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The DAV is a non-profit association which exists to promote debate. It is the peak debating body in Victoria and runs large competitions for adults and for schools across Victoria. It provides training and resources for debaters, teachers and adjudicators.

The importance of introductions
By Meg O’Sullivan
Winner, 1999 World Universities Debating Championships

In amongst definitions, rebuttal, examples and summaries, the importance of the introduction sometimes gets lost. Often we are worried about making sure we fulfil our speaker duties, and we forget to make our introductions interesting and relevant.

What you want to do in an introduction is grab the attention of the audience and adjudicator. You want them to sit up straight in their seats and ask their neighbor “Who is this debater?”.

Furthermore, you want to bring the debate squarely back into your ground. Remember that your opposition has just had 5 or 10 solid minutes of argument to convince the audience that they are correct. A lot of audience members will be swayed by your opposition’s arguments, some might already be convinced. In your introduction, you need to give across the impression that no right minded person could even contemplate that your opposition’s arguments were compelling.

Overall, introductions are about establishing your credibility as a speaker. If you make a good impression at the start of your speech, this will last to the end. If you fumble your introduction, or if its technical or boring, you will lose the audience’s attention and it will be an uphill battle to regain credibility.

It is also important to have a good introduction because adjudicators will often get a strong impression of your manner within the first few minutes of your speech. The introduction sets the tone for your speech, and if you don’t start off confidently, it is difficult to score well for manner.

In order to get these good manner marks, don’t be afraid to speak slowly in your introduction. Often the more slowly and quietly you speak, the more compelling you appear. Slow, quiet speaking can serve well to emphasis important points, and given that the most important points should always come first, this is a good way to stress the crucial arguments.

Another benefit of slow, quiet, introductions is that they often contrast with the yelling style of the previous speaker. If your previous speaker has been haranguing the audience, there is no better way to establish your reasonableness than by speaking clearly and slowly to the audience.

Here are a few tips for introductions. Remember that these tips will not work for every debate. Be flexible and use your judgement as to what is required in any particular debate.

1st speakers:

  • Before launching into the definition, team line and team split, remember to spend some time (not too long) giving some context to the debate. Explain why the issue to be debated is so important or current. Answer the question, ‘why are we debating this topic now?’. Point to any new developments on the issue.
  • Remember when it comes to definition, the important thing is to clearly identify the issue to be debated. Don’t be afraid to state clearly, “The issue of today’s debate is xyz.”
2nd speakers:

  • Always begin with rebuttal. If you can sum up your opposition’s misunderstanding in one proposition, then do that.
  • Prioritise your rebuttal so that the most contentious points come first. Give the audience and the adjudicator the impression that you’ve just grabbed the debate by the neck and dragged it back to your side.
3rd speakers:

  • Your introduction must show that you have a good perspective on the debate.
  • Try beginning by summarising the opposition’s (flawed) approach to the issue, and you (correct) approach to the issue.
  • Contrast the two approaches, and in a nutshell, explain why your approach is better.

And finally, a few helpful tips that apply to all speakers;

1. Take a deep breath before standing up. This helps you to relax and clear your mind before beginning your speech. Good speakers often have a good sense of perspective on the debate, and this is more easily if you are relaxed.

2. Towards the end of the previous speaker’s speech, start thinking about how you will make your introduction.

3. Ask your team mates not to make suggestions about rebuttal etc just before you stand up. Often, their suggestion will not sink in, and may confuse and distract you.

4. Don’t be afraid to create a sense of theatre. Begin your speech as though you are in command of the stage - bit don’t go over the top!

5. Don’t make clichéd remarks. Adjudicators have heard them all before, and let’s face it, they are neither witty nor entertaining.

6. Prepare an introduction, but be flexible. Good introductions are ones that relate and respond directly to what the opposition are saying.