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Oxford Union-style debate

Notes for speakers and the audience.

Sequence and History

1. Opening Words by the Chairman

The Chairman, who should always be addressed as Mr/Madam Chairman, will open with a few words on the debate, floor debate and voting procedures. The Chairman will then call on the first speaker to begin the debate.

2. The First Speaker for the Proposition

It is the duty of the first speaker for the proposition to introduce the other guest speakers.

The traditional format for these introductions is to begin your speech with “Mr/Madam Chairman, as the first speaker this evening (afternoon) it is my honour to introduce your guests this evening (afternoon)”. Each speaker should then be introduced by name and with a short one or two line introduction, which can be either humorous or serious. After introducing the final guest the speaker may say “Mr/Madam Chairman, these are your guests and they are most welcome”, hopefully to be followed by applause from the audience.

The first speaker should then begin the debate.

The Chairman will thank the speaker and call upon the next speaker.

3. The First Speaker for the Opposition

The first speaker should then briefly introduce the first speaker for the proposition speaker at the beginning of his speech.

The Chairman will thank the speaker and open the debate from the floor.

4. Debate from the floor

This is the opportunity for the audience to join in the debate. A certain amount of time will be allocated to this and each speech will be limited to an agreed maximum length of time.

The Chairman will end the floor debate and call upon the next speaker.

5. The Second Speaker for the Proposition

The Chairman will thank the speaker and call upon the next speaker.

6. The Second Speaker for the Opposition

The Chairman will thank the speaker and call for the rebuttal speeches, if they are to be made

7. Rebuttal

Time may be allocated for a rebuttal by either side. The rebuttal speech is usually made by the first speaker for each side.

The Chairman will call an end to the debate and call for the voting to begin.

8. Voting

This would be by a show of hands or another voting procedure.



The audience may only interrupt a speech using a Point of Information or a Point of Order.

Point of Information: The speaker can choose to accept or refuse a point of information. This type of interruption should be used to clarify or question a point of information raised by the speaker, and not to express an opinion.

Point of Order: Speakers must give way to a point of order. Such an interruption must only be used to draw attention to an abuse of the Forms of the House, such as a slanderous remark that they wish to be withdrawn.

General Tips: 

Remember that debating involves winning the votes of your audience, which can involve a lot more than simply making the best logical arguments. A few well-placed jokes or anecdotes can often win votes!

Don’t feel obliged to take every point of information offered – answering a few makes things a little more lively and interactive, but taking too many may interrupt the flow of your arguments. 


Be sure to check what time restrictions are placed on speakers and ensure that you keep within that time. The audience will appreciate this, particularly when there are a large number of speakers in the debate. The amount of time you have left will be indicated to you by the Secretary on a printed card at regular intervals.




The Union is the world's most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 182 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

The Union is steeped in history. It was founded in 1823 as a forum for discussion and debate, at a time when the free exchange of ideas was a notion foreign to the restrictive University authorities. It soon became the only place for students to discuss political topics whilst at Oxford. W.E. Gladstone, later to become one of the greatest British Prime Minsiters, was one of the leading figures of the Union's early years. Gladstone was President of the Union in 1830, shortly before entering the House of Commons. Many others have followed him into politics, and the Union can boast dozens of former members who have been active in its affairs whilst at Oxford and then gone to become both nationally and internationally prominent figures. 

Unlike other student unions, the Oxford Union holds no political views. Instead, the Union is a forum for debate and the discussion of controversial issues. For example; in the 1960s, Malcolm X came to the Union and demanded black empowerment "by any means necessary". In the 1970s, Richard Nixon in his first public speech after Watergate admitted, "I screwed up - and I paid the price". In1996, O. J. Simpson made his only public speech in Britain after the controversial "not guilty" verdict in his criminal trial. The Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.

The Oxford Union has been at the centre of controversial debate throughout its history. As the most prominent debating platform outside Westminster it is no surprise debates have been unrivalled in their quality and impact. One of the most famous motions, "This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country", was passed in 1933 by 275 votes to 153. The result sparked off a national outcry in the press, and Winston Churchill denounced it as "that abject, squalid, shameless avowal" and "this ever shameful motion"; some say that the result encouraged Hitler in his decision to invade Europe. In 1975, days before the referendum on EEC membership, the motion "This House would say 'Yes' to Europe" was carried by 493 votes to 92. This debate was arguably a considerable influence on the referendum result.

The Union has managed to absorb the greatest diversity, the wildest firebrands, the most outspoken and non-conformist people. Diversity and outspokeness, central to the Union's foundation, remain its guiding principles to this day.

Acknowledgment : Oxford Union Website

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