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Zoom into debating

23 Jun 2020

When you can’t do it old school, you go online. In recent months New Zealand schools’ debating has made a seamless transition to online debating, ensuring enthusiasts all over the country can continue to practice the art of argument.

On Saturday 13 June, at a warm-up event before the national (in person) championships in August, the Canterbury debating team – Year 12 student Callum Hackston and Year 13 student Jamie Yee, along with Lucy Jessep from St Margaret’s College and reserve Oscar Bloom from St Andrew’s College – zoomed in for the kill, framing compelling arguments to affirm or negate each motion and winning their debates against Auckland, Wellington and Otago.

With one hour to prepare for each debate, the team not only considered their own ideas, but also thought about what their opposition might do.

“We’d brainstorm at the start, discussing various ideas, and then get on with building our case,” says Jamie – cases that, in each debate, proved impossible to rebut.

There are subtle differences in the skills required for online and in person debating.

“Clarity is more important on Zoom, you can’t rely on feeling the vibe in the room and building off that, you have to think about what you’re going to say and be really clear about it,” says Jamie.

“In person you can fill the room with your presence, whereas speeches are not quite as passionate on Zoom – but they still have to be persuasive,” says Callum.

In addition, it is not possible to eavesdrop on Zoom, and you have to focus and listen much more intently.

Both Callum and Jamie think there is definitely a place for online debating and its introduction has expanded debating horizons, especially for international competitions.

“The world’s a new frontier,” says Callum. “With online debating you can go up against teams from literally anywhere.”

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