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DEBATE EXCELLENCE : POINTS TO PONDER

You have probably read about the origins of debate. It’s possible they had roots in ancient Greece and India. The subjects could be philosophy, aspects of spirituality, science, politics, diplomacy, or anything else where there were multiple perspectives. Presumably, the idea was to put across a point of view, combining the elements of carefully chosen words, facts, rebuttals, passion and authenticity. You won a debate if the cumulative effect persuaded most of the audience.

This sounds reasonable.

The young debater faces an additional challenge. As the canvas of our understanding of multiple subjects expands, there is this business of personality development and adding to one’s formal credentials by participating in and “winning” debates.

Once this becomes overly competitive, it is possible that certain other idealized objectives become secondary. I suggest that these three perspectives be thought about.

  1. 1. We learn in the field of negotiations that one of the best ways to get what you want is to seem to yield to the opposite argument. We are speaking of the display of empathy to the other’s perspective. After all, all debates are not binary. There is some element of logic in what the other person is saying. It would be appropriate to acknowledge the validity of the other point politely, even if you plan to then say “but”. It makes a debater seem reasonable and cultured.
  2. 2. Body language is an intrinsic part of this exercise as non-verbal communication is critical. Facts and figures, rhetoric and carefully architected arguments can prevail over body language. An unconscious shaking of your head, a sneer, an overly relaxed posture, yawning, an unsmiling demeanour and so on, immediately detract from the potency of whatever was previously put forward. Judges watch these things via their peripheral vision and are affected by it. They convey to the judge that the debater lacks the ability to be civil and courteous. Therefore, be very aware of your body language.
  3. 3. Delivery is something to be studied. Are you speaking loudly? Too softly? Too fast? Do you stumble and use word crutches? If so then you are likely to be losing your impact on the judges, irrespective of how persuasive your arguments are. You may wish to consider recording yourself and studying how you project your voice and speak.

Winning at all costs ought not to be your objective. Outstanding delivery, positive body language and the demonstrating of genuine empathy can be your secret weapons.

You may win the battle but not the war. Likewise, you might win the debate but may lose goodwill and genuine appreciation from those whose opinion truly matters.

What do you wish for?

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Shri Vasudev Murthy is a writer, violinist, yoga enthusiast and serves as an adjunct Professor of Management at a number of top management schools. He is the Managing Partner of Focal Concepts, a leadership training firm. His background includes degrees from IIT Roorkee, Florida State University and Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX.

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