Having been on both sides of this argument, I can say with a clean heart that most of what is said above is completely true. There are of course issues central to the notion of debating with a conspiracy theorist (publicity = oxygen) but in general, unless you are playing to a packed house, the mere act of debating rationally can in fact alleviate much of the illusion surrounding the so called conspiracy.

It is hard (it must be said) not to play to a packed house. Very few people want to attend such a debate except those who are usually quite inclined to the views of the conspiracy, and this has to be taken into account before confirming such a debate.

To begin with, consider first of all, your own chain of reasoning. Which of your beliefs on the topic at hand fall into the realm of absolute knowledge derivable provably from facts and axioms that one could not dispute without being insane?

This isn't as easy as it looks, and you may find that in this earnest process, many of the beliefs you held dear are cast to one side as you discover gaps in your knowledge, or indeed flaws in your own reasoning. Don't be shy, they ARE there, no one after all is perfect. The purpose here is NOT to collect ammunition for the debate itself, but to purge yourself of all points of weakness. Better to be in a small watertight dingy than a mile long sponge.

The next step is to consider the 'conspiracy' itself, how would you characterise it? What are the central tenets of the conspiracy. If you were thinking as a conspiracy theorist, what would you NEED to believe in order to maintain your faith, and what would you WANT to believe to do so? Most conspiracies centre around a small group of charismatic individuals, or organisations who have committed some act, or are in the process of committing acts which elicit a response of revulsion, fear, or outrage. Who, in short, are The Players? What is the setting? What is supposed to have occurred? What is the difference between what the conspiracy theorist believes, and what you believe?

And here's the clincher... Why do they believe it? Why do they value their interpretation above the one generally given?

Could they have economic, political, social reasons? Neo-nazi's, and Anti-Semites would obviously have a vested interest in proving that the holocaust didn't happen, as would some religious extremists. Whilst one can't change their natures entirely, one can certainly draw their attention to factors that may colour their own opinion. No one likes to believe they are biased, and an obvious cultural or other bias, if pointed out gently can go a long way towards ameliorating the situation.

Also accept the fact that many of these people have spent a lot of time looking up obscure facts relating to their field of study, and you are NOT likely to be able to match them at that level of dogma. So don't try. Don't close your mind either, many conspiracy theorists are quite intelligent open minded people, and sometimes, what may sound like the most badly concocted story, can in fact end up being true: Toxic Sludge is Good For You

Also accept the fact that most of these people are angry at 'the system'. And these groups, or people which play such a role in 'the system' are often symbols of the daily oppression in which many theorists believe they live. The CIA, the Jews, Area 51, all of these are gateways into the psyche of the individual, and reveal subtle but important facts about the way in which they see themselves. The CIA conspiracists often believe themselves to be more intelligent than average and are frustrated by their lack of recognition. The 'Jew' conspiracists usually have economic issues, as well as a likely static social background situation. The Area 51ers feel their inspiration is being crushed by the establishment... All these are failed forms of rebel, and often they are constantly licking their wounds from a thousand different battles daily against the system in which we all live. By being part of the bandaging process within the debate, and not attacking their wounds, as most people would do, you go a long way to levelling the playing field, and ensuring a rational response.

The only other thing I would add is that it is likely to be difficult to end the debate. Once people in the audience feel like they can be heard, you could be there for hours as literally each person who's held their tongue for what they feel is forever opens up. The way in which you or indeed your chairman handles this is very important, discretion, a sense that you are listening (without being patronizing), a collecting of all the similar points and acknowledgement under one umbrella will shorten the time taken by this process quite considerably. It's a good idea to take a moment between audience members to do this, otherwise they'll all run into each other. Also if you've done your homework and worked it well in your speech, you'll have touched on almost all the points they would want to cover so the questions should be limited, as will their need to speak. When closing, BE closing, and don't raise the opportunity to re-ignite the debate.

Oh, and good luck.