October 30, 2015 Practice Points

Five tips for engaging opening statements, the opening statement provides the first impression of the case and shapes the impressions of the jury., by farrah champagne.

The opening statement provides the first impression of the case and shapes the impressions of the jury. An opening statement forecasts to the jury the evidence they will see and hear during the trial—it allows the jury to know what to expect and to be able to understand the evidence when it is presented. The opening statement should not contain argument; rather, it should be a factual statement that lasts from 10 to 30 minutes.

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Present the Theme of the Case

Lawyers should have a one-sentence theme for their cases. Emotionally based themes often serve as anchors, creating impressions for the jury that linger until the time the verdict is decided. Themes keep the jury’s attention and help them organize information. Relying on a theme and hearing a story that incorporates the theme helps make the information enjoyable and easier to comprehend. Lawyers should engage their audience during trial, and effective themes combined with engaging stories can fight juror boredom. Lawyers have a better chance later of persuading the jury if the jury likes their opening statements. For example, a defense attorney may focus on a self-defense based theme: “This case involves a traumatic experience where a young lady lost her life and a young man is struggling to keep his.”

Present your theme immediately and catch the jury’s attention. For example:

This is a case about a man who has been harassing, stalking, and threatening my client, Kelly Sanders, after she ended a romantic relationship with him. Ms. Sanders lived with the Respondent for about three years, and they share a 2-year-old child together. Ms. Sanders came into the relationship with another child who is now 6 years old. They separated a few weeks ago because the Respondent began drinking much more than usual, threatening her life, insulting her, and encouraging the kids to join him. That is why we are here today, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. My name is Jack Jill, and I represent Ms. Sanders. In this trial, we ask you to grant her request for a Civil Protection Order.

Tell a Story

Themes and storytelling are what make opening statements engaging and effective. The story of the case tells the jury what happened chronologically either from the viewpoint of the plaintiff or defendant. When giving an opening statement, the lawyer should place her side in the best possible light and tell a story that will make the jury want to decide in her favor. Jurors often base their decisions about the case on the impression received during the opening statement.

Lawyers can connect with the jury by telling an enjoyable story. These stories are persuasive and become embedded in a juror’s mind when they make sense, are stated in plain language, and have a beginning, middle, and an end. For example, tell the jury how they will learn about the plaintiff’s lack of knowledge. Tell them about how the plaintiff was not at the restaurant when the incident occurred. Explain that the evidence will support the employee’s testimony and the jury will see that the employee was acting professionally as stated in the employment contract. Tell them they will hear from the other employees who were at the restaurant on the night in question and they will put the actions in context. Present the people and the evidence in story form and the jury will be sitting on the edge of their seats in eager anticipation.

In addition, metaphors and sensory language help engage jurors. Vivid words like  rowdy  or  steamy  and words that describe activity, such as  dancing  or  singing , activate the senses and make the listeners feel as though they were actually participating in the experience. A jury will become more engaged if they are induced by language to become a participant in the story.

Assemble the Facts Persuasively

Present the facts in the order that will advance your conclusion. If you want to convey that the person fell after the milk had spilled, present the events by describing the puddle of milk on the floor, and follow immediately with the slip and fall. Communicate the connection or lack thereof between the spill and the fall, with the timing and sequence of your presentation. Let the facts speak for themselves.

When should you let the bad facts out? Do you talk about them in the opening if they are likely to come out at trial? There are several options.

You can address bad facts in your opening to “cut the sting” before they are raised by opposing counsel. You can present all of the issues in your opening for credibility purposes. If the jury believes that you are willing to expose the problems with your case, you may seem more credible.

The other way to address the harmful information is to wait until the information comes out. If a lawyer exposes the harmful information, it may taint the case and draw greater attention to the information. The trial will provide the lawyer with the opportunity to address any charges that the other side will make.

A lawyer must essentially make a determination on a case-by-case basis as to whether to introduce the bad facts. If plaintiff’s counsel introduces the negative information, it may not be necessary for defense counsel to bring it up again in her opening statement.

Make a Connection with the Jury—Do Not Read Your Opening 

Do not read your opening statement. Instead, practice several times and speak directly to the jury. Making eye contact with individual jurors shows that the lawyer believes in her case and is familiar with the events at issue. An outline of the case is more permissible if referred to sparingly, but leave the script at home. Also, be friendly. Do not be afraid to smile.

