The format of a Public Forum debate is relatively simple.
Two debaters compete against two debaters to determine the resolution.
The topic the students will debate about is chosen in advance, either by the tournament by a regional or national debate association. In the United States, the Public Forum debate topics are chosen each month by the National Speech and Debate Association.
Unlike other debate formats, the students are not assigned a specific side when the schedule for the debates is released. On the schedules, debaters as simply assigned a room, an opponent, and a judge.
When all four debaters and the judges reach the room, two of the debaters from one of the teams will flip a coin and the other team will call which side they think the coin will land on. The winner of the coin toss can pick either the side of the resolution they wish to defend or if they will speak first or last. If the winner picks the side, the other teams gets to pick if they will speak first or last. If the winner picks first or last, the other team gets to pick the side of the resolution.
After this process is complete, the judge will mark down on the ballot which side each team is on, which team will speak first, and which team will speak last. After this is noted, the debate will begin using this format.
Speaker 1 – Constructive Speech (Pro or Con) – 4 minutes
Speaker 2 – Constructive Speech (Pro or Con) – 4 minute
Cross-fire. Cross-fire – 3 minutes
Cross-fire is a questioning period during which each of the speakers can ask or answer questions of each other. This is different from the normal “cross examination” questioning period, where only one person from the other team asks questions and the person who just spoke needs to answer all of the questions.
Speaker 3 – Rebuttal Speech (Pro or Con) – 4 minutes
Speaker 4—Rebuttal Speech (Pro or Con) – 4 minutes
Cross-fire. Cross-fire – 3 minutes
Note, once the sides are selected, the debate does follow a pattern. So, if Speaker 1 is Pro, the Con will follow. Similarly, the Pro speaker will then deliver the first rebuttal speech, followed by the Con.
Speaker 1 –- Summary – 2 minutes
Speaker 2 – Summary – 2 minutes
The Summary speeches are done by the fist two speakers in the debate.
Grand cross-fire – 3 minutes
During the grand cross-fire, all four of the debaters participate. In other words, they all ask and answer questions.
Speaker 3 –- Final Focus– 2 minutes
Speaker 4 – Final Focus – 2 minutes
During the debate, each side has two minutes of total Preparation time that can be used in any way they choose. The preparation time is total, however, so if the first person on a team uses it all for Rebuttal, there will be no time left for the Summary and Final Focus speakers to use. Similarly, if the Rebuttal speakers uses 30 seconds, there will be one minute and thirty seconds left for the other speakers to use.
Once this debate is complete, the judge will decide a winner and a loser. The judge will also assign individual speaker points to each debater.
In future essays, we will explore how to give each of these speeches in more detail For now, here is a brief overview
Constructive speeches. In the Constructive speeches, speakers want to build their case either for or against the resolution. The speeches are usually structured to include a brief introduction, the framework the judge should use for evaluating the debate, two main supporting point, and a conclusion.
Rebuttals. In the Rebuttal speeches, debaters should focus on attacking their opponent’s case, making a series of arguments against each main argument. Sometimes the second rebuttal speaker will also offer a defense of the case that has been advanced.
Summary. Since the Summary speech is a short, two minute speech, debaters should summarize their own main arguments as well as extend their key answers to their opponent’s main arguments. The Summary speaker who speaks first should be sure to prioritize answering key arguments addressed by the second rebuttal speaker as this will be their first opportunity to do so.
Final Focus. The purpose of the short, Final Focus speech is to focus the judge on the primary reasons (one or two) to vote for your side. This should also include your best answers to your opponents’ best arguments