Selasa, 06 September 2011

Chapter 9 : Manner


What is good manner? Unfortunately, there are very few convenient tests or tactics with manner. But that’s not to say that good manner can’t be taught and so it must be possible to describe it. I’d stress that there is no single definition of good manner. You can be loud or quiet, you can be funny or serious, and in some speeches you might do all those things. If you made up a list of the best debaters in the World, it would include people with range of styles. But that said, I think good manner is the right combination of three things; Persuasiveness, Credibility and Conviction.

Persuasiveness – Persuasiveness is really about making your message appealing to the audience. It incorporates all of the obvious things that people taught you at school, like; make eye contact, project your voice…. etc. But that’s like saying that driving a car is just a combination of turning a wheel and moving your head. It’s too simplistic and it sucks all of the art of out it.

The art is in the psychology of persuasion. For instance it’s vital that you understand the difference between intuitive and counter-intuitive arguments. Running a counter-intuitive argument is not bad per se, but it is harder. If you don’t acknowledge when you’re running a counter-intuitive argument you’ll never make it fly in the debate.

But how to you make a counter-intuitive argument work? Well you have explain it carefully and use strong analysis (discussed earlier) but from a manner point of view its crucial that you choose your language carefully, don’t overcomplicate things any more than is necessary, and most importantly look at your adjudicators while you’re saying it. You have to learn to read the faces of your judges, and if it doesn’t look like they understand you, then you need to slow down and try again until they get it.

Credibility – Learning to have gravitas is difficult, because it’s linked to personal maturity, which you can’t rush, but in the meantime there are some ways to project the maximum amount of credibility that you’re currently capable of.
Rule number one is: Take it seriously, don’t undermine yourself.

Too often inexperienced speakers do everything possible to emphasis how inexperienced they are. That’s just counterproductive. Don’t ever talk your speech down while you’re giving it. That sounds obvious but its astonishing how many debaters will make an argument, and then they’ll say something like “that didn’t really make sense did it?” I’m not sure if it’s just a result of nerves, or some misguided attempt to be endearing, but either way you should stop it immediately.

Another classic example is deferring to your opposition. So an opponent will make some arguments that sound good about say economics, and the next speaker will say something stupid like “well I don’t know as much about economics as the last speaker, but I’ll have a go at rebutting her argument anyway”. This is a double hit – it weakens your credibility and it increases your opponents’ credibility!
I can’t stress enough how much damage this does to your credibility. It seems like a small thing, but it can be devastating. The reason is because talking yourself down can act as a subtle but powerful confirmation of any negative perception of you that an adjudicator might already be harbouring. This is especially true for ESL speakers and young female speakers. I wish it wasn’t like that, and of course many adjudicators are fair and unbiased in terms of manner, but significant proportion of them under the general principle that the older you are, the more credible you are, and that generally men are more credible than women.

NEVER talk down your speech, yourself or your ideas under any circumstances.

Broadly speaking, the higher up the tab you move (which increases the quality of your adjudicators) the less important those stereotypes are, but while there has been enormous improvement in the adjudication culture over the years, it’s still not perfect.

Rule number two is: Sound like you know what you’re talking about.

So that means one of two things – either actually know what you’re talking about, (by working hard on learning first principles as well as specific knowledge), or sound like you know what you’re talking about (the first is better). You can sound credible by avoiding simple mistakes – like make sure you get the names of things right – including pronunciation, and use then them confidently. If you’re not sure whether the name of the Chinese President is Hu Jin Tao or Wen Jao Bao, take a guess, but whichever you choose, say it confidently!

The only sure way to build up your credibility is to really know what you’re talking about, but that takes time. Meanwhile, focus on being confident, and remember that your adjudicators/opposition will rarely know anything about you – if you look confident, and sound confident, they’ll usually think you are confident!

Conviction – is probably the most under-rated facet of manner. Basically, if you don’t look like you care about the topic and you care about the arguments that you’re making, then why should anyone else care? Remember that adjudicators suffer from all the same things that you as debaters endure at tournaments – they’re tired, they can be bored, they can dislike the topics – if you don’t do everything you can to make the debate engaging and appealing then you can’t expect them to make much effort either.

Your manner should say “I’m here to persuade” not “I’m trying to win a debate”.

There is a fine like between sounding passionate and sounding ridiculous, but:

What’s the difference? The difference is everything. It’s the difference between high-school and university debating; and it’s the difference between being a good debater, and a truly great speaker.

Trying to persuade means engaging in the issues first and foremost, and again, you should be trying to project the image that you care about them and that you genuinely want other people to believe you – not just so that you and get another win for your team, but because its inherently important to you that people believe you on this issue.
Alternatively you can try and win the debate, and that means doing everything you can point out to the adjudicator why your team has scored more points, and everything you can to make your opponents look bad, instead of making them look wrong. Don’t tell adjudicators how to do their job, just focus on doing your job – being persuasive. The rest will take care of itself. 

So that means avoid referring to the fact that you’re having a debate – so don’t say high school-like things, such as “welcome to today’s debate, the topic is” or “As the first speaker it’s my job to explain the model…” just get to the issues as fast as you can. Use your context and set-up to explain the debate – that’s why you should contextualise at the start of first speaker’s speech. In team splits, talk about how your case expands logically; instead of it appearing like you’ve made some arbitrary distinction. Sound professional, sound sophisticated and sound genuinely interested.

Again these are subtle things and individual instances of “debate speak” (talking about the debate, instead of talking about the issues) don’t matter much, but cumulatively they have a big impact. They remind the adjudicator that this is just a contest, and the teams are just trying to score points. You can still win when that happens, but you’ll never really learn to “persuade”, instead you’ll just learn how to be better than other team – and sometimes that’s not saying very much.

People often want ask how to “put teams away”, in other words, how to win by large margins – and the key to scoring big wins against good teams, its manner. If you can master these three facets of manner, then when coupled with a strong case (which all good teams have by virtue of experience) you will able to smash opponents, not just beat them. But it takes patience, practice and perseverance!


[1] A counter-intuitive argument is something that people will initially find difficult to accept – something that seems to conflict with their gut feeling. See the example of an argument on p.11.
[2] See Jeremy Brier’s excellent article in Edition 4 of the MDR

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