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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs