To the non-debater, listening to a debate round may feel like life in fast-forward.
Keeping up with the University of Michigan Debate Team means presenting and refuting arguments at 300 to 400 words per minute, according to debater Maria Liu, an LSA sophomore. To put this into perspective, the average conversation is carried out at 110 to 150 words per minute.
“We do a lot of research before the school year starts and we have prep time during rounds to formulate arguments,” Liu said. “But there’s also a lot of thinking on your feet.”
Each debate season begins with the introduction of a new topic, around which every tournament for the year is framed. The theme this year deals with how the U.S. government should address nuclear weapons proliferation.
Debates throughout the year can vary anywhere from philosophical issues to concerns with international relations to decisions regarding U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
The 14-member team participates in four to five tournaments every semester at different universities across the country. Tournaments consist of several rounds in which teams are guaranteed an equal number of affirmative and negative stances. Debaters compete in pairs, and each is permitted a nine-minute constructive speech, a six-minute rebuttal speech, three minutes of cross-examination time and 10 minutes of preparation time.
To prepare for an upcoming season, the team meets for a week of extensive training, which involves research on the season’s topic, speech drills and other exercises before fall semester begins.
“We spend a lot of time in the Michigan library system doing computer-based research,” Coach Aaron Kall said. “All of the arguments must be supported by evidence, facts, figures, articles and dissertations.”
During the year, team members have scheduled meetings every week, as well as occasional mock debates as practice for competitions.
The most recent tournament took place at the University of Kentucky, where Liu and LSA junior Edmund Zagorin advanced to the octafinals, competing as one of the tournament’s top 16 teams among 133 others. Zagorin also won the 10th place speaker award out of 266 other debaters.
The Debate Team’s next tournament is scheduled for Halloween weekend and will take place at Harvard University.