5 Steps to Winning Your Next Debate
From around the dinner table to tousles on Twitter, we engage in debate constantly on the topics we care deeply about. But people often approach debate with a predilection towards bickering and the desire to score easy points, rather than to have an open and honest conversation. So how do we bring back civil and constructive debate?
Many of these conversations devolve into name-calling and closed-minded defensiveness precisely because they aren’t real debates. Real debate – debate that is effective, honest, and respectful – is how we as people and citizens learn and grow. Check out our simple five-step approach for debating better – whether you’re joining us on the IQ2 stage or having dinner with a friend who voted for someone you didn’t.
- Listen with an open mind: The best debates are ones with a passionate exchange of ideas — not ones with witty zingers and ad hominem attacks. Keep an open mind during the discussion, make your points concisely yet vigorously, and remember to listen to your opponent. If you are successful, you will walk away with a deeper understanding of your own beliefs, as well as your opponent’s viewpoint. And who knows? Maybe you’ll see things differently.
- Stay focused on your argument: Throughout the debate, try to present clear, related points that form a compelling argument. Rely on research, statistics, and hard facts to guide your statements and keep your points focused. As the discussion wanders, try not to get distracted, and always remember to explain why the data you’re referencing supports your main argument.
- Summarize your opponent’s points: Rather than assuming what your opponent believes and why they believe it, listen intently so you can summarize their precise argument and why you disagree with it. This will elevate the debate to a more enlightened level and help better persuade the audience – or maybe even your opponent – to your side.
- Steel is more powerful than straw: The “straw man” tactic is when a debater argues in bad faith over an intentionally misrepresented point. Instead, utilize the “steel man” tactic, in which you refute the best version of your opponent’s argument. If possible, use their own supporting evidence to point out any mistakes or holes in their argument. This will help you gain credibility with, and possibly respect from, your opponent.
- Wrap it up: As the discussion comes to a close, some debaters make the mistake of over-explaining their argument. Stick with your most effective points, and do so succinctly; most closing arguments can be made within 60 to 90 seconds. Make it personal, and appeal to the audience’s (and your opponent’s) sense of morality, justice, or pathos.