Public Forum debate is a type of current events debate which is a widespread form of high school debate in the U.S. Individuals give short (4 minute) speeches that are interspersed with 3 minute "Crossfire" sections, questions and answers between opposed debaters. The winner is determined by a judge who also serves as a referee (timing sections, penalizing incivility, etc)."Guide to Public Forum Debates." University of Vermont. University of Vermont, n.d. Web. 6 October 2014. The debate centers around advocating or rejecting a position, "resolve", or "resolution", which is usually a proposal of a potential solution to a current events issue. Public Forum is designed to be accessible to the average citizen.


Public Forum debate was invented in 2002. It was initially called "Ted Turner Debate" for CNN founder Ted Turner. The "crossfire" period of PF is modeled after Crossfire (U.S. TV program), a political debate show on CNN.

Comparisons to other debate forms

Public Forum debate is often described as more accessible than policy debate. Unlike policy, which has one topic per year, PF debate topics switch every month and are based on current events. In policy debate, participants tend to "spread", or speak very fast, something that is less common in PF, making PF more understandable to the average "lay", or non-debating, person. Lincoln-Douglas debate tends to focus on philosophical questions, in contrast to PF. Parliamentary debate is much less structured than PF, and participants are not made aware of their topics until 15–20 minutes before their round, giving them little time to prep and research.

Debate Structure

A Public Forum debate consists of 8 speeches and 3 crossfires, each with a time limit. The first speech is pre-written and presents the team's "contentions," arguments either supporting or opposing the resolution. These contentions are backed up by warrants, evidence in the form of quotes or citations from sources. The two speakers from each team who presented cases then participate in a 3-minute crossfire. The first speaker asks the first question in the crossfire, and the rest of the crossfire consists of each speaker asking their opponent questions. The other speaker from each team then gives a 4 minute rebuttal to their opponents case, refuting their opponent's arguments. Parts of this case are also sometimes pre-written and are known as "answers to" or A/2s. That is followed by crossfire between the third and fourth speakers. The 3-minute summary, given by the first and second speakers, is given to both reinforce arguments and to refute their opponents, as well as to try and tell the judge which points the debate should be judged on. The summary is often referred to as the most important speech. The grand crossfire is between all speakers. The final focus, given by the third and fourth speakers, is 2 minutes and is used to explain to the judge why the speaker's team should win the debate.

Prep Time

Each team can take up to 3 minutes of total prep time throughout the debate. This prep time can only be taken in between speeches. Each team may use the other team's prep time for their preparation, however, the time is only taken from the team that decided to take prep time. Though it is not common practice, some national tournaments give teams additional prep time. For example, the Yale Invitational Debate Tournament provides both teams with 4 minutes of prep time.


Topics are presented as resolutions, meaning they advocate for solving a problem by the means of a certain position. Resolution options and official topics are released by the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) on their website. Competitors are encouraged to focus on the "main issues" of the topic rather than search for obscure arguments. The resolution changes frequently and focuses on current events. Some topics spread the length of two months, while others rotate monthly. Examples of past topics include: * March 2010 – Affirmative action to promote equal opportunity in the United States is justified. * September 2011 – The benefits of post-9/11 security measures outweigh the harms to personal freedom. * December 2015 – On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States. * February 2016 – The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax. * April 2017 – The United States ought to replace the Electoral College with a direct national popular vote. * January 2018 – Spain should grant Catalonia its independence. * February 2018 – the United States should abolish the capital gains tax. * November/December 2018 – the United States federal government should impose price controls on the pharmaceutical industry. * January 2020 - the United States should end its economic sanctions against Venezuela. * February 2020 - the United States should replace means-tested welfare programs with a universal basic income. * April 2020 - Resolved: The United States should remove nearly all of its military presence in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. * NSDA 2020 - On balance, charter schools are beneficial to the quality of education in the United States. * September/October 2020 - Resolved: The U.S. federal government should enact the Medicare For All Act of 2019. * November/December 2020 - Resolved: The United States should adopt a declaratory nuclear policy of no first use. *January 2021 - Resolved: The NSA should end its surveillance of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. *February 2021 - Resolved: On balance, the benefits of urbanization in West Africa outweigh the harms. *March 2021 - Resolved: On balance, the benefits of creating the United States Space Force outweigh the harms. *April 2021 - Resolved: The benefits of the International Monetary Fund outweigh the harms.

See also

* Lincoln–Douglas debate format


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