Here at Ethos, we spend a lot of time talking about all the different strategies there are for winning debate rounds, and while winning shouldn’t be the only reason you debate, it’s definitely more fun when you do. In that vein, here are the 5 most important things to do in any debate round:
1. Find Common Ground
Almost all great persuaders have one thing in common: they all seem to have something in common with everyone else – at least, with the people they’re persuading. Interesting how that works, amiright?
It’s a simple fact of human nature that the more a person relates to someone else, the more that person will trust their advice or reasoning. But more importantly, finding common ground allows the persuader to show their audience that they already agree with them (the persuader). By finding common ground, a persuader finds the key to persuasion (and in doing so, becomes a master persuader…okay I’m done).
This works with both your audience and your opponents. The more common ground you can find, the easier winning will be.
With your opponents, figure out where you agree, and then work your way out from there, demonstrating how agreement with the first idea logically leads to agreement with your main point in the round. The purpose of finding common ground here is not to convince the other team that you’re right overall; instead, it’s to demonstrate the flawed thinking of your opponents and establish your own credibility.
When it comes to your audience, do the same thing, but with the end goal of persuasion. The purpose of finding common ground here is to demonstrate that your audience already agrees with your main point–they just don’t know it yet. Show how, logically, agreement with the first idea means a vote for your overall idea is a good idea overall, and pretty soon you’ll be winning rounds without ever having to convince your audience of anything new.
In policy debate, this is one of the main uses of a standard. It sets up a value your audience already believes in, making your job 10x easier.
2. Focus on the Crux
The crux is by definition the most important part of the debate round. Ignore the crux, and you’re almost guaranteed a loss. Funny how sometimes the most important things are the most often forgotten.
There really isn’t too much to say here. In most debate rounds, it’s obvious what your judge is going to vote on. When it isn’t, simply ask yourself what you would vote on if you were the judge. Then spend a lot of time winning that point.
This is less of a skill, and more of a reminder:
Focus on the crux, or you will regret it.
There. You have been warned.
3. Keep Things Simple
Ahh, simplicity. It’s something debaters often actively try to avoid, only to die by the complexity they worked so hard to build. In debate rounds, simplicity is everything. The simpler and more digestible your arguments, the more likely your audience is to vote on them.
The problem is, it can be very easy to get lost in your own argumentation. When you’ve spent as much time reading, writing, and rewriting materials as most debaters have, it can be quite difficult to simmer all that down into something your audience is able to understand with little to no prior knowledge. The struggle of overcoming the curse of knowledge is a real one. Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken.
First, just try to be conscious of keeping things simple. A little awareness can go a long way.
Second, pay attention to rounds where you can’t find a definitive reason for your loss. Usually, “unexplainable” losses can be explained very easily with overcomplexity.
Third, try summarizing an argument, idea, or entire case in one sentence. This helps you focus on the big picture, and identify the core elements that make up the whole.
Finally, if you’re still having problems, try explaining the main concepts you’re having trouble with to a total layman. When you’re finished, have them explain everything back to you. Keep doing this until what they explain back is essentially the same thing you just finished explaining to them.
4. Impact. Everything.
Impacting is soooooo important. I cannot stress this enough. Impact, impact, impact. Every time you fail to impact effectively, you fail to maximize your argument.
And, honestly, it’s not even that hard–just make sure you impact to the argument, then the standard, then the round/resolution, and that you do it after every main point you make.
What’s the number one thing you can have in a job interview? Confidence. What’s the number one skill needed for test taking? Confidence. What’s the number one thing women want? You guessed it: confidence. 😉
Confidence helps you succeed in almost every area of life, and debate is no exception. The more confident you are, the clearer you’ll think, and the more likely your audience will be to trust your logic.
Gaining confidence is no small feat, but it can be earned through research and hard work. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you’ll be in your arguments, and the more drills you do, the more confident you’ll be in your skillset.
Confidence, coupled with the other four keys, is the stuff of debate legends. Believe it or not, it’s what wins debate rounds. And it can be what wins rounds for you too.
As DJ Khaled would say, (and has said many, many times): “I’VE GOT THE KEYS!”
And now, so do you.
So get out there and win some debate rounds.
This isn’t just for novice to intermediate. If more seniors embraced these fabulous keys, it would be a better world. Great article, Noah!