Public Forum: Structure and Rules

Each team’s position (pro or con) is determined by a coin toss at the beginning of the round. In many tournaments, the order of the speeches, or which side will speak first, is also determined at this point. Regardless of which side speaks first, public forum debates follow a set timing structure and consist of four types of speeches and two types of crossfire. There are eight speeches and three crossfires in total, but because each speech is very short, public forum rounds rarely last more than 45 minutes.

The first type of speech is a constructive, during which each side lays out its case. In public forum, constructive speeches are entirely pre-scripted, and the second speaker does not address his opponents’ arguments at all. That is saved for the rebuttal, the second type of speech, in which each speaker counters the opposition’s arguments and rebuilds or “rehabs” his own.

This is obviously much different from an LD or policy rebuttal, which essentially summarizes the round and gives the judge a few final reasons to vote for one’s side. In public forum, such a synopsis isn’t given until the summary and, later, the “final focus” or “last shot,” a one-minute chance to sum up the most important issues of the round. New arguments are allowed in every speech except the final focus.

Public forum also includes three “crossfires,” unique face-offs that approximate policy’s cross-examinations. During regular crossfires, two debaters confront each other directly to ask questions about the previous speeches and to answer the questions of their opponents. During the “Grand Crossfire,” all four debaters ask and answer each others’ questions. In both types of crossfire, the debater tries to expose weaknesses in his opponents’ arguments while also developing and strengthening his own position. As with all public forum speeches, however, this must be done quickly, as crossfires are only three minutes long.

The order of these speeches and crossfires is: Team A Constructive Speech (4 mins.), Team B Constructive Speech (4 mins.), Crossfire between first speakers (3 mins.), Team A Rebuttal (4 mins.), Team B Rebuttal (4 mins.), Crossfire between second speakers, Team A Summary (2 minutes), Team B Summary (2 minutes), Grand Crossfire (3 mins.), Team A Final Focus (1 min.), Team B Final Focus (1 min.).

Both teams are also given two minutes of discretionary prep time, which they can use when and how they like.

As in other debate categories, public forum debates take place at one- or two-day tournaments in which teams advance through preliminary rounds on the basis of their win-loss records. Public forum is included in NFL District Tournaments, so some policy and LD debaters also participate in this event.