continue. For example, a motion may read “This House would only grant scholarships on the basis of financial necessity.” You’d probably have to talk a bit about how “financial necessity” is determined.

Stances are much broader because it details what your team agrees or disagrees with. Make sure it is not a half-stance! In the motion “This House would legalise abortion”, it’s a half-stance to say that you would only legalise it in cases where the mother may have health risks if not carried out. This is because the full extent of the motion is not defended.

  • Definition

Certain words or phrases might take on a different meaning based on the context of the debate. Think about what the motion asks you to defend, not what the dictionary says.


Arguments are really the core of debating. These are fleshed out reasons as to why you should support or not support a motion, depending on your side. An ideal first speaker should have two arguments.

In the broadest sense, arguments can be principled or practical. Here are refreshers on principle and practical arguments.

Note: If you’re the first speaker of the Opposition team, you’ll also have to deliver some rebuttals to the first Government speaker. Read more about effective rebuttals here.

What do I do during casebuild?

  • Flesh out as much of your arguments as you can. Strive for as much detail to insulate your arguments against rebuttals and attacks.
  • If you’re stuck, ask your teammates to help you. The first speaker’s speech should be prioritised in this case.

That’s it for first speakers! Does this seem like something you’d want to do? If you to find out more, there’s a more detailed guide here.

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