I spent a few years in high school on the debate team. My event of choice was Mock Congress, and I was never particularly any good. You see, in mock congress, the style of the event is much less about debate and more about your ability to confidently give speeches (factual or otherwise), and politically maneuver to be elected to chairmanship so that you could run the meeting. These concepts sailed over my very naive and idealistic teenage mind. It was this, in part, that caused me to become disaffected and quit the team. However I’m older now, and a bit more cynical and perceptive. Luckily in my crotchety age I’ve been able to apply the things I learned in high-school, to my professional career in order to push my opinions and influence decisions. I hope to impart what little knowledge I have to you my glib friends, in this and possibly more articles. Why? Because weather you like them or not, decisions will be made around you that impact you. What color to paint the house. What language to implement the newest management request. Whether to leave a website and form your own libertarian website. Decisions will be made, and if you care about them, then having the best tools to ensure a favorable outcome will always be helpful.
The most effective tool for winning a debate
First thing you need to know is that a true debate is not about convincing the person you are arguing against to agree with you. It’s about convincing the spectators that you have the better argument. So the key to winning a debate is remembering your audience, and gearing any argument, logic or rhetorical tool towards your audience. That being said, that is not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to disucss a trick that you can use that will help you be a better debater (perhaps even a master debater?). That tool keeping a record of the flow of a debate.
When I go to meetings, especially those where I know, or expect there will be some debate about a decision, I make sure to have a notebook and a pen. I’ll keenly listen to any points people will make and jot down what I understand as their key arguments. Rather than trying to come up with rebuttals in the moment, I try to keep attention to the arguments being laid out. If something jumps out at me as a weakness in the argument or a counter-point, I’ll jot it down next where i wrote down their initial point. Then when i have the opportunity to speak, I use my notes to make sure i hit on the key points that respond to those presented by the opposition.
Keeping the flow of the debate is just what it might sound like. It means listening to your opponents arguments, understanding them and recording them. This allows you to quickly understand what your opponent is putting up as his defense and serves as a tool to help collect your rebuttals. It makes sure you don’t let your opponent get away with a stolen base, and finally it helps you keep the debate on track, and keep your opponent from pivoting without you realizing it. But perhaps most importantly it helps you recognize that the other side has a point, and that you understand where they are coming from, but then explain why they are wrong/misguided/misunderstanding what the situation is. This does a lot to endear you and your point to the audience. No one likes a pig headed know-it-all who ignores any argument or data point that is in contrast to their views. By actually listening to your opponent, you are better able to control the debate, and ensure that your views are given the best visibility.
And That’s it. It’s a really simple technique, but I’ve had an incredible amount of success when employing it. Mostly because it helps keep you organized and lets you be above the rush of the debate, and not carried away in the currents of it.
Of course, maybe I’m wrong. And this isn’t an important tool or even one anyone should use. Feel free to debate me about it in the comments. And let me know if you would like any more possible articles.