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How To Organize A Debate

Mar 5, 2008
As technology has evolved, so has debate formats. The CPD recommends creating a checklist to help prepare for an effective and efficient debate. Items include: budget, venue, furniture, electrical needs, printed materials, labor, security, Internet resources, audience, community interest, media, format, candidate negotiation and post-debate activities.

Before the debate may take place, the sponsor and participants must agree on the debate format. Generally, political candidates name a representative with the authority to speak for him or her. Debate organizers then handle negotiations through representatives.

Debate formats may utilize a variety of styles. Audience members ask candidates questions through the town hall meeting approach. Other styles include the panel approach and the single moderator format.

Question selection is best carried out by those who are most familiar with the popular issues. Often, journalists are chosen as they are experienced and accustomed to fulfilling the technical needs of a media setting.

Moderators and panelists should be chosen based on their level of professionalism, knowledge of the issues and their impartial nature. If a town meeting format is utilized, audience members should also be chosen based on these characteristics. Neutral organizations such as polling or research groups may be used to help identify fair-minded individuals.

When the debate content is chosen, organizers must decide if a breadth of issues will be covered, or, just a select few. If a series of debates are likely to be scheduled, organizers may decide to limit each debate to one or two significant topics.

Typical CPD debate length is 90 minutes. However, factors such as participant number, media coverage and whether or not the debate is part of a series should all be considered when establishing debate length.

Candidates are given time to deliver opening and closing statements. These prepared dialogs generally are limited to under three minutes as they detract from the time allowed for answering audience, moderator or panelist questions. Usually, time limits are set for both questions and answers as well. Typically candidates in presidential debates are allowed two minutes for answers and one minute for rebuttals.

As moderators will be occupied with a variety of tasks during the debate, a separate time-keeper is utilized. A system is then set up that will allow the timekeeper to easily communicate with the moderator who will in turn communicate with debate participants to let them know when their time limit has expired.

Debates typically garner significant community interest. Audience size and ticket distribution guidelines should be established during debate organization. Along with community involvement, debates also collect media attention. Organizers may want to consider using an invitation method to control journalist access.
About the Author
Charlotte Buelow is a contributing writer for Access My Library. Best known for its authoritative reference content as well as its full-text magazine and newspaper articles, AML maintains over 600 databases that are published online, in print, as eBooks and in microform. Visit
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