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Difference Between Speech and Debate

A speech, or a debate, is a formal manner of addressing a group of people.  The most obvious difference between the two forms of address is, a speech follows one opinion, while a debate is between two people on two opposing sides.  Each side of the debate gives an opposing opinion.  The debaters are either for or against the topic debated.  The audience listening to the debate may decide which side of the debate they will be supporting.  A speech on the other hand gives one opinion, or views, on a topic that is presented to an audience.  The audience may agree or disagree with the speaker.  The debate and the speech are forms of academic discussion or testimonies to the art of speaking in public.  Both of these oratory forms require a speech to be made.


What Does Speech Mean?

A good speech needs preparation and delivery.  The speaker presents his or her thoughts on a particular subject to an audience.  The audience may be made up of students in an educational environment or it could be of political origin.  A speech can be made to academic circles or at social events like weddings, special birthdays and other occasions.  A speech can be informal, creating awareness over a social issue, or more formal in front of an audience. The speaker is usually giving an opinion on a given topic.  The audience may have empathy with, or may need conversion to, the speaker’s project or cause.  A speech involves more individual performance around the chosen topic to keep the audience captivated and listening to the speaker.

How Speeches are Defined?

  • By presentation: 

Speeches are made by an individual to a group or to a larger audience.  Speeches can be broadcast to reach an even wider audience. 

  • By content:

Speeches can be used to edify particular like minded groups.  The content would be social, political or educational topics needed for the group’s edification or development.  The content of a speech may be required to reach a particular group.  Someone passionate about a particular topic may choose to speak in a public place on their topic.  Their speech may reach anyone who may be passing by.

  • By method:

Different types of speeches serve their different groups of listeners on different occasions.  There are inaugural speeches, official ceremonial speeches, lectures, and formal occasions when a speech is required at the event – a wedding for example.

  • By contribution:

The contribution of the speech is the given topic and the input required to make the speech appropriate.  A wedding speech for example would require the family connection and information to make the speech appropriate.  A speech at a lecture for students would require the correct academic information.


What is Debating?

Although debating requires public speaking, the concept of a debate is different.  The  purpose of the speakers in a debate is to present opposite sides of a topic that can be argued in a for or against manner.  Debating sets out formal routines for the process of the debate.  The speaker for the topic speaks followed by the speaker against the topic.  There may be more than one speaker in each debating team in some situations.  The audience listens to the two sides to the debate and will form an opinion based on the speeches.  Basically a debate is an extended formal argument.  The advantage of listening to a debate is both sides of the argument are presented for the audience.  Debating has rules and definition.  There are different types of debates and some educational institutions have debating societies.  Prior to a debate it is important to set down the rules by which the debate will be conducted.  Some debates are judged and there is audience participation.  Generally there are two teams, one is the team in favor of the topic and the other team against the topic.  Most debates have different members assigned to the sides of the debate.  An exception to this is a debating style called ‘Turncoat debate’ and in this situation one person takes both sides of the argument and delivers a solo performance. 

How Debates are Defined?

  • By presentation:

Two teams present the arguments for or against a topic.  The rules of the debate are pre determined by the debating society.  Audience participation is encouraged and a judgment proclaimed at the end of the debate to determine which side was the most convincing.

  • By content:

There are many topics used for debate.  The subject matter could depend on the group of people the debate is presented to.  School debating societies would have a variety of challenging topics relative to student debates.  Parliamentary debate would be political or an opportunity for opposing parties to debate worthy causes.  Political debate is part of a democratic society.

  • By method:

Debating has a format and regulations that should be agreed upon prior to the debate.  The number of members to the team and times for the speakers to present their arguments are all part of the method in managing a debate.  It is a controlled presentation of opposing ideas to a group of listeners who may participate through questions and receiving answers.  Judgment is placed at the end to declare a winner in competitive debate.  In some cases of parliamentary debate legislature may be discussed and proposals for and against regulations presented.

  • By  contribution:

A debate may have a number of contributors, but the manner of debating dictates that there is always a motion for or against the topic under debate.  The team may consist of three members to each side or in the case of a ‘turncoat’ debate the whole debate is carried out by one person but there will always be two sides to the argument presented.


Differences between Speech and Debate

People participating;

The essential difference is a speech is made by one person while a debate involves two sets of people in order to present the argument for and against.  During a speech the audience do not generally take an active role, however they may be invited to ask questions by the speaker.  The questions would be around the topic that was spoken about.  In a debate the audience will participate and question each side of the debating team to expand the decision making process involved in judging the content of the debate.

Content of the speech or debate:

The content of the speech may vary according to the occasion and the information that is being shared.  A debate will have varying topics, but the overall statement of the debate will give rise to two opinions.  Controversial topics make for lively debates. 

Audience participation:

Audience participation differs slightly because of the argumentative structure of a debate as opposed to the presentation of ideas made in a speech. The audience expects to take part in a debate as there are two sides to an argued topic.  A speech is a more passive experience and the delivery of the speech covers one source of opinion that the audience is listening to.

Delivery of the message:

A speech is delivered to an audience by the speaker who has prepared the topic to suit the audience.  It may be educational, political or social in contest.  A debate is delivered by two opposing sides of the debated topic.  Each side gets a chance to deliver their side of the topic.  It is a formal style of arguing a given topic.


The outcome of both a speech and a debate is to enlighten the audience on a particular topic.  A speech presents the information or experience from the speaker’s point of view. While a debate has two points of view.  The audience decides which point of view they support and after a question and answer time they can decide on the point of view they agree with.

Speech Vs. Debate: Comparison Chart


Summary of Speech and Debate

The fundamental difference between a speech and a debate is the purpose of the activity.  Although both forms of public speaking deliver a message via a speech making process the speech is geared towards edifying a group through one person’s point of view.  A debate however, presents two sides of an issue and the speakers put across their different point of view.   A debate has a more competitive element as there is a judge deciding on the side of the debate that was most convincing.  Speeches and debates are driven by the audience support and often entertain their listeners.  In our society today, where freedom of speech is encouraged, both the speech and debate have a relevant place in oratory circles.

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References :

[0]Farhu25. 31/10/2018. What is the difference between Speech and debate? www.brainly.in/questions.pub.Brainly Smarter together. Reviewed 03/04/2019

[1]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nato_debate_in_Stockholm_in_2015-3.jpg

[2]Image credit: http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/video/image/medium/D6OLe7q3Ub5bXrT71rjSIZg3OQyAUhIN.jpg

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