Conclude your opening by telling the jury what you would like them to do at the end of the case: “I just ask that you please keep an open mind about this case until you hear all of the evidence. I also ask that you return a verdict of not guilty for the defendant, Officer Dally. Thank you for your attention.”

Conclude confidently with a clear message and be sure that the jury understands your position about the facts of the case and their role for the remainder of the trial.

Opening Statement Checklist

Farrah Champagne is an attorney with the Women's Law Center of Maryland in Towson, Maryland.

Copyright © 2015, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).

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How To Write An Opening Statement For A Debate?

Writing a debate does not need to be a complicated task. A debate is a forum where a structured discussion is held on a particular subject matter. Here, speakers have the opportunity to make their arguments in support or otherwise of the issue at hand.

The problem is how to write an opening statement for a debate

In a debate, the opening statement is one of the essential parts of the debate. Thus in answering the question, how to write an opening statement for a debate, it should be noted that one requires significant effort to write it. It would be best if you also considered writing the opening statement in a manner that captures the attention of your audience. You can start by stating an interesting fact, a profound statistics, a quote, or any statement that has the power of stirring the curiosity and interest of the audience in your direction for the rest of your speech. Read on to learn more techniques to adopt in writing a debate.

Techniques And Styles For Writing An Opening Statement

One pattern of writing an opening statement is to start your debate by giving your audience a road map into the rest of the discourse. Using the opening statement as a strategy to achieve this requires that you have a holistic overview of what you intend to say. With this technique, you present an opening that draws the audience to the direction you want. You also have to get them curious enough to follow you through to the end of the discussion.

Another technique is to employ the weapon of storytelling. Starting with a well-scripted story that plays out real-life scenarios in the mind’s eye of your audience is necessary to get your audience interested in what you intend to say. A good story should be a perfect blend of emotions and meaning. It must be a short story that relates to the theme of the debate. A long story will be unnecessary and would take up space and time you could have used to talk about your other points and bolster your arguments.

Starting with shocking statistics is a way of getting your audience to sit upright and pay closer attention to what you have to say. It explains why statistics are often introduced into the opening statement by great speakers. The statistics should be one that is at the core of the subject matter for discussion. The other points to be discussed could focus on querying the statistics and what one should do about it. Different dimensions to the statistics used could also be extensively discussed in the debate.

One can also use a famous quote, a proven statement of fact, or a new development in the topic area of your discussion to start your speech. However, the hallmark is to secure the attention of your audience. It would be best if you got the audience to stay with you until the end of your speech.

What Do You Seek To Achieve In An Opening Statement?

There is a saying that when the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse is inevitable. Thus, it is essential to understand what you intend to achieve with your opening statement. An opening statement could serve several purposes. The question is, what should be its purpose, or what do you seek to achieve with your opening statement?

An opening statement serves to capture the attention of the audience for the rest of your speech. You use an opening statement as a means to show the reason your audience should listen to you. Otherwise, the persons could be seated in the room, but their attention would be somewhere else. Any of the above techniques, when used effectively, will help you achieve this.

You can use an opening statement to persuade your audience on your point of view while you go ahead to bolster your position in the body of the debate. In an opening statement, you give the audience a clue on how you intend to prove a seemingly outrageous statement that you just made. It is the earliest opportunity for you to present to your audience what to expect.

Another purpose of an opening statement is to prepare the mind of the members of the audience. They need to be ready for the information with which you have to feed them. If you center your speech on a controversial subject matter, then the opening statement should seek first to tackle the possible objections in their minds that that does not favor your point of view. That way, their objections are eradicated or at least weakened to make them better disposed to hear your views. In trying to achieve this purpose through your opening statement, the emphasis will be on locating loopholes in their opinions. The gaps can be easily exploited in favor of your perspective and make them more responsive as you introduce your view to them in the course of the discussion.

The Relationship Between The Opening Statement And Other Parts Of A Debate

Apart from an opening statement, there are other parts to a debate. These additional parts are as important as an opening statement because an opening statement cannot serve its purpose in isolation from the others.

The opening statement introduces the subject matter of the discussion and sets the pace for the body of the debate, where the speaker extensively discusses his views. The opening statement serves as a background for the audience to have a better understanding of the discussion.

Different types of debate

There are different types of debate. The model determines how you should write the opening statement. The different types of debates often have different structures; it is why the manner of writing an opening statement might be different for each.

