US Presidential Debate Skills Apply at Home, Office

Stand-ins for moderator Jim Lehrer (C), Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and President Barack Obama (R), run through a rehearsal for the first presidential debate on Wednesday at the University of Denver, inStand-ins for moderator Jim Lehrer (C), Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and President Barack Obama (R), run through a rehearsal for the first presidential debate on Wednesday at the University of Denver, in
x
Stand-ins for moderator Jim Lehrer (C), Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and President Barack Obama (R), run through a rehearsal for the first presidential debate on Wednesday at the University of Denver, in
Stand-ins for moderator Jim Lehrer (C), Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and President Barack Obama (R), run through a rehearsal for the first presidential debate on Wednesday at the University of Denver, in
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney are facing off in three political debates ahead of the November 6 election. While the stakes are high for the politicians seeking the nation’s highest office, two debate experts at Wake Forest University in North Carolina say the techniques used in the presidential debates have practical applications at home, school and work.

Be prepared

Know your facts and be able to articulate them in a “concise, short and still substantive way,” said Allan Louden, chair of the university’s Department of Communication.

“Part of what people judge debates on is a person's … knowledge,” he said. “So there is a judgment which says, ‘This person is knowledgeable and has a handle and control of an issue which is independent of their stance.’"

Know your audience

To win a debate, you have to know whose favor you’re trying to win.

“In everyday argumentation, some people think that logic alone will prevail when sometimes that's not the most persuasive form of argument in a given situation,” said Jarrod Atchison, the director of Wake Forest’s debate program. “So you have to know your audience and what they consider to be relevant information for the debate at hand.”

Agree to agree

The best debaters, Atchison said, are the people who can find principles they can get their opponents to agree to.

“The easier you can find a universal principle that everyone in the room, from the audience members to your opponent, can agree to, if you can use that principle to argue from, then you don't have to fight the fight about the basics of the evidence that are relevant at hand,” he said.

Listen closely

Another winning technique is to listen really well to your debate partner so that your response is informed.

“What frustrates an audience is when someone doesn't take the time to trace the evolution of an argument because they're so fixated on repeating their perspective. They don't come to find the points of agreement which are then crucial to evolving the argument," Atchison said.

Don’t pander

Don't underestimate your audience, whether it’s a boss, a romantic partner or a rival. Louden said a weak debater will pander, underestimating the audience’s ability to follow the arguments and to be impressed by the debaters' knowledge and interchange.

That said, an effective technique is arguing through the lens of your audience's perspective, rather than from your own.

“The best message is that which solicits the person to whatever part of their cognitive makeup says that this is a good idea,” Louden said. “Typically people see things from a point of view, so you pick a language which is in their language.”

Never say never

Atchison recommends avoiding the absolutes – words like “always” and “never.”

“Nothing draws the ire of an audience than an overstated claim. Because then all the other person has to do is to make a little bit more nuanced argument about where under certain conditions a particular argument or Plan A makes sense versus Plan B,”
he said.

If you feel your advantage slipping away and see your opponent gaining ground, be willing to acknowledge what parts of your opponent's arguments are persuasive.
Once you do that, Atchison said, explain why your position is still more persuasive in the end.

If you’re not a strong debater, don’t lose hope. Atchison insists everyone can improve their argumentation skills. Try the basic skill of “switch-side debating,” where you basically stake a position and then argue from the opposite side.

Pick your battles

Also, he suggests evaluating your own arguments in action.

“That can be something as self-reflective as sitting back and asking yourself, 'How did that conversation go? Was it where I wanted it to end up? Were there moments when I found myself acting reactionary rather than conceding that my opponent may have had something to say there?'” he said.

That is not just a recipe for a winning debate, but even a winning marriage. Atchison’s wife is one of the top debaters in the country, so he has learned to choose his battles wisely.

“The best debaters know what arguments are worthy to argue about,” he said. “And so we find that oftentimes we don't have as many arguments as our peers because we know what the nuclear options look like.”

Good advice - whether you're running for president or husband of the year.

Listen to VOA's Kate Woodsome and Avi Arditti discuss the power of persuasion with debate experts Allan Louden and Jarrod Atchison.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs