5 Reasons You Should Try Debating

Before I tried debating, I often pictured a “debating society” as some kind of men’s club where wannabe politicians gather and speak loudly about their views. The truth is, debating at university is very different story. Unfortunately, though many women are initially interested in debating, many attend training sessions not nearly as confident as the men, and even less attend competitions. Even though the crude stereotype of debating societies is slowly wearing away, there are still many women missing out on the strange joy that is debating.

When I say debating, I am not referring to a discussion in a circle where we talk about our views. In competitive debating, you are (in pairs) assigned the side you will be on and what you will be debating. The topics can be on literally anything. There are judges present to witness the debate who will tell you at the end who did most well in the debate and why.

If that sounds a bit boring, or even a bit scary, I present to you five reasons why you, and women and non-binary people generally, should try debating.

1.       The Community is Friendly and Inclusive

The debating community is incredibly self-aware and always trying to make people who participate feel as comfortable as possible. For starters, the judges will always ask for everyone’s preferred pronouns at the beginning of a debate.

Although there is lots of speaking, it is made clear that you are not allowed to say whatever you like. Sweeping generalisations, slurs, stereotypes, and unnecessarily graphic descriptions are not encouraged. As well as making people feel uncomfortable, these things do not make arguments any better. People are unlikely to do well if they oversimplify the people relevant to the debate. Competitions have an Equity Officer in place whose job is to make sure pronouns are asked at the beginning of a debate, and people are being sensitive to others inside and outside of debates.

Finally, there are competitions just for women and non-binary people which take place at various universities. This is a really good starting point if women and non-binary people would feel more comfortable in a less male dominated atmosphere.


2.       It’s What You Say, Not How You Say It

The type of debating we do is judged based on the content of speeches, rather than how you deliver your argument. This can mean that someone who was quiet, avoided eye contact, and kept their hand in their pocket could do better than someone who sounded loud, funny, and had open body language. In other words, style is irrelevant. If you are someone who fears public speaking, this type of debating only demands that you say your case, meaning that you can first focus on just getting your point across before working on your delivery later on.

This aspect of debating also encourages an important skill I will be highlighting later.


3.       It can be a low maintenance hobby (if you want)

We only find out what the debate will be on 15 minutes before the debate commences. Yes, this does mean you have only 15 minutes to prepare what you will say with your partner. However, most debates do not require any specialist knowledge. At worst, some debates require the speakers to be briefly provided with some background information just before they prepare. The good thing about all this is that if you do not have the time, or do not want to give the time, you do not have to do extra research.

Of course, it helps to know what’s going on in the news, or do some reading where there are gaps in your knowledge (Personally, I always stumble on debates about international relations). But the point is, since nobody knows what the debate will be on until the day, nobody can win based on being most well prepared.

There are also some very keen debaters who will do some reading every night and attend competitions every weekend, but I do not believe that you need to be this invested to enjoy debating. The beauty of the debating is you can be as involved as you would like.


4.       Gaining Some Skills

Personally, I have gained so many skills from debating, including articulating my case well, thinking on my feet, listening, considering how different people are affected by a particular situation, pin pointing where two sides “clash”, and picking out key points in others speeches. These have been helpful for life in general, I am now able to express my thoughts on something much better, and I like to think I am a better listener than I was. Sometimes, I find thinking the way I do in debating helpful when I write essays.

One interesting skill, I alluded to it earlier, is that you are able to pick up if somebody is making good points or only if they just sound good. For example, when watching politicians make speeches, I used to believe that someone was a better speaker if they sounded confident or powerful. Since starting debating, where how good a speech is only depends on the content of it, I am now able to pick out when people are actually making good points much easier.  

As well as skills, you also gain some breadth in understanding. Debating allows you to think about a particular situation, or a group of people, that you would not have thought about otherwise.


5.       It’s a place to make friends and have a laugh!

Bristol Debating Union hosts some excellent socials, varying from the Drunk Debate to mug painting! Training sessions are a relaxing thing too. As soon as the debating is over, we shake hands then head down to the pub. Nobody is more or less of a member of the society because of how well they debate.

There is no requirement to be any good at debating to attend competitions. In fact, you are encouraged to go to competitions if you want to get better! The friendly mood continues at competitions where you can meet more debaters there as well as tuck into some (free) Domino’s pizza before heading out to the social.

With the training sessions, competitions, pizza eating, socials and the people I met, I have made a lot of memories from getting involved in debating.


There you go, here are my reasons you should give debating a go. Debating is really fun and you can take away a lot from participating, it is sad so many women shy away from it. If you are considering attending a session, try it! If you are not sure the first time, go another week because I know it took me attending a few times before I began to get the swing of it.

Generally, women and non-binary people can do with being more confident, and I think debating could definitely help bring them one step closer to getting there.