So, you’ve heard about this “Demosthenian” place, either through a flyer or a dorm mailing or passing by one of our banners, and you’re not sure what this place is and why you should come? Read on.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What exactly is Demosthenian?
The Demosthenian Literary Society is UGA’s oldest student organization. Founded in 1803, it is the aim of the society to train UGA students in the arts of debate and public speaking, and to have a good time while doing it.
2. When does Demosthenian meet?
The DLS meets every Thursday at 7:00PM at Demosthenian Hall (that’s the big beige building with the green shutters, on North Camps, two doors down from the Arch). Meetings last as long as the members have something to debate, typically until 10:30 or 11:00PM.
3. Wow. That’s a long time. Do guests have to stay the whole time?
Of course not. Guests have busy schedules. So do Demosthenians. Come for a little. Come for a lot. If you enjoy yourself, stick around. If not, head on out. Just be sure not to interrupt a speaker when leaving.
4. What sorts of topics do you debate?
Politics, philosophy, current events–you name it. It’s extemporaneous parlaimentary debate, which means that 1) our topics are usually not announced in advance, and 2) we use Roberts’ Rules of Order to govern who gets to speak and when. Usually three or more topics are debated in a single night. Visit this link for a list of topics debated recently.
5. I’m nervous about all this speaking stuff. Do guests have to speak?
Nope. Guests are guests. Come watch the debates. Join in if you feel like it. It’s easy for a guest to get the floor (that’s fancy Demosthenian-speak for “get a chance to speak”).
6. I’m not nervous. I want to join right in. How do I “get the floor”?
When a speaker has finished speaking, people who want a chance to speak after them all stand up and say “Mister/Madame President!” The President then calls on you, usually by saying “Mr./Miss/Mrs. Guest”. At which point, all you have to say is, “May I have the floor?” The President says, “The floor is yours,” and you have five minutes to speak.
7. Five minutes? Should I speak the whole time?
Speak for as long as you have something to say. Though one line speeches are frowned upon. Oneliners can be rattled off in questions.
8. Questions? People can question me?
Yes. And you can be questioned. To question a speaker, just rise and say, “Mister/Madame President”. When the President calls on you, say, “Question for the speaker”. If the speaker yields, ask away. If not, sit down and try again later. Members try to take it easy on guests in the beginning. No one’s going to ambush you with questions. (Though once you’re a member, the gloves come off.)
9. And how does one become a member?
Try this link.
10. Why would anyone want to be a member, anyway?
Well, it’s this simple: if you want to get ahead in this world, you have to learn to speak in public. (With the possible exception of mimery, of course.) Demosthenian is a place where you can learn to do that in a supportive environment. Former members of Demosthenian have risen to positions of prominence, like the Governor’s Office and the U.S. Senate. Recent alumni are attending top law schools like Virginia, Harvard, and NYU.
11. So what? I don’t want to be a lawyer or a politician.
But you will want to speak convincingly and effectively. Our graduates also end up at places like Oxford and Yale, studying everything from evolution to medieval literature. But one and all, they point to their Demosthenian training as helping them get ahead. It’s not a society you join to have a line on your resume. It’s a place to get life skills and make lifelong friends.
12. Isn’t there another place to debate on campus?
Yes. For competitive policy debate (NDT style), there is the UGA Debate Union. For information on it, contact Ed Panetta.
13. What about that place right across from Demosthenian?
That would be our rival society, the Phi Kappans. Refounded in 1991, they serve a similar purpose on campus. We’d like to think that we’re the better of the two societies, as recent debates might indicate. But the truth is, the only way you’ll know for sure if you should be a Demosthenian or a Phi Kappan is to attend meetings of both.
14. Didn’t you guys used to shoot out their windows?
As much as we’d like to say we did, this is the stuff of legend. Phi Kappa Hall has no windows on the front because of the style of architecture that the founders chose. No matter what your orientation leader told you, the fault of having an ugly building style is the result of their own bad taste.
14. But surely there’s some difference between the two societies?
Demosthenian prides itself on being more informal and less pretentious than our rivals. But that might just be a P.R. line. Really, you’ll just have to look for yourselves.
The biggest difference is that Demosthenian has been in continuous existence for over 200 years, while Phi Kappa folded in the ’70′s. Also, we have maintained control of the hall, where as Phi Kappa lost it shortly after the Civil War. The refounders of Phi Kappa also used the modern definition of “Literary.” This difference has lead our rivals to include creative writings and the reading of literature at their meetings.
14. Why don’t you do creative writings?
Demosthenian (and the original Phi Kappa) were founded as places for extemporaneous debate. Though at several points (in the 1800′s) both societies put out a joint literary magazine, they were not founded as places for regular reading of creative writings.
Further, the literary society environment does not lend itself to creative writings; workshopping works best with all parties around a table, swapping tips and criticisms with corrected copies in front of them. And there are already several places to get that kind of support on campus, not the least of which being the classes taught by the Creative Writing department.
15. So why are you called a “literary” society?
Think in context to the time the society was founded. The 1800′s definition literally meant “of words,” referring to oration and speaking. So, a “literay” society by that standard equates to a speaking or debate society.
16. What was that earlier about access to Demosthenian Hall?
After nine meetings as a member of Demosthenian, members can request keys to Demosthenian Hall. The Hall houses our library, and the sitting area is often used by members who want a place to study, or just to hang out with other members. Though, the Hall is often used by other groups, like the SGA, the Historic Preservation Society, the Gridiron Society, and Alpha Phi Omega. And people use it when they’re getting married at the chapel, too.