Category Archives: public speaking

Background of Debates

Debating has a history as long as the history of man. The is evidence that debating dates back at least 4,000 years. From Egypt to china and even in poetry such as Homer’s “Iliad”  one can find examples of debating. Academic debating is believed to have started about 2,500 years ago with the work of Pythagoras.

We will look at the role of culture in debating as well as debate’s role in academics in the US along with some of the benefits of debating.

Debating and Culture

For whatever reason, debating is a key component of Western civilization and in particular Democratic civilizations. Speculating on why can go on forever. However, one key component for the emphasis on debating in the west is the epistemological view of truth.

In many western cultures, there is an underlying belief that truth is relative. As such, when two sides are debating the topic it is through the combine contributions of both arguments that some idea of truth is revealed. In many ways, this is a form of the Hegelian dialectic in which thesis and antithesis make syntheses. The synthesis is the truth and can only be found through a struggle of opposing relative positions.

In other cultures, such as Asian, what is true is much more stable and agreed upon as unchanging. This may be a partial reason for why debating is not as strenuously practice in non-western context. Confucianism in particular focus on stability, tradition, and rigid hierarchy. These are concepts there often considered unthinkable in a Western culture.

Debating in the United States

In the United States, applied debating has been of the country from almost the beginning. However, academic debating has been present since at least the 18th century. It was at the beginning of the 20th century that academic debating begin to be taken much more seriously.  Intercollegiate debating during this time lead to the development of several debate associations that had various rules and ways to support the growth of debating.

Benefits of Debating

Debating has been found to develop argumentation  skills, critical thinking, and enhance general academic performance. Through  have to gather information and synthesis it in a clear way seems to transfer when students study for other academic subjects. In addition, even though debating is about sharing one side of an argument it also improves listening skills. This is because you have to listen in order to point out weaknesses in the oppositions position.

Debating also develops the ability to thinking quickly. If the ability to think is not develop a student will struggle with refutation and rebuttals which are key components of debating. Lastly, debating sharpens the judgment of participants. It i important to be able to judge the strengths and weaknesses of various aspects of an argument in order to provide a strong case for our against an idea or action and this involves sharp judgment.

Conclusion

With its rich history and clear benefits. Debating will continue to be a part of the academic experience of  many students. The skills that are developed are practical and useful for many occupations found outside of an academic setting.

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Types of Debates

Debating has a long history with historical evidence of this practice dating back 4,000 year. Debating was used in ancient Egypt, China, and Greece. As such, people who participate in debates are contributing to a rich history.

In this post, we will take a look at several types of debates that are commonly used today. The types of debates we will cover are as follows.

  • Special
  • Judicial
  • Parliamentary
  • Non-formal
  • Academic

Special Debate

A special debate is special because it has distinct rules  for a specific occasion. Examples include the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. These debates were so influential that there is a debate format today called the Lincoln-Douglas format. This format often focuses on moral issues and has a specific use of time for the debaters that is distinct.

Special debates are also commonly used for presidential debates. Since there is no set format, the debaters literally may debate over the rules of the actual debate. For example, the Bush vs Kerry debates of 2004 had some of the following rules agreed to by both parties prior to the debate.

  1. Height of the lectern
  2. type of stools used
  3. Nature of the audience

In this example above, sometimes the rules have nothing to do with the actual debate but the atmosphere/setting around it.

Judicial Debate

Judicial debates happen in courts judicial like settings. The goal is to prosecute or defend individuals for some sort of crime. For lawyers in training or even general students, moot court debates are used to hone debating skills and mock trial debates are also used.

Parliamentary Debate

The parliamentary debate purpose s to support or attack potential legislation. Despite its name, the parliamentary debate format is used in the United States at various levels of government. There is a particular famous variation of this called the Asian parliamentary debate style.

Non-formal Debate

A non-formal debate lacks the rules of the other styles mentioned. In many ways, any form of disagreeing that does not have a structure for how to present one’s argument can fall under the category of non-formal. For example, children arguing with parents could be considered non-formal as well as classroom discussion on a controversial issue such as immigration.

This form of debate is probably the only one that everyone is familiar with and has participated in. However, it is probably the hardest to develop skills in due to the lack of structure.

Academic Debate

The academic debate is used to develop the educational skills of the participants. Often the format deployed is taken from applied debates. For example, many academic debates use the Lincoln Douglas format. There are several major Debate organizations that promote debate competitions between school’s. The details of this will be expanded in a future post.

Conclusion

This post provided an overview of different styles of debating that are commonly employed. Understanding this can be important because how you present and defend a point of view depends on the rules of engagement.

