Debating Club

Tony Koutsoumbos

Founder and Director

When Tony launched Debating London, a public debate series in 2009 for graduates who missed their university debating societies, he never planned to build a training programme or a business out of it. Three years later, amid growing popular demand for debate training, he began running one-off workshops and in 2015 launched the country's first formal training programme, marking the birth of the Great Debaters Club.

Before the club became his full-time occupation, Tony had spent four years in public relations as a press officer and five years in sales as a recruitment consultant, before becoming an HR manager in the charity sector. He also led an active public life, running for council in the borough of Camden in 2010 and chairing the European Movement in London in 2012.

Why debating?

In short because it is a valuable skill that helps us make better decisions. Debating is often seen as the preserve of schools and universities, yet the competencies it brings together, such as public speaking, critical thinking, and conflict resolution, are all vital to the success of our careers, relationships, and public life long after we leave full-time education.

Who are our members?

Strangely, you may think, mostly people who never joined a debate club at school or university because they only became aware of its relevance to their personal and professional development later in life. The vast majority of our members are senior professionals in their field and come from a broad range of industries, including: financial services, marketing, the law, education, and the NHS, while approximately 10% run their own businesses or social enterprises.

What do we hope to achieve?

Naturally, we want to help our members achieve their own individual goals, while furthering those we set for ourselves as a club too. When we last asked members what they got out of their time with us, 83% said it had helped them to improve the way they structure their arguments. They also cited more specific applications, such as deciding how to vote in elections, defending their ideas during complex negotiations at work, and feeling more confident about questioning authority figures.

For our part, we want to create a safe space for people to disagree without having to worry about the fallout. Exploring issues that divide opinion helps us to test and refine ideas that challenge the status quo, to work out not just where we stand, but why, and to make difficult decisions under pressure when pleasing everyone is not an option. The aim of a great debate is not for everyone to agree, but for everyone to accept and understand the final decision, even when they disagree with it.