Debate Chairs

What Does a Debate Chair Do?

A good Chair sets the tone for the room with everything they do, not just when they speak, but also by observing the body, and by listening to speakers with respect and interest. Their objective is to facilitate the debate, not to be in the spotlight.

They know and apply the rules consistently and even-handedly, and engage with good-natured confidence in the running of the debate. The Chair encourages those who are new to this kind of conversation to speak, even if they are anxious about talking in front of others. They provide correction and offer guidance with kindness and tact.

They promote an engaged and energetic conversation with enthusiasm, humor and, when necessary, with calm and steady firmness. They ensure the delivery of an experience that participants want to repeat.

What are the Expectations for a Debate Chair?

The Debate Chair is expected to:
  • Collaborates with or coaches the debate’s organizers on the choice of the debate topic.
  • Helps the group recruit the first four speakers.
  • Consults on the date, venue, and publicity.
  • Helps greet participants, and creates a welcoming, friendly tone as people arrive.
  • When the body has assembled, welcomes everyone, offers introductory remarks, explains the debate process, and demonstrates some debate elements if the group is not experienced.
  • Calls the debate to order, and facilitates it.
  • Brings the debate to a close, and offers participants the opportunity to respond to a feedback question, popcorn-style.
  • Distributes and collects feedback forms.

What Qualifications are Expected of a Debate Chair?

This role may be a good match for you if:

  • You’re comfortable in front of groups that range from 20-50 people.
  • You can create a welcoming atmosphere for often-nervous participants, filling the room with a confident, spirited welcome.
  • You’re able to notice and willing to intervene promptly with sensitivity, humor, and authority when people deviate from the format.
  • You can set your personal views aside, and show no positive or negative reaction to the views participants express.
  • You’re able to remain aware of all who are in the room, being especially alert for those who don’t seem to be enjoying themselves, and endeavor to somehow draw them in.
  • You can create space for everyone to participate, including as many people as possible.
  • You’re willing to set aside what you already know about debates in order to learn and apply the debate model we use.

Does Better Angels Provide Training for Debate Chairs?

Yes, Better Angels provides free training for those accepted as Debate Chairs in training.

You should be confident that, after training, you’ll be able to:

  • Exercise self-assured and good-natured command of the room, and hold the leadership of a group of 20-50 people.
  • Understand the process of preparing the resolution, and be able to explain it to others, and guide or coach them when needed.
  • Understand the debate process, and be able to communicate it clearly to others before calling the debate to order, and throughout the debate as necessary.
  • Be comfortable with formal meeting procedures (for example, being addressed as Mr. or Madam Chair), and with asking participants to adopt the same degree of formality.
  • Repeatedly invite people who might be nervous speaking publicly to give a brief talk, welcoming their contribution.
  • Include as many participants as possible.
  • Exercise discernment and good judgement, distinguishing passion from malice, and firmly and tactfully coach those who aren’t exhibiting respectful behavior.

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