Some debates are moderated by the host or another person designated for that. In this kind of debate, the speakers receive enough time to give their opening statements before the moderator starts asking them questions.

There are also town hall debates, club debates, school debates, and other variants.

General rules for a debate

There are general rules that apply to the coordination of a debate. These rules are essential for the effective coordination of the debate. It has to be observed by all the participants of the debate, including the organizers. Where participants to a debate breach a rule, it could lead to the disqualification of the participants from the debate. Thus, it is essential to bear these rules in mind as you write the speech for your debate to avoid elimination and other penalties.

All participants of a debate are required to be fair to each other in the course of the debate. Unruly behaviors and talks that seek to attack the person of other participants are not allowed. All attacks should be directed at the arguments of the adverse party.

It is a known principle that he who asserts must prove. Going by this principle, it becomes imperative for you to verify the assertions and facts you use to support your views. The application of this rule enriches the credibility and honesty of your arguments. That way, the audience is likely to be swayed in your favor.

Every debate, whether it is a social or political debate, has a formal structure that must be followed. It might also have preliminary activities that each participant has to engage in before they can participate in it. In these circumstances, a participant must comply with these requirements. He must also carry out these activities as a precondition to being a part of the debate.

Usually, in a debate, the participants are allotted time to present their views and are expected to give their speech within the specified timeframe. The essence is to introduce fairness into the debate by ensuring that the participants have the same opportunity to present their arguments. Thus, they are expected to be straightforward in their delivery to maximize the use of their time. The issue of timing should be born in mind when writing the speech. Otherwise, the speaker will end up not completing his speech before the time runs out.

It violates the rules of debating for a participant to interrupt another participant in the course of his speech. All the speakers at the debate are given their speaking slots; thus, one speaker cannot stop another halfway through his speech.

Some debates require participants to turn in their papers before time. Where this is the case, the writing of the debate paper has to be concluded earlier enough for it to be reviewed adequately before turning it in.

It is believed that the points contained here will be beneficial as you write your speech for a debate. The things you need to take note of how to write an opening statement for debate has been exposed to help you write an opening statement that achieves the right purpose.

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How to Write a Winning Debate Speech

how to write an opening statement for a debate

What Is a Debate?

A debate is a formal discussion on a specific topic. Two sides argue for and against a specific proposal or resolution in a debate.

Debates have set conventions and rules that both sides or teams agree to abide by. A neutral moderator or judge is often appointed to help regulate the discussion between the opposing sides.

Debating is a form of persuasive communication. We complete a complete guide to persuasive writing, which will form the backbone of your debating speech that can be accessed here.

Visual Writing Prompts


Debate Speech,debating | class debating unit 1 | How to Write a Winning Debate Speech | literacyideas.com

This unit will guide your students to write excellent DEBATE SPEECHES and craft ARGUMENTS that are well-researched, constructed and ready for critique from their classmates.

Furthermore, this EDITABLE UNIT will provide you with the TOOLS and STRATEGIES for running highly engaging CLASSROOM DEBATES.

How Is a Debate Structured?

Debates occur in many different contexts, and these contexts can determine the specific structure the debate will follow.

Some contexts where debates will occur include legislative assemblies, public meetings, election campaigns, academic institutions, and TV shows.

While structures can differ, below is a basic step-by-step debate structure we can look at with our students. If students can debate to this structure, they will find adapting to other debate structures simple.

1. Choose a Topic

Also called a resolution or a motion, the topic is sometimes chosen for each side. This is usually the case in a school activity to practice debating skills. 

Alternatively, as in the case of a political debate, two sides emerge naturally around contesting beliefs or values on a particular issue. 

We’ll assume the debate is a school exercise for the rest of this article.

The resolution or the motion is usually centered around a true or false statement or a proposal to make some change in the current state of affairs. Often the motion will start, ”This House believes that….”

2. Form Two Teams

Two teams of three speakers each are formed. These are referred to as ‘The House for the Motion’ or the ‘Affirmative’ team and ‘The House Against the Motion’ or the ‘Negative’ team.

Preparation is an essential aspect of debating. The speech and debate team members will need time to research their arguments, collaborate, and organize themselves and their respective roles in the upcoming debate.

They’ll also need time to write and rehearse their speeches too. The better prepared and coordinated they are as a team, the more chance they have of success in the debate.

Each speaker takes a turn making their speech, alternating between the House for the Motion, who goes first, and the House Against the Motion. Each speaker speaks for a pre-agreed amount of time.