Critical Thinking and Debating

Debating is a commonly used activity for developing critical thinking skills. The question that this post wants to answer is how debating develops critical thinking. This will be achieved through discussing the following…

  • Defining debate
  • Debating in the past
  • Debating today

Defining Debate

A debate is a process of defending or attacking a proposition through the use of reasoning and judgement. The goal is to go through a process of argumentation in which good reasons are shared with an audience. Good reasons are persuasive reasons that have a psychological influence on an audience. Naturally, what constitutes a good reason varies from context to context. Therefore, a good debater always keeps in mind who their audience is.

One key element of debating is what is missing. Technically, debating is an intellectual experience and not an emotional one. This has been lost sight of over time as debaters and public speakers have learned that emotional fanaticism is much more influential in moving the masses the deliberate thinking.

Debating in the Past

Debating was a key tool among the ancient Greeks. Aristotle provides us with at least four purposes for debating. The first purpose of debating was that debating allows people to see both sides of an argument. As such, debating dispels bias and allows for more carefully defined decision-making. One of the  characteristics  of critical thinking is the ability to see both sides of an argument or to think empathically rather than only sympathetically.

A second purpose of debating is for instructing the public. Debates for experts to take complex ideas and reduce to simple ones for general consumption. Off course, this has been take to extremes through sound bites and memes in the 21st century but learning how to communicate clearly is yet another goal of critical thinking.

A third purpose of debating is to prevent fraud and injustice. Aristotle was assuming that there was truth and that truth was more powerful the injustice. These are ideas that have been lost with time as we now live in a postmodern world. However, Aristotle believed that people needed to know how to argue for truth and how to communicate it with others. Today, experiential knowledge, and emotions are the primary determiners for what is right and wrong rather than cold truth.

A final purpose of debating is debating in order to defend one’s self. Debating is an intellectual way of protecting someone as fighting is a physical way of protecting someone. There is an idiom in English that states that “the pen is mightier than the swords.” Often physical fighting comes after several intellectual machinations by leaders who find ways to manipulate things. Skilled debater can  move millions whereas a strong solider can only do a limited amount of damage alone.

Debating Today

One aspect of debating that is not covered above is the aspect of time when it comes to debating. Debating is a way to develop critical thinking but it is also a way of developing real-time critical thinking. In others words, not only do you have to prepare your argument and ideas before a debate you also have to respond and react during a debate. This requires thinking on your feet in front of an audience while still trying to persuasive and articulate. Not an easy task for most people.

Debating is often a lost art as people have turned to arguing instead. Arguing often involves emotional exchanges rather than rational thought. Some have stated that when debating disappears so does freedom of speech. In  many ways, as topics and ideas become more emotionally charged there is greater and greater restriction  on  what can be said so that no one is “offended”. Perhaps Aristotle was correct about his views on debating and injustice.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Motivating people for change is an extremely difficult thing too. Alan Monroe developed a five-step process called “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence” in order to do this. His process follows the psychological steps of persuasion.

This post will explain the five-steps of Monroe’s motivated sequence. The steps are as follows…

  1. Attention
  2. Need
  3. Satisfaction
  4. Visualization
  5. Action

Attention

Attention is about getting the audience to focus on the message. This can involve explaining the relevance of the topic, posing a question, and or telling a story.

This is a critical step as a poor beginning can lose the audience. If the audience losses interests in the topic it weakens the rest of the persuasion process.

As an example, if my topic is smoking and I want to have people vote for a no-smoking ordinance. I may get the attention of the audience by sharing a story of a close relative who had a horrible death due to smoking. Such  a moving story would gain attention

Need

After gaining the attention of the audience, it is necessary to establish the need. The need is the problem that must be solved. You want to get the audience concerned about the problem so that they care about a solution.

The need can be established through the use of examples such as statistics, quotes, illustrations, testimonies etc. You want the audience to “see” the problem and be convinced that action is necessary.

To establish the need in my non-smoking ordinance speech, I might share statistics on smoking use and the health consequences. However, I would need specific local examples and stats due to the nature of the topic. Vague examples of smoking affecting the world lack relevance for people. Local examples of smoking’s impact would probably be more powerful

Satisfaction

Satisfaction is the explanation of the solution to the problem. Here, you share how your plan will solve the problem. You must provide a clear explanation of the solution in order for the audience to understand.

For the no-smoking ordinance, I might share how much of a statistical impact a no smoking ordinance would have. It would also be beneficial to examine the economic impact as well.

Visualization

This step is highly related to the “Satisfaction” step. The difference is that your examples are stronger and more visual in their impact. You want the audience to see what you are explaining.

For my no-smoking ordinance, I might use visual language about people no longer visiting the doctor and experiencing long bitter deaths. I might indicate the benefits for the family and children.

