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SIOP Presentation Suggestions for Debate Sessions

Debate.The debate session type is an effective way to present opposing views about a topic. One structure for a debate is to have a moderator and two, 2-person teams. The debate begins with the moderator stating a position. One team then presents arguments that affirm the proposition and the other team presents arguments against the proposition. Each team member has a fixed amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes) to present arguments. Time for rebuttal can be incorporated into the sessions and/or a discussant can sum up the main points of the session. When submitting a debate proposal, be sure to include a statement of the proposition to be debated and descriptions of the major points likely to be argued by each side. Submissions that do not have at least two presenters with different affiliations in the session (i.e., every presenter cannot be from the same institution) will not be accepted.

Suggestions for Effective Debate Presentations

Planning is Paramount (See Guidelines Useful for All Types of Sessions)

  • Have your discussion points completed early enough to send to other session members.
    • The best sessions are those that have a coherent theme and are well integrated. This is best accomplished when session members, including the discussant, have advance notice of each other's discussion points, slides, or main issues. Do not wait until the last minute to make these accessible. A common rule of thumb is to distribute these 2 weeks before the conference.
  • Realize that the chair is in charge.
    • The chair has the job of moderating the session and ensuring it runs smoothly. So please respect his/her position. If you run long, don't get mad at the chair for telling you to sit down. By adhering to the chair' suggestions, the session should run more smoothly for everyone.
  • Respect other presenters' time.
    • You want time to discuss your point of view, and so do the other presenters. Please respect their time as it is the polite and courteous thing to do.
  • Accessibility of the presentation.
    • SIOP is committed to ensuring that conferences are accessible to people with disabilities. Each and every member of your audience deserves the opportunity to benefit from your presentation. Please help us with this effort by using the following guidelines:
      • Assume that there will be some members of your audience with disabilities.
        • Remember, disabilities are not always obvious. Some people will likely have difficulty seeing your visual aids and/or hearing your presentation. Be prepared. Design presentation materials that will be user-friendly to your whole audience.
      • Describe the information presented in your visual aids.
        • Help the audience see the information by describing and summarizing what's being presented.
      • Whenever possible, offer materials that are easy to read.
        • Handouts with black print on white paper are generally preferred. If possible, provide large print copies of your presentation when requested.
      • Make yourself visible to the audience.
        • For the benefit of those who are deaf or hard of hearing, your mouth and face should be in direct view of the audience throughout the presentation. When speaking, avoid turning your back to the audience or standing in dimly lit areas of the room.
      • Use the microphone.
        • Even if many audience members can hear you without it, those with hearing disabilities may not. Also, each presentation is recorded and sold, and if you are not using the microphone, it is often difficult to be heard on the audio.
      • Allow extra time for reviewing information presented on visual aids.
        • Assume that some members of your audience will need time to look at the visual aids and then focus their attention on you for further information.
      • Show enthusiasm for your presentation.
        • If you cannot be excited about your topic, how can you expect anyone else to be? To the extent you feel comfortable doing so, show that you are excited (e.g., Now here is the cool part, would you look at this? Can you believe this is what we found?).
      • Be prepared to distribute your paper (See Guidelines Useful for All Types of Sessions)

