The components of a debate speech

Here you can find information about the components and the structure of a debate speech. 

One of the things that can help you speak more persuasively is using the proper structure for your debate speech. It means that it is much easier for you to remember where you are at in your speech, and much easier for your audience to follow what you are saying. It’s just nicer for everyone involved when nobody gets lost!

Note, that this is not just something which is relevant for formal debate but something which can be transferred to many other areas in your life. For example, when you need to write essays, argumentative articles, in exam situations, job interviews etc. In other words, getting your structure right is something that will really pay off.

This is the model that you should attempt to follow:

  • Snappy intro
  • Overview of your arguments (just mention titles/points)
  • Rebuttal of previous speaker
  • Your first argument (PEE)
  • Your second argument (PEE)
  • Snappy outro.

The number of your arguments -PEES – may vary from one to three – and depends on your allotted speaking time, on how much time each PEE takes, and on how much time you wish to spend on doing rebuttal of what the previous speaker just said.

Don’t worry if you feel that in the beginning you hardly remember any of the components when you are in a debate, just practice and slowly you will learn to include more and more aspects.



When you speak it is a really good idea to use signposting. Signposting is when you are explicitly pointing out to yourself and others where you are at in your speech. In the model from above it would look like this:

  • Snappy intro
  • Overview of your arguments X and Y
    • Before I move on to my own arguments I would like to respond to what the previous speaker just said
  • Rebuttal of previous speaker
    • Now, I would like to present my first argument
  • Your first argument (PEE)
    • This brings me to my second argument
  • Your second argument (PEE)
  • Snappy outro.

Again, depending on how extensive your arguments are and how much speaking time you have been given, you may have one or three PEES instead of two.


Snappy intro

In debate, as in life, you will want to make a memorable first impression. The way that you can do that is by trying to catch the reader’s attention, for instance by appealing to their emotions. You may want to paint a picture of a certain situation, shock your audience with new information or dire statistics, or use quotes or rhetorical questions to make them reflect on the issue at hand. A snappy intro can also be something humorous, the concept ‘formal debate’ doesn’t mean that we have to be very serious and sombre at all times.

It’s important that you show you really care about the topic you are addressing, as that makes other people care too. One way of working on that is by being aware of your tone of voice when you speak.

Here is an example of a snappy intro for the motion/topic ‘We should ban zoos.’:

Remember Marius? Marius was a young, healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo who was shot to death in 2014 because the zoo felt that he did not fit in. He was then dissected in front of a crowd of children and fed to the lions. This is just one out of many incidents which prove that zoos treat animals like objects and show no respect for them. Therefore I’m proud to propose the topic ‘We should ban zoos.’


Go to the video of the debate on Frankenstein, and listen to the speech that begins at 13.54. The student’s snappy intro lasts until 14.28, and she follows the structure:

  • Snappy intro
  • Overview of arguments
  • Rebuttal
  • Signposting
  • First PEE
  • Second PEE
  • Snappy outro


Write a snappy intro on the motion/topic ‘We should ban early mornings in schools’ or a topic of your own choice. You have 15 minutes. Then turn to a partner and share and comment on your intros. Was your classmate’s intro interesting, did it catch your attention? How? Why? Could you relate to it? What could perhaps make it even more memorable?

Often, when you prepare your speeches, the snappy intro will be one of the last things that you write, after you know what your arguments will be. And sometimes you will get a good idea during the debate itself and maybe use something the opposing team has said as part of your intro. But always write the intro beforehand, then you can make adjustments during the debate if you want.


PEE – how to build an argument

If you did the ‘I rule’ exercise previously, perhaps you didn’t find your classmates entirely convincing when they just gave you a reason for what they wanted. In order to have a full argument we want not just a reason, but also evidence and explanation. PEE stands for:

  • P – point/reason -  because….. (you give a short reason for your topic/motion)
  • E – evidence        –   for example….  (you provide examples, statistics, comparisons, studies)
  • E – explanation/analysis –  this shows….. ( you explain how your evidence helps prove your point. What is the harm or benefit to the actors involved?)

Let us look at an example of a PEE for the following motion/topic:

Motion/topic: We should abolish the use of internet during school classes

  • P – because students struggle with concentration
  • E – for example, it’s too tempting for the students to check their social media, or emails, or play games or watch You Tube videos etc. during classes.
  • E – this shows that despite the fact that many students actually want to pay more attention in school, they are easily distracted by the many ways in which you can waste time online. And even if the individual student manages not to engage in irrelevant activities online, they can be distracted by their classmates doing exactly that.


Your turn: Try writing one or two PEES for this motion: ‘Families should not have set candy days, like Friday candy’. Remember to use the PEE model:

  • Because...
  • For example...
  • This shows...

Afterwards, you can check out the video of the debate on set candy days, and see if perhaps you share some of the same arguments as the students in the video.

Exercise/written assignment

Write your own persuasive speech on a topic of your own choice. Make sure you follow the structure from above (apart from rebuttal). Share in groups of three in class. Your teacher might also ask you to hand it in as a written assignment.

Coming up with points/reasons

Sometimes it can be hard to come up with enough points for your side of the topic. Here is a video with Simon who will explain various ways that can help you get ideas that you can expand into great PEES.

© Børne- og Undervisningsministeriet

In the video, Simon mentions PERMEES that you can use to think of relevant areas which could be impacted by the topic you are about to discuss. It stands for:

  • P – politics
  • E – economy
  • R – religion
  • M – minorities
  • E  – environment
  • E – education
  • S - society



One of the characteristics of formal debate is that you must always listen and respond to what the other team is saying, you cannot just state your own arguments. We call this rebuttal. This means that each time a speaker from the other team gives a speech, you will note down what your response to that could be. If you are the next person to speak from your team, this will be your rebuttal/response. If not, you will share it with your team member who is next up, so that she/he can benefit from your suggestions. It could be that your teammate finds it difficult to respond to what is being said from the other side, and will therefore be grateful for your input. Debate is very much about teamwork, so you should be constantly active during the debate and take notes most of the time. There is no time to chill till after the debate is overJ

In your rebuttal, you can also respond to the other team’s rebuttal of one of your team’s previous points – defend it! One way of thinking of rebuttal is that each team plants a flag every time they make an argument. It is then the role of the other team to knock down that flag. But even if they do so, the first team can still resurrect their flag by responding to their rebuttal. This is something that is usually done in debates when you become a little bit more advanced.

Check out the video below for more information on rebuttal. Mie is a student at Sankt Annæ Gymnasium, and she does a lot of formal debate. In 2021 she will take part in the World Schools Debating Championships in Mexico. Here she gives you tips on how to respond to the other team’s arguments:

© Børne- og Undervisningsministeriet

The categories of rebuttal that Mie mentions in the video are:

  1. Why it isn’t true
  2. Why it isn’t necessarily good/bad
  3. Why the problem isn’t solved/the alternative is worse
  4. Mitigating the harm/effect by making the problem seem smaller
  5. Why it isn’t important or why something else in the debate is more important.

Exercise – speed rebuttal

In pairs:

After 5 min. preparation time, one person speaks for up to one minute on the topic ‘We should ban alcohol at high school parties’. The other person then spends up to one minute responding to what the first person said, potentially using some of the categories suggested in the video. You then find a new partner and swap roles, so everyone gets to practice rebuttal.

The exercise can be done with multiple topics and maybe progressing to the first person responding to the rebuttal of the second person.



The content on this page is written by Charlotte Ib, who is the project manager of World Schools Debating Championships in Denmark, owns the company Do Debate! and is a teacher of English at Sankt Annæ Gymnasium.

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