5 tips for debating like a champion

By David Park, Co-President, McMaster Debating Society , October 21, 2016

After watching the presidential debates this year, it is clear that both candidates (and their nationwide audience) could benefit from the use of a few debate tips and tactics.

It was difficult to select what debate tips I wanted to share, considering that the presidential debates are very different from university debates (the presidential debates are more like a fiery interview of two people). But I watched the debates and wrote down a few tips:

1. Make sure to stick to the point. This is a very simple tip but it is often ignored in the current political debates. It is okay to have a lot of analysis on a point, as long as everything you say cohesive and relevant. It is frustrating and unproductive to have a long-winded ramble that goes on multiple tangents.

2. It’s not enough to say your opponent is wrong. You have to have your own stance and your own arguments on the issues discussed in a debate. We often see Donald Trump on the offense, attacking Hillary without persuasively justifying his own stances. These are debates, not critiques of a single debater.

3. Engage with the other debater. While Trump often plays offensively, he does not always actually engage with Hillary’s points.For example, when Hillary claims her support for the second amendment but also suggests new regulations on gun control, saying “I strongly support the second amendment” is not a meaningful refutation. Trump should at least explain why any new regulations is a bad idea.

4. Have accurate characterizations of people and situations. When you have an inaccurate characterization of group of people, any points you make off of this characterization loses persuasiveness. Also, you may insult those you wrongly describe.

For example, Trump talks about abortion using an extreme-case scenario where a woman might decide to have an abortion “the last day before birth.” Getting an abortion is not an easy last-minute decision and it is not a painless experience. Almost all abortions occur within the first trimester of pregnancy. It is easy to talk about the most extreme-case scenarios to bolster our points but it is a weak tactic.

5. Avoid hyperboles. Hyperboles are stylistically unattractive. They make you sound unrealistic which is an obvious issue if you are in a serious debate. Saying “This candidate negotiated a deal that turned out to be very damaging to our economy” is more palatable than “This candidate made the worst deal in the history of all deals ever made.” This is a pretty simple tip.

You can learn more about the McMaster Debating Society here.