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Debating for beginners


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A overview of how, when, and why to debate for beginners with no formal training or prior experience of debating, written by Tony Koutsoumbos of the Great Debaters Club

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Debating for beginners

  1. 1. Debating for Beginners By Tony Koutsoumbos Director of the Great Debaters Club
  2. 2. Purpose
  3. 3. What is a debate?
  4. 4. Definition The presentation and examination of two or more opposing viewpoints on a specific proposition with the aim of assessing their compatibility and, if necessary, choosing between them. Distinct from a negotiation, which aims to establish agreement or consensus, and a discussion, which facilitates the exchange of viewpoints without requiring a decision at the end of it.
  5. 5. In other words… NOT
  6. 6. When to debate Situation and purpose Most appropriate form of dialogue • Brainstorming, exploring options, conducting a listening exercise to see where everyone stands • Discussion – hear everyone out - no need to make anyone pin their colours to the mast just yet • Gathering evidence, fact-finding, surveying expert opinion, researching case-studies • Interview – focus on asking good questions and collecting as much data as possible • Comparing options, testing assumptions, making decisions, and justifying consequences • Debate – decision must be based on accurate portrayal of best case for each available option • Securing the support of those who lost the debate and ironing out the final details • Negotiation – goal is to build sufficient consensus to ensure decision is implemented and honoured • Resolving disputes and repairing relationships to allow for process to be repeated in future • Mediation – judge the dialogue on how it is conducted rather than how it is concluded
  7. 7. Environment
  8. 8. Setting rules for structured debates Obstacle in everyday disagreement Solution in structured debating • Peer pressure • Dissent not just permitted but actively encouraged • Bias or parochialism • Speakers required to defend positions other than their own • Intimidation • Protected speaking time and personal attacks forbidden • Deviation • Moderator to intervene if and when speakers go off topic • Repercussions • Designation of a specific forum as safe space for debate
  9. 9. Setting standards for structured debates Stage 1 Have both sides addressed the issues at the heart of the debate? If No Debate inconclusive as both sides are talking about different issues. If Yes Proceed to Stage 2 Stage 2 Have both sides made a persuasive case for their own positions? If No Debate inconclusive if audience don’t consider either side to be credible. If Yes Proceed to Stage 3 Stage 3 Have both sides analysed each other's evidence and reasoning? If No Debate inconclusive if false claims and logical fallacies escape scrutiny. If Yes Proceed to Stage 4 Stage 4 Have both sides compared each other's positions with their own? If No Debate inconclusive if it is unclear which side has made the best case. If Yes Proceed to vote
  10. 10. The ultimate goal? Not to produce unanimous agreement But to produce a decision that everyone can accept as fair and legitimate even if they disagree with it aka DEMOCRACY
  11. 11. Agency
  12. 12. Building a case – the 3 Ps Presentation Position Philosophy
  13. 13. Position – clarifying your stance Problem solution outcome Place the debate in context and explore why a decision is needed at all, the viability of the options available, and the likely consequences. Burden of proof Sum up the points that the case for change will need to prove and that the case against it will in turn need to disprove. Points of clash List the strongest arguments for and against on each point and then decide which ones to concede and which to contest.
  14. 14. Philosophy – justifying your position Framing the debate Clarify what both sides assume to be true and how this influences what they consider to be the top priorities when making this decision. Connecting principles to position Test the logical consistency of each side’s position by applying their philosophy to the specific circumstances of the debate. Logical fallacies Test the logical consistency of individual arguments by screening them for fallacies that prey on widely held cognitive biases.
  15. 15. Presentation – persuading your audience Ethos – watch example video Presenting yourself or your sources as a trusted authority, especially if what you are proposing is counter-intuitive or unconventional. Pathos – watch example video Helping your audience to empathise with others by sharing experiences that help them to see the world from someone else’s point of view . Logos – watch example video Using agreed facts or modes of reasoning that lead your audience to conclude for themselves that your argument must be true.
  16. 16. Debate strategy – the iDEAs methodology Opening speakers Middle speakers Closing speakers introduce your arguments Define your position and burden of proof Define the points your side still needs to prove Define the conflict at the heart of the debate Explain the reasoning behind your position Explain how they support your side’s position Explain the position of both sides on that conflict Analyse the conflict at the heart of the debate Analyse the arguments made by the other side Analyse the comparative strength of both positions summarise your arguments