Debaters: Competitive, Creative, Challenge-Seeking

Why Debate Skills Develop Great Business Leaders

“We prioritize candidates with strong logic, reasoning, and research abilities. Coupled with presentation and persuasion skills, these traits typically indicate a high-quality candidate, which is why I often look to hire former debaters for my team. – Brian Kennett, Vice President Digital Advertising at Star Tribune Media Company

  • Debaters Learn Crucial Skills Early 

    Debate teaches students essential skills such as critical thinking, effective writing, public speaking, and persuasive communication. These skills are valuable in any field, but especially in the business world, where employees must make informed decisions and effectively communicate their ideas.

  • Debate Encourages Students to Lead

    Debate encourages leadership qualities as students often take on roles such as team captain and assistant coach. Learn more about how debate cultivates students’ leadership skills.

  • Debaters Develop Strong Work Ethic

    Debate requires dedication and hard work to prepare cases, conduct research, and participate in tournaments. These habits of discipline and perseverance translate well into any workplace.

  • Debate Requires Sharp Research Skills: 

    Debaters excel in research, a skill that is essential in modern business. To participate in debate, students must thoroughly research multiple angles of a contemporary political topic each season, ranging from education reform to income inequality to criminal justice.

  • Debate Celebrates Diverse Backgrounds 

    The central goal of the urban debate movement is to provide opportunities for students from all backgrounds to participate in this powerful activity. We help students develop valuable skills and access opportunities that are often inaccessible in the traditional classroom. Our Spanish Debate League, East African Debate League, and Financial Literacy Leadership debates program are explicitly designed to adapt the standard debate format to meet the needs of underrepresented groups.

  • Debate Enhances Problem-Solving Abilities

    In any debate, students are asked to envision the benefits and drawbacks of applying different solutions to contemporary problems. In the process, they become skilled at analyzing complex issues and proposing potential solutions. These abilities can be applied to corporate challenges, fostering innovative problem-solving within organizations.

Former Debaters In Action

How Debate Experience Helped These Leaders Achieve

Each year, debaters nationwide gain in-depth knowledge about real-world topics through the process of researching, debating, and competing. A sample of the last few years of debate topics demonstrates how students learn more than just the facts – they come to understand how science and technology interact with everyday life and policy decision-making.

Joe Cabral, Chatsworth Products

“I became a member of the Debate team where I became more confident in public speaking, learned to view issues from both perspectives and effectively argue both sides of the issue. Keeping an open mind while researching facts and credible sources of information was developed while on the debate team.” (CSU-East Bay)

Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture

“I was a speech and debate star. I’m greatly appreciative because it helped me earn money for college… It was definitely a great way to create a skill that I use today.(Accenture’s CEO Went from Debate Champ to the C-Suite, David Rubinstein, 2021) 

Reggie Aggarwal, CEO of Cvent

“My high school debate coach… invested a lot of her time to help me become a strong debater, which ultimately helped me become a confident communicator. Having that strong foundation has had a massive impact on my entire life and on my business.” (Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, 2022)

Sara Blakely, Founder and Owner of Spanx

I’ve never paid to advertise, so grass-roots marketing was vital to the success of Spanx.

I was also very active on the debate team, and I took a lot of public speaking courses. Both helped me with my speeches and TV appearances.” (Tallahassee Magazine)

James D. White, Former CEO of Jamba Juice

“In high school, James D. White was cut from his high school basketball team. Instead of sulking, White decided to join the school’s debate team, noting it was a foundational learning experience from a communication standpoint. ‘It put me on a very different trajectory…a very different path.’ (St. Hope, December 18, 2014) 

Adam Nash, former CEO of Wealthfront and CEO & Co-Founder of Duffy

“I did a lot of speech and debate [in high school]. I was afraid of public speaking when I was in junior high, so I did that thing where you confront your fears… You’re given two minutes on a topic you’re unprepared for, and then you have to give a five-minute speech. It turns out I do this a lot now.(New York Times, June 13th, 2014)

How to Get Involved

We have many opportunities for corporate partners to get connected with our current debaters and support our work! If you’re interested in pursuing any of these opportunities, please contact our Executive Director, Amy Cram Helwich, at

  • Sponsor Our Mayors Challenge: At our premier fundraising event, prominent leaders in politics, law, and education network and watch our students compete in a showcase debate surrounding the year’s national topic. Learn more about the event at Newsweek!

  • Host a Fellow: Your office can help a student gain skills and experience by sponsoring a summer fellow. As a host, you will work with the student in your office for a short period during the summer and fund their summer speech and debate camp experience. 

  • Volunteer With Us: We need volunteers with and without debate experience all year long! No debate experience is required to judge middle school debates in spring semester, and we’re always looking for judges for our East African Debate, Spanish Debate League, and Financial Literacy Leadership Debates tournaments. Sign up for current volunteer opportunities here. 

  • Host a Fundraising Debate: Microsoft successfully raised more than $15,000 for our program on their last giving day, hosting a fun virtual debate led by professionals in the organization.

  • Join Our Board: We’re seeking corporate leaders who are passionate about education to join our Advisory Board. Love debate, but want a more flexible commitment? Sign up to be a member of our Advocates for Debate Board

Business Leaders Say: Debate Skills Can Benefit Your Company

Debaters Foster Innovation Through Healthy Debate

Want to avoid culture wars at work? You need a healthy ‘debate culture.’ | Protocol, July 5, 2022

Matt Calkins often hears that he’s polite, even deferential. But as CEO of Appian, he tells employees to challenge each other — especially their bosses — early and often.

“I love arguments. I love ideas clashing,” Calkins said. “I regard it as a personal compliment when someone respectfully dissents.”

This culture originated with Calkins and his three co-founders, two of whom were champion student debaters before founding the cloud computing company in 1999. Today, Calkins said he still greets new employees with an invitation to express disagreement with anyone at any level of the company — including himself.

“If you disagree with somebody, especially your boss, you’re doing them a favor,” Calkins said. “You’re helping them to make their idea better. Whatever it is you just disagreed with is going to get better because you challenged it.” 

Debaters Gain Skills Long Before Graduation 

How to Find the Millenials Who Will Lead Your Company | Robert Sher, Forbes columnist and consultant to midsized company CEOs

“…Here is the truth about students who compete in speech and debate. They’ve spent hundreds of hours perfecting their speaking skills.  Many have done intensive research to write their speeches.  All have endured the pressure that competition brings, and have performed well intellectually under such pressure.  They’ve made connections and friendships with other high performing peers.  All of these behaviors are excellent predictors of success on any leadership team.

Be on the lookout for Millennials who have participated in speech and debate training. Hire them and put them on your leadership fast track.” 

Debaters Excel Under Pressure 

Debate Paves Way to Business Success | Capitol Debate, 2021

“Nuance’s Chuck Berger (now Kenandy) has said that he learned three things in debate that have helped in business. First, how to research and prepare a controversial topic with opposing viewpoints. Second, to make a compelling presentation. Third, to act quickly on his feet. Without the discipline, his company’s growth would have been unforeseeable.”

Debate is Essential to Society

We’re always looking for exciting new ways debate can make a difference. If you’re inspired to bring debate to your community,
tell us about your idea for collaboration at

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