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HBS Debate Team Prepares for its Final Showdown of the Year

The debate team has had a strong year thanks to a win over Yale last term and several successful debates on campus. Topics have ranged from green issues to asking whether greed was good. But how is debating different from just an everyday classroom discussion?

“Debating is quite a formal process,” Michael Walsh explains. “The team proposing the motion (called the government) and the team opposing the motion are required to adopt specific roles. For example, it is bad form for the last speaker to introduce a new line of argument.”

Debating also differs from public speaking in that it is a team event. Rather than a series of individual speeches, the team needs to work together as a coherent unit, reinforcing each other’s points and attacking the opposing team’s reasoning in a coordinated manner.

“One brilliant speaker is unlikely to be worth much if the team hasn’t agreed upon which arguments to focus on,” Walsh admits.

The Kennedy School debate is traditionally a rather boisterous affair with beer on tap and a bear-pit atmosphere (another enjoyable difference compared to the classroom atmosphere). The crowd is encouraged to cheer on points they agree with or “boo” points they dislike. With vocal support from both schools, it is often difficult to make out whether the cheering or booing has the upper hand.

The motion for this year’s debate is “Most of the world’s problems are created by governments (and then solved by businesses)” so we can expect the usual fireworks. The debate will take place Thursday, April 12 at 8:00 p.m. at the Kennedy School’s JFK Jr. Forum. Refreshments will be provided beforehand.

April 10, 2007
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