Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to lose in a debate

When I first thought about starting a blog, I told myself that I didn't want this to become 'just' another political blog. I made that decision based on several reasons:
  1. I'm neither politically astute nor aware ('blur' comes immediately to mind) -- therefore the analysis I come up with would be no better than coffee shop talk
  2. I don't really follow the scene keenly and don't have the scoop on anything -- so I'd only be repeating stale news, and/or parroting the opinion of some other blogger I happen to agree with
  3. Though it may be fun to find a soapbox and moan a bit every now and then, I don't really have much value to contribute that the other, far more capable political commentators out there, haven't already covered

So, I decided to become just another technology blogger instead. It is likely all the above 3 points are applicable to me still (just replace politics with technology), but the thing is, I do have fun doing this. And that makes a difference -- to me! :)

BUT today, I thought I'd do something entirely different, and talk about debating!

If you are Malaysian, and have been reading the papers or watching TV at least once in these past few weeks, you would probably have guessed by now that my title for this post was prompted by the live telecast debate between our Malaysian Information Minister, Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek (SC), and the opposition de-facto leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (AI). The topic surrounds the recent increase of petrol and diesel prices in Malaysia.

So in line with my self-made promise, I will steer clear on the political issue raised, and instead take a look at the debate techniques employed by the 2 debators. Since I'm no professional debator, I researched the online resources on what makes a good debate.

Wikipedia summarised it well, by saying this:

"Though logical consistency, factual accuracy as well as some emotional
to audience are important elements of the art of persuasion, in
debating, one side often prevail over the other side by presenting
superior "context" and/or framework of the issue."

The points I highlighted above are the same things that I, as a casual listener. would either consciously or sub-consciously be looking out for in determining the merits of each side.

Ezine@rticles, in their article discussing Tips and Tricks of debating, listed down some key things that should or should not be done. Below are these 6 points plus my personal take on what I heard from each of the speakers.

At this point, I must apologise up front that if you did not witness the debate, the points below would be quite meaningless. I do hope I'll be able to get a copy of the transcript eventually, and post a link to it. In trying to keep the post as short as possible, I've tried not to quote specific examples... leaving it to you to access the debate transcript yourself. Until that is posted, here's an excerpt by Anilnetto(you'll have to read it bottom-up as it is in reverse chronological order!).

1) You are always right - and your opposition is always wrong
  • SC - Focused primarily on why he thought AI was wrong, but at the expense of having sufficient points backing up why he felt he was right
  • AI - Started by stating why his opponent's policies were wrong, proposed a solution, and positioned a list of initiatives as 'factual' and 'practical' ways of realizing his solution (i.e. to proof he was right)
  • Winner: AI - well structured and supported arguments; SC should have changed tactics once the basis of his attacks were no longer valid when AI set a different stage he seemed unprepared for
2) Strong central argument
  • SC - Prepared argument on the assumption that AI would propose dipping into Petronas funds, and built a list of counter points on why that would be a bad idea. Chose not to cover the point on why the price hike was a good idea
  • AI - Leave Petronas' coffers intact, but get funding through streamlining inefficient & corrupt processes. The sudden price hike is damaging to the economy and will lead to recession
  • Winner: AI - Coherent message and stayed on his intended topic throughout. SC was trying to reconcile his prepared arguments with AI's central points, resulting in a loose collage of attacks that do not always support his central point
3) Rebut - at every chance, to prove the opposition wrong
  • SC - Left some of AI's points unchallenged. The ones that he did rebut, he misquoted AI or had placed some points out of context. A panel speaker supporting SC too seemed more eager in joining in the rebuttal and looked like he had forgotten his intended role
  • AI - Parried the ones he didn't want to respond to; pandared to the audience by playing up some of SC's misquotes; pounded on those points key to his central message.
  • Winner: I think its getting pointless trying to keep score here. All of us listening in on the debate were judges, and we'd have formed our decisions -- so it doesn't really matter who I thought won.
4) If you need more time, summarize
  • SC - Generally kept good time, although in 2 instances, struggled to reach his intended conclusion.
  • AI - Constructed arguments into modular structures that worked as standalone points. Also seemed to somehow anticipate the bell and be able to conclude just in time. Used summaries to reinforce key messages.
5) Never insult the opposition
  • SC - Focused a fair amount of time on attacking the speaker instead of the argument. This approach drew boos from the audience in a few instances. These attacks also drew focus away from speaker's central points and his rebuttals to AI's arguments
  • AI - Played up the fact that he was being attacked personally, to his advantage. Dabbled with a few hints and innuendoes but steered clear of outright attacks. Sneaky!
6) Have passion, speak from the heart
  • SC - Had come with a set of well resharsed arguments, but seemed like he was more intent on getting those messages covered, than to engage the audience with his points. Situation worsened when it became clear that AI's arguments had taken a different line from the onset, but SC soldiered on along his planned line of attack, further alienating the audience to his cause
  • AI - Used a series of repeated points and summaries to reinforce his central message, thereby conveying a sense of urgency of his message. Then almost breaks the fourth wall by stating to the audience, the debate was about the people's plight, and not him or his political aspirations. That helped convey a sense of passion or personal attachment the speaker had for the subject
So there it is, my hastily typed 2c's worth on the debate. On a side note, I do hope that we get to see more of such live debates, although, from the less than stellar performance by SC this round, I doubt there will be another round of anybody versus AI any time soon!

Learn more about debating.

1 commented:

CheeWee said...

learnt something new, good tips - aint no debater, so come in handy mana tau hv to debate in future! he!he!he!