Public forum debate

Public forum debate, also known as PoFo, Puff, PF Debate, Puffy, or PFD is a style of debate practiced in National Speech and Debate Association, National Catholic Forensic League competitions, and many other State and Major leagues across the United States. It was first introduced by the NFL in 2002 as "Controversy Debate".


Public forum debate can be compared to a nationally-televised debate, such as 'Crossfire' in which the debaters argue a topic of national importance, typically one involving foreign or domestic policy as opposed to the more philosophy centric topics of Lincoln-Douglas debate. Similar to policy debate, the debate in public forum debate is conducted by teams of two people alternating speeches for their side, either affirming or negating their topic. In contrast to policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate, there is little focus on extreme speed or arcane debate jargon or argumentation theory; instead, successful public forum debaters must make persuasive and logical arguments in a manner that is accessible to a wide variety of audiences. Public forum debate also focuses on not only logical, but research based arguments. Students can do their own research, but there are also a number of services that provide research for the debaters. It is expected that arguments will be supported with evidence, rather than just rhetoric.[1] Because of its strong relevance to the real-world and ability to develop life skills, public forum debate has exploded in popularity since its introduction into high school debate by the National Forensic League. Some might think of Public Forum debate as a less formal form of NEDA Debate.


Each team will ideally argue both sides equally (usually twice, however larger national tournaments include six rounds, plus additional "break" rounds) or, as suggested by the NFL website, will start with a coin flip. Whichever team won the flip used to be able to choose speaking order or which side to advocate, and the team that lost the flip was able to choose from the option that is left. (i.e., if the winners of the coin flip choose to advocate "Pro," then the losing team can decide speaking order). However, in some states the pro side always speaks first. In other cases, entire states adopt rules toward this in formal debate. In Minnesota for instance, all formal debates begin with the pro. Unlike in policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate, in public forum debate, the proposition or affirmative side does not necessarily speak first. The NFL website states that, while states may choose whether or not to include the coin toss, the NFL encourages it; and all NFL tournaments will be conducted with a coin toss in public forum, to allow for uncertainty and strategy.

In this speech, one of the members of the team gives arguments either for or against the resolution, depending on which side the team is speaking for. Strictly speaking, the custom in public forum debate dictates that when debaters speak (both for speeches and crossfire), they should face forward towards the judge, sometimes from behind a lectern. However in some tournaments, it is customary for debaters to remain seated and face each other during crossfire. Next, the other side is permitted to give its first four-minute constructive speech in which not only arguments may be presented, but rebuttals to arguments from the first speech as well. However, rebuttals are almost always not presented until a team's second constructive, and are frowned upon in some states/tournaments, and the first constructive generally consists exclusively of prepared material.

Following this speech, the first speaker from the first team joins the first speaker from the second team at the podium if one is provided (in the absence of one debaters stand by their desks) and the first three-minute "crossfire" begins. The first speaker begins crossfire by asking a question to the second speaker. In crossfire, the two debaters directly ask each other questions and answer questions of their opponent. Crossfire may be used, like cross-examination, to ask revealing questions in an attempt to expose a weakness in the opponents' arguments, but it is often used as a way to further develop and attack arguments through discourse.

After crossfire, first team's second speaker gives a four-minute rebuttal speech. After they have rebutted their opponents case, they move on to "rehab" their own (rebut the opponents rebuttals in an attempt to nullify them. Although, this only applies to the second speaker as the first team should not have had any points rebutted yet.) Then, the second speaker of the second team gives a four-minute constructive speech following this same format. Following this speech, another three-minute crossfire ensues between the two second speakers.

The first speaker of the first team then gives a two-minute summary speech of the debate, which includes further rebuttal of the opponents case and reiteration of the first team's case, and the first speaker of the second team does the same. After this speech, all four debaters participate in "Grand Crossfire". Grand Crossfire is similar to crossfire except that all four debaters can ask and answer questions of each other. The speaker that gave the first summary speech begins Grand Crossfire by asking the first question. This Crossfire is usually completed with all four debaters sitting down.

After Grand Crossfire, each team's second speaker has a chance to give a two-minute speech called the "Final Focus," the first team giving this speech first. This speech is also referred to as "The Last Shot" (depending on what state you are in), a holdover from the event's earlier days. In the Final Focus, the speaker is given one last chance to explain exactly why his or her team has won the round. No new arguments are allowed in the Final Focus, but new evidence to support previous arguments is allowed (although discouraged.) This speech is often the determining factor for a judge's decision in a closely contested round, as it allows the judge to hear which arguments/evidence each team views as the most important to his or her case, and summarizes the entire debate.

In NFL sponsored tournaments the winner of a debate round earns 6 NFL points, and the loser of the round earns 3 NFL points. These are the same points given for policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate.

A Public Forum debate follows this timing schedule:[2]

Team A: First Speaker: Constructive Speech 4 minutes
Team B: First Speaker: Constructive Speech 4 minutes
Crossfire (between first speakers) 3 minutes
Team A: Second Speaker: Rebuttal 4 minutes
Team B: Second Speaker: Rebuttal 4 minutes
Crossfire (between second speakers) 3 minutes
Team A: First Speaker: Summary 2 minutes
Team B: First Speaker: Summary 2 minutes
Grand Crossfire (All speakers) 3 minutes
Team A: Second Speaker: Final Focus/Last Shot 2 minutes
Team B: Second Speaker: Final Focus/Last Shot 2 minutes

Each team also has a total of two minutes of preparation time ("downtime" or "prep time"), which they can use before any of their speeches. This time is spent at the debaters' discretion (plotting arguments, finding weaknesses in the opponents' case, etc.). Each team is allowed to use its allotted prep time in whatever increments it chooses. The debaters ask the judge to use prep time as needed, and then tell the judge when they are ready to begin their next speech. The judge then stops the clock and records the time remaining of the original two minutes, which that team can use . Although it is not common practice, certain national tournaments have been known to give teams 4 minutes of prep time.


Resolutions (topics to be debated) change every month. Past and present resolutions include:

NOTE: The Board of Directors chose to start with a 2-month topic then revert to the monthly topics in order to help novices learn and improve their skills

NOTE: The resolution used to be: Resolved: An Islamic cultural center should be built near Ground Zero. Due to much controversy, the NFL changed the topic to the one above within 24 hours.'s blog posts and ensuing comments document the responses to both.


  1. "Guide to Public Forum Debates." University of Vermont. University of Vermont, n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <
  2. National Forensics League. "Guide to Public Forum Debate" (PDF). National Forensics League. Retrieved 17 November 2012.

External links

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