John Kim UCLA

The Importance of Speech and Debate in Schools for Future Careers

Most students won’t put every textbook lesson to use in their future careers. Think about it, realtors are no more likely to use quadratics in selling a house than doctors are to recite Keats at a checkup. But one little-known class that provides skills for any career is speech and debate.

Speech and debate classes can help students to prepare for, find, and function in their future careers by increasing their performance at school, improving their interview dexterity, and strengthening people and work skills such as listening, self-confidence, communication, reasoning, empathy, collaboration, and diligence.

While most things are pretty debatable, it would be hard to argue against the benefit of including speech and debate in the classroom setting. John Myungjune Kim explores how this often-overlooked course may actually be more useful than some of its textbook-heavy companions.

Benefits School Performance

Given the breadth of topics they may be asked to debate, speech and debate classes can expose children to a wide range of new concepts, insights, and perspectives. Some of these topics may even spark their interests enough to influence the direction of their future careers.

In addition to these broader goals, however, speech and debate can also help children with skills more immediately applicable to their school years, like:

  • Listening
  • Research
  • Writing
  • Time management
  • Public speaking
  • Collaboration

Regardless which side of an argument students are assigned to cover, and which side presents first, every debate will require participants to listen to their opponents’ arguments, the input of their team members, and the guidance of their instructors.

For children who struggle to pay attention in class, the participatory nature of speech and debate may make listening easier. Some students may also find the competitive aspect of debating an additional incentive to put forth their best efforts.

In the process of crafting their presentations, students may have to conduct research to gather enough material to defend their claims. While the depth of the necessary research will vary by topic, even the simplest investigations can have a lasting impact on how students approach learning new topics and performing fact-finding.

Having gathered their information, the students must also organize arguments to fit the time frame allotted. While some may find presenting before the class daunting, learning this skill early on can increase their comfort with presentations in other classes and help them to build the communication skills of a successful leader.

Builds Application Skills

After completing their education, some students set their sights on college while others choose to head directly into the workforce. In either case, these young adults are more than likely going to face an application or interview process of some description. The skills involved in performing well while interviewing overlap significantly with those involved in speech and debate, including:

  • Communication etiquette
  • Eloquence and coherence
  • Confidence
  • A goal-oriented mindset
  • Logical reasoning
  • The ability to think on one’s feet

While straight As and high-test scores look great on paper, they can’t make up for a lack of people skills. As they practice debating and giving speeches, students learn to communicate verbally with confidence and eloquence, as well as non-verbally, by how they compose themselves, through their body language, and in their engaging eye contact.

The need to dress smartly for competitions can also expose students to situations that require appropriate professional attire. During the interview process, dressing to impress can go a long way in helping an applicant make a good first impression.

Beyond teaching individuals how to look the part of a strong candidate, speech and debate can also help participants prepare for interview questions, which often test a candidate’s ability to reason, and problem solve. By introducing them to a range of debate topics, these participatory classes give students experience thinking on their feet.

Speech and Debate Skills that Enhance Career Success

While many of the same skills that benefit a child at school and in an interview setting will likewise serve their performance in the workplace, speech and debate classes also teach many of the people skills and productivity essentials necessary to succeed while at work, including:

  • Empathy
  • Perspective taking
  • Reading people
  • Providing and accepting constructive criticism
  • Teamwork
  • Listening to and respecting the opinions of others
  • Humility
  • Resilience
  • Common sense
  • Time management
  • Goal-orientation

Speech and debate instructors often assign students both a topic and a side on which to argue, regardless of the students’ personal experiences with the subject matter. Throughout the process of investigating, organizing, and presenting their findings, students learn to separate fact and feeling.

While it may seem obvious that there are two sides to every argument, having to explore and understand the reasoning behind each—both to defend their own position and to predict their opponents’ claims—forces children to treat diversity with respect and to look at a situation from multiple perspectives.

While its social component instills team-oriented cooperation and people-reading skills, the competitive nature of speech and debate cultivates a goal-oriented and ambitious mindset. This mindset often carries over as debate students’ “teams” shift from their peers in debate to co-workers, clients, and customers.

Over the course of multiple debates, participants are likely to experience both wins and losses. Together, this mixture of success and defeat makes debate the perfect activity for learning humility as well as resilience. In any career, it is far easier to work with peers who can bounce back from loss with a smile and triumph with grace than with a callous winner or sore loser.


While speech and debate courses are rarely as heavily emphasized in school as more standardized subjects like Math and English, these classes are sure to serve children in any future career by teaching them new research, presentation, and people skills, as well as how to accept their wins and losses with dignity and grace.

By John Kim UCLA

John Kim UCLA

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