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2024 speaking, preparation and debate times


1. Participating in a debate is more important than winning.

2. Debaters, spectators, coaches and others must always consider whether their actions may bring their school, their team or themselves into disrepute.

3. Debaters and their coaches must always respect their opponents and conduct themselves ethically. This includes:

  • Debaters and their coaches must not seek to gain an advantage from information intended for, but not presently available to, their opponents; and 

  • At any time, debaters must not insult, intimidate, or otherwise knowingly offend their opponents or the adjudicator.  

4. Any complaints should be made in the manner provided for in the Constitution.

5. ISDA prescribes rules around nodding to debaters speeches. The ISDA policy is that:

  • Many people nod in response to arguments they find persuasive. Nodding normally gives encouragement to speakers and as such coaches and audience members often nod during debates.​

  • There is a distinction however between nodding that is coaching and nodding that is mere encouragement. The former is against the rules, the latter is not, subject to the conditions below.

  • Coaching by nodding involves communicating approval for a specific argument or approach such that the team then adjusts their case to emphasise that idea or area. This is equivalent to an audience member tapping their watch or making a symbol to move on. It is not allowed for the same reason that coaches are not allowed in the preparation room, nor allowed to pass notes to their speakers. 

  • Audience members are allowed to nod to encourage their team in a gentle and non-distracting way if they would equally nod at the other team for making strong points. They are nodding as an audience member would and must be prepared to show their approval to both sides. However, an audience member is never permitted to give signals or allow their body language to convey disapproval of the other team or their arguments.

6. Any concerns about this policy may be raised with the Chief Adjudicator via our contact form.

Guidance for judging third speakers

A balance must be struck between third speakers being to be able to contribute to the debate, and ensuring that they do not gain an unfair advantage from the opposition’s inability to respond to their speeches.


  1. Third speakers are allowed (and are encouraged) to raise new ideas in the form of responses and material that is reactive or in rebuttal to material brought by their opposition. Where the responses are so radically new that they significantly change the case of the speaker's team or contradict earlier points they may receive less weight according to the principle outlined at iii.

  2. Third speakers are also allowed to reframe substantive material of their own team so long as the additions do not unfairly change the character of the earlier argument.

  3. Where a speaker does not comply with rule i and ii wholly or in part, it does not mean that the material is ignored or that the speaker's team must lose. The average reasonable person does not ignore material that comes late in a debate, but they do view it with more scrutiny where it cannot be challenged by the opposing side. Thus the key question for an adjudicator is to determine the extent to which the 3rd speaker's material was made more persuasive because it had not been able to be responded to. The adjudicator should then reduce the weight given to that material (whether substantive or rebuttal) according to the advantage they feel the team obtained from their opposition's lack of capacity to respond.

  4. To determine this, question: the extent to which the material is derivative of earlier material, the extent to which there are implicit responses in the other team's case, the quality of the other team's rebuttal in general and the extent to which the material was only relevant or pertinent following a later speech by their opposition.

  5. The application of such principles means that third affirmative speakers are to be given more leeway because the negative has an entire speech to respond. Though material brought out in the dying minutes of the third affirmative's speech or instances where the entire speech is radically new - will need to be discounted to the extent the material received an advantage from being more difficult to respond to. 


The ISDA is governed by representatives of the Constituent schools with a nominated Convenor and external Chief Adjudicator. Adjudicators are contracted independently from university debating societies and do not represent any individual school in carrying out their duties.

The formal rules of the ISDA are governed by the ISDA Constitution which can be obtained below.

If you have any questions regarding governance or administration of the ISDA, please contact the Convenor at our contact form below.

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