Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

Monday, November 25, 2013

Key elements of a good debate

Most of Saturday was spent judging an inter school debate competition. The topic of the  debate was- 'Empowerment of women- a myth'. 57 teams participated , each team being made up of two speakers- for and against the motion. I had vowed to myself at the outset that I would do justice to my role as a jury member, that at no point would I adjudge with any prejudice, that I would not allow ennui to set in etc .All very holier than thou, but believe me , it is very difficult to sit through a 4 hour long debate session , in which the bar has not been raised by most of the contestants. At a certain point , even with the best of the aforementioned intentions, a jury member does tune out, or at the very most  listens with only half an ear.I found myself  alternately doodling or writing some points in between speakers, and to confess , sometimes even while a speaker was debating. The experience made me realize that most of the contestants were not aware, and even more sadly, had not been made aware of the key ingredients of being a good debater. 

Let's have a look at the parameters one should keep in mind when participating in a debate.

  • Content is King  Content is the substance of any debate. A good idea is to divide the  matter into arguments and examples. An argument is made up of premises  leading to your main claim. An example is a fact or piece of evidence which supports an argument-  "“History gives enough evidence to; ...”   Relevant examples should be used .When  presenting a particular argument make sure that the argument is logical (makes sense) and that it  clearly links your stand and the argument, and  the argument and the examples that are being  used to support it.  A  good idea would be  to choose an effective order for your arguments, rather than simply presenting them in the order they occur to you. If each argument builds  on the preceding one , then  start with  the most basic argument and continue  from there. If the  arguments used  are  independent, start and finish with a strong argument. 
  •  A good debate has points which  are relevant to the resolution.One may use  quotations  effectively and  persuasively as a  means of documenting one's point. A word of caution. While surfing the net for good quotes settle on one that most likely will not be used by others. The point is - do not use an obviously good quote or a quote of a famous personality in history. An example to illustrate this  point is: In the debate I was judging Jawahar Lal Nehrus quote " you can judge the state of a nation by the status of its women",  was used by no less than 10 contestants!
  •  Use statistics intelligently but do not  overuse them. Also, do not use questionable sources.  
  • Make a few, well supported points rather than many  unsupported assertions.
  •  Do not exaggerate at any point or  use rhetorical questions. Adding humour to your debate is a difficult act to pull off , and one must remember that the  purpose  of a debate is to persuade, not to entertain.
  • Use  points vividly and concretely and  be concise. Assume that the audience is intelligent but not very knowledgeable about the   subject.
  • Give a good Introduction -   In presenting the  introduction, you should aim to win  the attention of the audience, unify their thoughts, and set the tone for the debate. You may make your  introduction interesting by  using any of the following :
  1. Asking  a question, or series of questions. This will arouse interest in your speech.
  2. Telling a short anecdote that demonstrates your case .
  3. Making a historical, personal or timely reference. These will  adds authority, sincerity or an appreciation in the audience that you know your stuff.. For example, “In the first war of Independence in  1857, such and such happened ...” or “ The national dailies are full of the news of the treaty...”. 
  4. Using an analogy that continues through the debate . This is a very  effective method of holding attention.
  • Summary:  It is important that you both  summarise and conclude your debate. A summary reviews the important arguments you made and the stand you took.  A conclusion is an inference drawn from the summary.The summary should be short.
  • Conclusion: You should ideally conclude by using a quotation  or an  appropriate phrase which  leaves your audience on your side. The idea is to  conclude strongly and to  leave a positive impression. The conclusion may be something similar to “I expect that you too, Mr. Speaker, have come to the  conclusion that this resolution should be defeated.”  You may also only say “Thank you” , or " I rest my case". Whatever track you use, don't just fade away-  you must end in a manner that shows you know what you were saying was correct  and also that  what you said made a lot of sense.

  • Body language The best body language is the one which shows you are comfortable standing in front of the audience, you know what you are speaking, you know you are making sense and that you are not faking.
  • The best tip is:  Do not read out  your speech . Debating is an exercise in lively interaction between the speaker and the audience. One may use cue cards- but only as a point of  reference.The idea is to maintain eye contact with the audience and  hold their attention. If  a speech is read out  the audience  loses concentration very quickly.
  • Voice modulation is also impactful.   Speak clearly and forcefully, but do not shout. Modulate   the  volume, pitch and speed  for  important points . A sudden loud burst will hold the  audience's attention while a spell  of quiet speaking can draw your audience in and make them listen carefully..
  • Make hand gestures with confidence and not loosely. If you want to move about a little bit do so but remember you are not taking a walk in the park. If you are going to stand still, do so with confidence. Don't let your body betray any nervousness you may be feeling. Do not fiddle with your hair, your scarf or with anything. This will be construed as a sure sign of nervousness.
  • Diction and Pronunciation Use words that you can pronounce correctly.Write your own speech so that you use words you are comfortable with. there is nothing to be gained from using big words you don't understand or cannot pronounce.
  •  Saviore Faire and ability to adlib : Most  debates are on  current issues  so it is good for any debater to be  informed of what is happening  and what are the issues involved. Watching the news, reading newspapers and magazines definitely  helps . Keeping up and being informed will be of help if , for one reason or the other, one gets stuck at some point . Because you know what is trending you can save your face, and the day, by speaking impromtu and adlibbing where required.
  • Organization Structure your  speech well.  Have a clear idea of your own arguments and the examples you will be using to support those arguments. As you speak make a clear division between arguments and let the audience know when you are moving from one argument to the next. The key thing to remember is that what you are saying will be heard by the audience only  once and so it  is  essential that your argument be clear and well organized. The audience  should be able to answer the following questions after your speech:
         What was your main claim?
         How did you support your main claim ?
         Did you   rebut the oppositions  arguments effectively?

Finally, there is much to be said for being well prepared. Run through your speech as many times as is possible .Even better, try and speak it out in front of family/ friends or people whose feedback will be valuable and honest.

Happy debating !

No comments:

Post a Comment