There are times, when words, humour, teamwork and self-belief come in useful. And when they lead to victory… The Paris 2 debaters’ team dreamt it, and did it! For the first time the University of Paris 2 won the annual Tournament organised by the French Debating Association at the sumptuous Hotel de Lassay, in front of the President of the Assemblée nationale, a feat never achieved by a university before.
What is ‘debating’? What are the difficulties?
A debate in English is a quasi parliamentary exercise inspired by the rules of procedure of the English and Irish Parliaments. Each team represents either the government or the opposition, as in the House of Commons, and must implement a solid strategy in order to support or rebut a ‘motion’. The speeches are strictly timed. The opposing team may interrupt the speaker during his or her speech, by way of giving a ‘point of information’. Politeness and fair-play are a must given the parliamentary nature of the debate.
The ingredients of our success
Our guidelines? Humour, humour, humour! Why? Well, simply because we didn’t want to bore the public.
Our preparation? For months, our team regularly got together to discuss our various motions. Remember the Dead Poets’ Society? You got it! Who was our ‘Mr Keating’? Well, in fact we had two, Gabrielle Smart and Kathryn English and yes they were absolutely amazing! A real ‘team’ is not simply the gathering of five individual speeches, it is instead the presentation of a logical and coherent case in which each team member makes a different point, whilst concurrently furthering earlier points and pre-empting later ones.
Is there a magic touch? In general, it comes down to your reactivity, wit, respect for the adversarial process and that incisive killer instinct to go for the throat when a speaker of the other side makes a mistake.
All in all, debating is a thrilling experience and surely a great opportunity to practice rhetoric in front of an audience, for young lawyers-to-be.
Clara de Chambrun, Sean D. Rafter
We dedicate this article to the other members of our team: Sacha Reingewirtz, Charlène Bourliout and Cécile Biadatti.