The debate is held in front of an audience (in this case, the class), and sometimes, the audience is given time to ask questions after all the speeches have been made.

Finally, the debate is judged either by moderators or by an audience vote. 

The aim of the teams in a debate should be to convince a neutral third party that they hold the stronger position.

How to Write a Debate Speech

In some speech contest formats, students are only given the debate topic on the day, and limited time is allowed for preparation. Outside of this context, the speech writing process always begins with research.

Thorough research will help provide the student with both the arguments and the supporting evidence for those arguments.

Knowing how to research well is a skill that is too complex to cover in detail here. Fortunately, this site also has a detailed article on Top Research Strategies to help.

There are slight variations in the structure of debate speeches depending on when the speech is scheduled in the debate order. But, the structure and strategies outlined below are broadly applicable and will help students to write and deliver powerfully persuasive debate speeches.

The Debate Introduction

As with many types of text , the purpose of the introduction in a debate speech is to do several things: grab the attention of the audience, introduce the topic, provide a thesis statement, and preview some of the main arguments.

1. The Attention Grabber

Securing the attention of the audience is crucial. Failure to do this will have a strong, negative impact on how the team’s efforts will be scored as a whole.

There are several tried and tested methods of doing this. Three of the main attention grabbers that work well are:

a.) Quotation From a Well-Known Person

Using a quotation from a well-known person is a great way to draw eyeballs and ears in the speaker’s direction. People love celebrities, even if that celebrity is relatively minor. 

Using a quotation to open a speech lends authority to what is being said. As well as that, usually, the quotation chosen will be worded concisely and interestingly, making it all the more memorable and impactful for the audience.

b.) Statistics

Numbers can be very convincing. There’s just something about quantifiable things that persuades people. Perhaps it’s because numbers help us to pin down abstract ideas and arguments.

The challenge here is for the speaker to successfully extract meaning from the data in such a way as to bolster the force of their argument.

c.) The Anecdote

Anecdotes can be a valuable way to ease the audience into a complex topic. Anecdotes are essentially stories and can be used to make complicated moral or ethical dilemmas more relatable for an audience.

Anecdotes are also an effective way for the speaker to build a rapport with the audience, which, in turn, makes the task of persuading them an easier one.

2. Introduce the Topic

Once the audience’s attention has been firmly grasped, it’s time to introduce the topic or the motion. This should be done in a very straightforward and transparent manner to ensure the audience understands the topic of the debate.

For example, if the topic of the debate was school uniforms, the topic may be introduced with:

“Today, we will debate whether school uniforms should be compulsory for all high school students.”

3. Provide the Thesis Statement

The thesis statement should express the student’s or the team’s position on the motion. That is, the thesis statement explains which side of the debate the speaker is on.

This statement can come directly after introducing the topic, for example:

“Today, we will debate whether school uniforms should be compulsory for all high school students. This house believes (or, I believe …) that school uniforms should not be compulsory for high school students.”

4. Preview the Arguments

The final part of the introduction section of a debate speech involves previewing the main points of the speech for the audience.

There is no need to go into detail with each argument here; that’s what the body of the speech is for. It is enough to provide a general thesis statement for each argument or ‘claims’ – (more on this to follow).

Previewing the arguments in a speech is especially important as the audience and judges only get one listen to a speech – unlike a text which can be reread as frequently as the reader likes.

  Practice Activity

After explaining the different types of attention grabbers and the format for the rest of the introduction to your students, challenge them to write an example of each type of opening for a specific debate topic. 

When they’ve finished writing these speech openings, discuss with the students which of these openings works best with their chosen topic. They can then continue by completing the rest of the introduction for their speech using the format as described above.

Some suggested debate topics you might like to use with your class include:

The Body of the Speech

The body paragraphs are the real meat of the speech. They contain the in-depth arguments that make up the substance of the debate. 

How well these arguments are made will determine how the judges will assess each speaker’s performance, so it’s essential to get the structure of these arguments just right.

Let’s take a look at how to do that.

The Structure of an Argument

With the introduction out of the way, it’s time for the student to get down to the nitty-gritty of the debate – that is, making compelling arguments to support their case.

There are three main aspects to an argument in a debate speech. They are:

1. The Claim

2. The Warrant

3. The Impact

The first part of an argument is referred to as the claim. This is the assertion that the argument is attempting to prove. 

