Our goal with Berlin Debates is to help Berliners engage with political issues in a new way through an unfamiliar but invigorating format. These rules aim to maximise the effect, producing lively debates with as much interaction between the speakers, the audience and the arguments as possible.
The rules are broadly based on the parliamentary style practised at the Cambridge Union Society and other debating groups at universities in the English-speaking world.
The debate opens with speeches from the main speakers in the order Proposition – Opposition (followed by Proposition – Opposition again if there are four speakers).
Opening speeches last a maximum of 10 minutes (two speakers) or 8 minutes (four speakers).
Speaker(s) from the other side can interrupt with a point of information (see below) at any time.
The chair rings the bell when the speaker has 1 minute remaining. When time is up, the chair rings the bell again and indicates that it’s time to stop.
Points of information are interruptions made by the speaker(s) on the opposing side of the debate to dispute what the current speaker is saying, or to pose a challenging question. They are a central part of the debating format – ensuring that arguments get exposed to the maximum level of scrutiny.
To make a point of information, a speaker simply calls out “Point of information!” directly to their opponent.
When the audience is small (50 or under), points of information may also be made by members of the audience.
Speakers do not have to accept a point of information. If they wish to reject, they should simply say “no thank you.” Otherwise they should say “go ahead” and remain standing while hearing the point.
For a lively debate we recommend that speakers both make and accept points of information. Two or three per speech are ideal.
Points of information should be brief (20-30 seconds max) and, of course, to the point. Time taken for points of information will be added (approximately) to the speaker’s overall allowance.
Debates with two speakers include a rebuttal round immediately after the opening speeches. This short round gives each speaker a chance to reply to their opponent’s points before the floor debate.
The order is Proposition – Opposition, with each speaker allowed 3 minutes. The chair rings the bell when the time is up. Points of information are allowed throughout the rebuttal round.
The floor debate is the main chance for members of the audience (“floor”) to make points and ask questions. Typically a floor debate will last for 20-30 minutes – depending on the size of the audience and the time available.
Members of the floor can speak for up to 2 minutes and address their point or question either to a specific speaker or to the general audience. Points of information are not allowed.
The main speakers may respond immediately to a point or question from the floor if they wish; if they prefer they can leave their response to the summing up.
If a floor speaker is unsatisfied with a response or wishes to add their own, they may do so with a short follow-up before the next floor speaker.
At the end of the floor debate, each speaker (or one speaker from each side if there are four speakers and time is running out) gives a brief summing-up to respond to points, questions and rebuttals, and to complete their arguments.
The order of speech is Opposition – Proposition, with 3 minutes allocated per speaker. The chair rings the bell when the time is up. No points of information are allowed.
Finally the audience votes on the motion – for, against or abstention.
The vote is public, with the voting mechanism depending on the location. Where possible we mimic the parliamentary style – with people leaving the debating chamber via one of three separate, marked exits.
The result is announced over drinks – and published on the website and social media.