Action

Action is where you tell the audience what you want them to do. For my no smoking ordinance  I want them to vote yes. In order to get the action, you want the audience needs to be convinced that your plan contains the needed answer to the problem.

Conclusion

Monroe’s motivated sequence is a time tested approach to persuasion. There are many commercials that have employed this approach today that are available on the internet.

Ordering Main Points in Writing and Speaking

Writing and speaking both involved organization. A paper and a presentation need to have a clear sense of direction for the benefit of the audience. In this post, we will look at different strategic ways to organize the main points of a paper/presentation. Specifically, we will look at the following ways to organize the main points of a speech.

  • Topical order
  • Chronological order
  • Causal order
  • Problem-solution order
  • Spatial order

Topical Order

Topical order involves taking the topic of your speech and dividing it into several subtopics. The subtopics are related to the topic as they come from it. For example, if you are giving a speech on the topic of basketball you may have the following subtopics.

  • The history
  • The rules
  • The greatest players

In this example, the order of the points does not matter. This is the defining characteristic of topical order. The order the topics come are not important

Chronological Order

Chronological order involves a time sequence. In this approach, the order matters a great deal. A paper/speech that is focused on history or events would often use a chronological order. You use chronological order if putting things in place by time will help to make your paper/speech clearer to your readers.

Causal Order

Causal order indicates a cause-effect relationship in a paper/speech. For example, if your speech/paper is on the price of tuition you might make the claim that rising tuition is making it difficult for students to go to school. This main idea has two main points that are in causal order.

  • Cause-Tuition is rising
  • Effect-Students cannot afford to study

It is also possible to state this in the order of effect-cause as seen below.

  • Effect-Students cannot afford to study
  • Because-Tuition is rising

Causal order is useful for indicating to an audience why something is happening.

Problem-Solution Order

Problem-solution order is similar to cause-effect. The difference is that in a problem-solution approach you indicate what is wrong and then explain how to fix it. With cause-effect you only explain what happened with providing answers. For example, if the problem is that tuition is rising, you may suggest that the solution is to increase access to government loans. The problem-solution is as follows.

  • Problem-Students cannot study because of rising tuition
  • Solution-Increase access to government loans

Spatial Order

Spatial order is about location and direction. This involves such terms as up/down, left/right, top/bottom, north, south, etc. This is a highly descriptive order that allows the audience to have a first-hand experience of what the writer/speaker is sharing. For example, if you are speaking/writing about a city, you might divide the main points by geographic regions such as North, South, East, and West.

Conclusion

Organization is a critical key to success in communication. Whether writing or speaking it is important to develop a strategy for ordering the points you intend to share.

Finding a Topic and Purpose in Writing/Speaking

Although not exactly the same writing and public speaking having many things in common. This is especially true during preparation for a paper or presentation. The goal here is not really to compare and contrast writing and public speaking but to point out tools that can be used in both disciplines. In this post, we will cover the following

  • Choosing a topic of a paper/presentation
  • Determining the purpose paper/presentation

Choosing a Topic

The topic is whatever you are going to write or speak about. In reality, there are two types of topics

  1. Topics you already know a lot about
  2. Topics you know very little about

Which of these two choices you pick depends on the audience of your paper/presentation.

Brainstorming is one way of picking a topic. This involves several different techniques such as make webs, clusters or even performing an internet search.The way you pick a topic is not as important as finding something to develop for your audience.

Determining the Purpose

There are two levels at which the purpose is determined, the general and the specific purpose. The general purpose of a paper/presentation is the overall goal of the paper/presentation. There are many different purposes but two common ones are…

  • to inform
  • to persuade

Informing involves teaching the audience about something. For example, you might write a paper on cellphone apps. In this approach, you are teaching the audience about apps.

To persuade means to try and convince people or change their opinion about something. For example, you might have the purpose of showing readers what the best apps for English are. this involves not only presenting information but trying to convince people about what the best English apps are.

Once a general purpose has been determined it is important to develop a specific purpose. The specific purpose is a sentence in which you state what you are going to do in the paper or presentation. In writing, this is also often called the thesis statement.

For example, I might write or develop a speech in which my general purpose is to inform. My specific purpose is to inform the audience about different types of English apps. As you can see, the specific purpose includes the general purpose of to inform or to persuade. Below is a break down of the example in this paragraph

Topic: English Apps

General purpose: To inform

Specific purpose: To inform the audience about different English Apps

There are some tips to developing purpose statements. One, they are never expressed as a question because a purpose statement answers questions. Two, avoid figurative or technical language because they need to be as clear as possible. Lastly, a purpose statement should only be one sentence and deal with one idea as this helps with clarity.

Conclusion. 

The topic and purpose of a paper/presentation are critical for you to know and develop in advance. This sets the stage for clear communication with whoever you are engaging with your content.