Debates have become a near-constant fixture at medical meetings and conferences. Many times they serve an important purpose highlighting or clarifying competing views and different ways of interpreting available evidence and current practice. But more often than not, such debate sessions are designed (or expected) to be entertaining. We might say that a good debate is one that fulfills both goals. Unfortunately this is not an easy thing to achieve. The following “prescription” may prove useful to organizers and planners: it is the product of close observation of many vascular debates over the past 20-plus years – and from actual participation in several.
- First, identify a truly controversial and interesting topic or area for discussion, and one that hopefully appeals to a large segment of the audience;
- Next, select prospective debaters on the basis of a few critical aspects: ability to deliver sharp and short messages that can be clearly understood, and most importantly, individuals who actually support and believe the viewpoint being asked to defend or advance;
- Time is of the essence: 3 minutes to 5 minutes for each side is probably sufficient in most cases, and allow 1 minute for rebuttal at the end;
- Limit the number of slides for each debater to no more than 10 to 15;
- Delivery and content must be planned to enhance interest and, to a lesser extent, for the entertainment value. However, overly personal or remarks that could insult must be avoided;
- Organizers may want to consider having expert commentators or “judges” – one for each side of the argument – to offer brief smart comments on the points made by the debaters, and to help clarify certain issues so the audience can make a better informed final decision on winner and loser at the end;
- Most importantly, the selected topic (or “premise” or “motion”) must be truly controversial, debatable, and unresolved, and it must be stated briefly and with clarity avoiding terms such as “always” and “never” that are sure to doom the validity or relevance of the debate from the outset.