Critical thinking skills, preparation through research, articulate speech and public speaking expertise are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lifetime benefits we can gain from debating. Here we talk to some of Shanghai’s top young debaters who provide their insights into joining school debate clubs, while also sharing their most memorable experiences.
To give our readers a comprehensive picture of these great debaters, we speak with Ben, who is in Year 9 at Harrow International School Shanghai.
Can you tell us how you became interested in debating?
I became interested in debating thanks to my parents as they were involved in debate coaching and the World Scholar’s Cup (WSC) for years. My elder sister was also the top debater in the global round of the WSC a few years ago, which also inspired me to have a go.
How did it feel to represent Harrow in the WSC Tournament of Champions at Yale and go on to receive the gold medal?
To represent Harrow at the Tournament of Champions at Yale was a great experience. It was an honour to be there, and to also represent my school and win a gold medal was the icing on the cake.
What do you most enjoy about debating?
The aspect of debating that I enjoy most are the rebuts, which as the third and final speaker for my team, is integral to my speech. I enjoy this because this part is the crux of a debate, by challenging the other team’s standpoints. The best feeling is when you know you have a great rebuttal in your mind, you just can’t wait to get up and say it.
How do you think you can benefit from joining the school debate club?
I think joining the school debate club was one of the best decisions of my school life. In our training, our coaches guide us through every little detail of debating. At the end of the day we get fabulous opportunities such as visiting Yale. Being good at public speaking is a valuable trait to have in life and this skill can be trained and sharpen by joining a debate club. It’s a win-win situation.
Can you tell us about your most memorable debating experience?
My most memorable debate experience has to be winning a gold medal at the Tournament of Champions at Yale, because that is as big as it gets. It was the best feeling I have ever encountered when my name showed up on the screen. It was even better than scoring a great goal!
Do you have a list of topics that you are passionate about debating on in the future?
Yes. There are so many issues associated with sports today, such as drugs, political interference, the role of international bodies such as the IOC, FIFA and television. Pros or cons? I would love to debate some of these issues.
Do you have any advice or tips that you can give to your fellow debaters?
Be confident in your ability and work hard, this is what helps to make me a better debater. When you believe in yourself, your public speak-ing goes up to another level and when you work hard, you get your rewards. Footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, trains every day at age 32 and just won his fifth Ballon D’or – European Footballer of the Year, which is evidence of my belief: success results from hard work.
After hearing Ben's idea about debating, now let's welcome Abbey, who is now in Grade 8 at Shanghai American School, to share with us her memorable debating experience.
Can you tell us how you became interested in debating?
I became interested in Grade 5 when my parents signed me up for a story telling course. I’ve always been comfortable expressing myself and they thought it would be a good opportunity for me to learn about persuasion and gain the benefits of critical thinking.
Do you remember your first debate? And how did it go?
I remember my first debate clearly. We were debating one of the simpler topics like mobile phone usage at school. Even though I can’t recall much about the content, I remember myself being really nervous about not hitting the four-minute mark in public forum. I was also anxious about getting stumped during cross-fire and not being able to answer the question. However, the feeling I can remember was it being fun, despite all of the worry I enjoyed the process. Most importantly, this experience certainly made me want to continue.
You have been debating for few years now, can you tell us how it has affected both your personality and academic performance.
I think debate definitely affects your personality and the way you think intellectually. On a personal level, I have learned to think critically all the time in all situations in life. Sometimes it affects casual conversations because it always seems like an argument that I have to win, but I can snap out of it when I notice that. Debate definitely has benefited me academically. Whether it be class presentations or mastering new knowledge, I feel a lot more confident with school and my study.
Do you have a preferred territory?
I have experimented with many types of debate in the past, but now I am doing more parliamentary styles, focusing on world schools and British Parliamentary. I enjoy this type of debate because they usually discuss impromptu topics. Also, being given only 15 minutes to prepare for a speech really forces me to think critically, on my feet, and come up with different principled arguments as opposed to preparing topics that allowed time for research and evidence.
Can you talk us through how you usually prepare for a topic?
I think the most important thing in preparing for a topic is finding context. I believe that thinking about why we are debating this and the greater issue around it is a very good starting point. Knowing the context can definitely open you up to different perspectives, since you are able to come up with examples and identify stakeholders. After planning my own strategies, I brainstorm with my team and discuss what our main points and extensions are and what we are each going to talk about. I think the last thing I do is organize my notes so my speech is easy for the judges to follow, and then run it through in my head.
Do you mind sharing your most memorable experience in debating?
An experience that really stood out was going to a tournament and not winning a single round. I know that sounds really depressing, but I think it was a really good learning experience. During that competition, I went out of my comfort zone and tried a new style of debate in a high-level tournament, and I was able to challenge myself. I received valuable feedback from the judges, which allowed me to improve as a debater, even though we didn’t succeed.
What do you think it takes to be a good debater?
I think apart from being a good presenter and critical thinker, your attitude is certainly very important. Debate isn’t all about winning, it is also about learning and growing with every round. A good debater is one that takes something away from rounds, and not one that boasts when winning or one that gets mad when loosing.
Ben Cook is in Year 9 at Harrow International School Shanghai.
Abbey Xu is in Grade 8 at Shanghai American School.