World Schools debates come in two flavors. The one type is the prepared debate, and the other is the unprepared debate. The names explain exactly what is involved in preparing for each debate, and you can expect to do both types of debate during your career as a World Schools debater.
Prepared debates mean exactly that. You are given information before the debate so that you can find out information and decide how you are going to argue days before you actually have to do your debate. To let you know what the debate will be about, the organisers will either tell you the topic, or they will tell you the subject area of the debate. If you are told what the topic of the debate will be, then preparing for it becomes very easy, as you know exactly what it will be about. If you are given a subject area, then it is a bit more difficult though.
A subject area will just tell you what sort of issues the debate will be about, not what the exact topic will be. In real life, you might be having a debate in a few weeks on AIDS drugs, and whether the government should be giving them to people for free. If you were only given the subject area, then you wouldn't be told exactly what the debate would be on, only that it would have something to do with public health, or with AIDS. That way, you will not be able to prepare exactly what you will be saying in their arguments, but you will be able to look up information on AIDS drugs, or what issues are involved in public health – so that when the topic is announced on the day, you will know a lot about it.
Unprepared debates are when you are told nothing about the debate until an hour before you have to speak. This is the toughest kind of debate, but it can also be the most fun. In an unprepared debate, all the teams will be told the topic an hour before the debate starts, and they will have to use the hour to prepare what they are going to say about it. In order to succeed in an unprepared debate, it is important to have a good general knowledge about things that are happening in the news.
You will find that most of the major competitions will choose topics that have something to do with what is happening in the country at the time, so if you keep yourself informed about the current news, you should be fine. In addition, you and your team can put together a "resource file", which is just a collection of news articles and facts on issues that you think you might be asked to debate on. Building a truly superb resource file is something that is covered in another manual, but the basics are very simple – it is just a matter of keeping an eye open for news on things that look like debating topics (like Zimbabwe, or AIDS), and keeping any articles, magazine cuttings or other information that you come across
The End Bit
This is a very basic overview of the rules you will need to know to get started in debating in the World Schools style. To become a better debater in the style and how to make the most of things like points of information, you will have to read the other debating guides in the Ferret series. Nevertheless, knowing the rules is at the core of developing yourself as a debater, and you will find that the more debates you do, and the more you practice, the better you will become as a speaker and as a debater. With enough practice and research, it is possible to reach the provincial championships for your province, and with enough work, perhaps even the national championships to battle for your place in the South African squad as it defends the country's debating against some of the top debating nations in the world!