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How To Win A Debate

October 2016Words by Mr Tom Ford

Mr Donald Trump and Ms Hillary Clinton at the Presidential Debate, Hempstead, New York, 26 September 2016. Photograph by REX Shutterstock

With the Presidential Debate resuming on Sunday in St Louis, we thought it worth brushing up on some debating lore so we can all have a good discussion afterwards about Mr Donald Trump and Ms Hillary Clinton’s respective skills in the oratory department. Of course, we then realised that such skills are almost universally useful, whether you are indeed jockeying over the fate of the Free World, or having a bit of a set-to in the office about which picture to put on the corporate Instagram next. So we thought we’d put together a guide, and ask an expert. Step up to the lectern Dr Todd Graham – the director of debate at Southern Illinois University, who recently won the 2016 National Debate Coach Of The Year award. Here are his five top tips on how to win an argument – whatever the situation.

HAVE A THEME THAT YOU LINK BACK TO

“When presidential candidates are debating, they should have a theme. And they should try to manoeuvre a good portion of their answers back to it. My old debate coach used to call it your ‘major premise’. It’s the same when you’re having an argument with a friend in the pub, or with a loved one at home: stay focused on your theme and to try to go back to your major premise. When I teach my classes I always ask, ‘Have you ever been in an argument with a friend, and halfway through your argument has one of you said, “wait, what is it that we’re arguing about?”’ When we have arguments, we add too many things because we’re angry – this complicates the position you’re trying to get across.”