The warrant is the evidence or reasoning used to verify or support that claim.

Finally, the impact describes why the claim is significant. It’s the part of the argument that deals with why it matters in the first place and what further conclusions we can draw from the fact that the claim is true.

Following this structure carefully enables our students to build coherent and robust arguments.

Practice Activity

Present your students with a topic and, as a class, brainstorm some arguments for and against the motion.

Then, ask students to choose one argument and, using the Claim-Warrant-Impact format, take a few moments to write down a well-structured argument that’s up to debate standard.

Students can then present their arguments to the class. 

Or, you could also divide the class along pro/con lines and host a mini-debate!

The Conclusion

This speech section provides the speaker with one last opportunity to deliver their message.

In a timed formal debate, the conclusion also allows the speaker to show the judges that they can speak within the set time while still covering all their material.

As with conclusions in general, the conclusion of a debate speech provides an opportunity to refer back to the introduction and restate the central position. 

At this point, it can be a good idea to summarize the arguments before ending with a powerful image that leaves a lasting impression on the audience and judges.

The Burden of the Rejoinder

In formal debates, the burden of the rejoinder means that any time an opponent makes a point for their side, it’s incumbent upon the student/team to address that point directly.

Failing to do so will automatically be seen as accepting the truth of the point made by the opponent.

For example, if the opposing side argues that all grass is pink, despite how ridiculous that statement is, failing to refute that point directly means that, for the debate, all grass is pink.

Our students must understand the burden of the rejoinder and ensure that any points the opposing team makes are fully addressed during the debate.

When preparing to write their speech, students should spend a significant proportion of their team collaborating as a team. 

One good way to practice the burden of the rejoinder concept is to use the concept of Devil’s Advocate, whereby one team member acts as a member of the opposing team, posing arguments from the other side for the speaker to counter, sharpening up their refutation skills in the process.


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Debate: the keys to victory.

Research and preparation are essential to ensure good performance in a debate. Students should spend as much time as possible drafting and redrafting their speeches to maximize their chances of winning. However, a debate is a dynamic activity, and victory cannot be assured by pre-writing alone.

Students must understand that the key to securing victory lies in also being able to think, write (often in the form of notes), and respond instantly amid the turmoil of the verbal battle. To do this, students must understand the following keys to victory.

When we think of winning a debate, we often think of blinding the enemy with the brilliance of our verbal eloquence. We think of impressing the audience and the judges alike with our outstanding oratory.

What we don’t often picture when we imagine what a debate winner looks like is a quiet figure sitting and listening intently. But being a good listener is one of our students’ most critical debating skills.

If students don’t listen to the other side, whether by researching opposing arguments or during the thrust of the actual debate, they won’t know the arguments the other side is making. Without this knowledge, they cannot effectively refute the opposition’s claims.

Read the Audience

In terms of the writing that happens before the debate takes place, this means knowing your audience. 

Students should learn that how they present their arguments may change according to the demographics of the audience and/or judges to whom they will be making their speech. 

An audience of retired school teachers and an audience of teen students may have very different responses to the same arguments.

This applies during the actual debate itself too. If the student making their speech reads resistance in the faces of the listeners, they should be prepared to adapt their approach accordingly in mid-speech.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The student must practice their speech before the debate. There’s no need to learn it entirely by heart. There isn’t usually an expectation to memorize a speech entirely, and doing so can lead to the speaker losing some of their spontaneity and power in their delivery. At the same time, students shouldn’t spend the whole speech bent over a sheet of paper reading word by word.

Ideally, students should familiarize themselves with the content and be prepared to deliver their speech using flashcards as prompts when necessary.

Another important element for students to focus on when practising their speech is making their body language, facial expressions, and hand gestures coherent with the verbal content of their speech. One excellent way to achieve this is for the student to practice delivering their speech in a mirror.

And Finally…

Debating is a lot of fun to teach and partake in, but it also offers students a valuable opportunity to pick up some powerful life skills.

It helps students develop a knack for distinguishing fact from opinion and an ability to assess whether a source is credible or not. It also helps to encourage them to think about the other side of the argument. 

Debating helps our students understand others, even when disagreeing with them. An important skill in these challenging times without a doubt.


Debate Speech,debating | opinion writing unit 1 | How to Write a Winning Debate Speech | literacyideas.com



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The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.

NO PREP REQUIRED A ready-made unit on Class Debating awaits you.


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