Suggestions for Effective Debate


  • Preparation is the key to success.
    • Planning for the session and helping presenters prepare will contribute to an interesting and informative session overall.
  • Plan the use of time.
    • Start and end the session promptly. As presenters are approaching their time limits, give them a prearranged signal that they should begin to conclude their presentations. You may need to stop a presenter in order to keep the session on track. To do this, you may want to politely say, we really need to move on so we can stay within our allotted time.
    • Plan a logical and informative segue between each presentation, so that the debate flows smoothly and the audience understands clearly how the presentation being introduced is related to the other presentations.
    • The best way to ensure the session runs on time is to let presenters know before the conference how much time they will have and the order in which they'll be presenting.
    • Prepare an overall plan and approximate time schedule for the session. Allow sufficient time at the end of the session for audience discussion and ample time for setup of the next session in the room.
    • Encourage your presenters to practice their presentations to be sure they won't exceed the time allotted.
    • Be sure to sit in a visible position for the presenters to easily see the cue, and that presenters know where you will be during the presentation beforehand. A good rule of thumb is to let presenters know when they have 5, 2, and 1 minute remaining in the presentations.
  • Help presenters prepare well before the debate.
    • Offer to review the presenters' presentation, plans, visuals, or handouts. Note any duplication in the content and suggest revisions to avoid excessive repetition.
  • Try to ensure that session members and the discussant can review each other's discussion points before the conference.
    • It will be much easier to see similarities and differences between perspectives when everyone has a chance to consider them beforehand. It will also be possible to reduce redundancies in the presentation. A particularly effective strategy is for the moderator to provide some guidance for how the session will go (e.g., who goes first). This way, other presenters will know whether or not they should spend time on introductory material. If the presentations all address different aspects of a topic area, moderators may consider spending a few minutes discussing the topic area more generally so that each presenter can focus on what is unique in his/her perspective.
    • This may be difficult, as some presenters will simply not prepare until right before the conference. But as a general rule of thumb, session members should have any potential materials to the discussant at least 2 weeks before the conference (some may want more time, so be sure to check).
    • One useful technique is to set up an e-mail list that includes all session members. This makes it easier to communicate, and ensures that everyone has access to the same information.
  • Assist with seating of those with disabilities.
    • Ensure that each member of the audience can see and hear the presentations. Reserve a couple of seats in the front and back of the room for persons using wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or motorized vehicles.
  • Moderate the debate and audience discussion.
    • Provide a clear description as to the nature of the debate at the start of the session to orient the audience to the issues.
    • Repeat each question or comment before responding so that all can hear. For taping purposes, this will also ensure that the question or comment is recorded. A few minutes before the session is scheduled to conclude, politely announce that the next question will be the last. If necessary, politely interrupt the speaker.
    • Try to encourage a friendly feel to the session.
  • Work collaboratively with the discussant and presenters.
    • Together, can you come up with an interesting spin to the session? Are there unique perspectives that can be addressed?
  • Show enthusiasm for the session.
    • Your first few comments will set the tone for the entire session. If you can show excitement for the session, it is more likely that the audience will as well.

Suggestions for Effective Debate

Discussants (when appropriate)

  • Remember that you can make a big difference.
    • The discussant can tie a diverse set of perspectives together into a coherent theme. In many cases, the discussant can make an otherwise good debate exceptional. The best way for this to happen is to prepare in advance.
  • Be constructively critical.
    • A discussant who finds nothing to add to a set of papers is as uninformative as a discussant who finds nothing good with them. Remember, you were asked to be the discussant because you are the expert. Now is the chance for you to demonstrate your expertise and provide insight into the domain of study. You may not like a particular perspective, but please do critique it in a professional manner. Remember, critique the research, not the person conducting the research.
    • Try to find at least one:
      • good thing to say about each perspective
      • limitation of each perspective
      • connection among the set of perspectives
      • implication for research
      • implication for practice
    • Try to avoid spending too much time on each person's presentation individually; focus on connections across presentations and general themes. Be sure to give each presentation equal attention.
    • Overall, focus on the positive
  • Have general discussion points prepared beforehand.
    • The best way to guarantee an interactive session is to have a set of discussion points that strike to the heart of the session. For example, why were differences between studies found? What are the implications of these studies for research in this area? How can these studies improve practice? Preparing these questions before the session ensures that the session moves along smoothly.
    • If possible, consider making some slides that convey this information.
    • Please have at least a couple of questions ready for the audience (e.g., has anyone found this in your own research?).
  • Try to avoid excessively talking about your own research.
    • Although you may have useful research that bears on the issues, remember that your role is to discuss and critique the presentations. This is not the forum for introducing your new ground-breaking study. Mention it if it is relevant, but focus the vast majority of your attention on the presenters research.
  • Realize that you might not have much time.
    • Even the most well-intentioned session chair cannot control some presenters, and it is possible that the session will leave you with little time. Anticipate what would be the one or two comments you would want to make sure everyone hears? And if a presenter does take too much time, please take the higher road and avoid the temptation to chastise the presenter for his/her inconsideration.
  • Realize you might not receive the papers in advance.
    • o If everyone does their job, this won't be issue. Don't assume they will, and that you might have to comment on the presentation while it is given. Having read and commented on the other papers beforehand will make this easier for you.
  • Give presenters' a copy of your remarks.
    • Many presenters will not have the time or energy to write down everything you say. Providing them with your comments after the session could help your comments have greater impact.

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