First of all, you should go forth and read Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” before you engage in any further debates with anyone.
Being accurate or correct has only limited bearing on the success of an argument. You, or your opponent, just has to establish the appearance of accuracy or correctness. The superior speaker can win an argument even if his position is false, nonsensical, or contradictory.
The personal character of the speaker, his reputation with the audience, and your relative reputation also have strong bearing on whether or not other people will be persuaded in the course of speech.
Contemporary liberals (especially those younger than 35) tend to be unread, untutored, and inexperienced in alternative points of view, no matter how educated they are or what their pedigree is. For this reason, you should carefully explain any references to older material, and if it is a debate by written correspondence, you should provide accessible citations to explain the position.
- Maintaining your comportment is critical in any contested discussion. If your voice becomes strained or up-tempo, you become visibly agitated, or if you otherwise lose your temper, you are also liable to lose the audience.
- Learning the emotional self-control to achieve this can only be done through practice.
- Reliably being able to manipulate your opponent into losing his composure is a key skill to develop, so long as you can achieve it without visibly provoking it yourself.
- If you know your opponent’s argument better than he does, it becomes much easier to anticipate what he’s going to say, and also to manipulate him to your advantage.
- If you can counter the opponent’s argument by demonstrating a contradiction or error under his own belief system, it’s more effective than doing so under your own.
If you’re uncertain as to whether or not you have understood your opponents’ statements, you can repeat back to them your understanding, and then ask them if you have comprehended their statements correctly. This both prevents you from making a misstep and helps to establish a rapport to the other side of the contest.
Whenever you can find a point of agreement between yourself and the contestant, amplify that point of agreement, especially if it is a trivial point. If you can encourage the person to see them as in alignment with you before you get into the point of disagreement, then they will be much less willing to offer a spirited defense.
The majority of inexperienced debaters will be so thrilled to hear you agree with them on anything that they will be far more willing to cede a critical point later in the debate.
If you can find a way to rephrase a controversial argument in anodyne terms that would be acceptable to the opponent, do it, because most inexperienced speakers will be unable to recognize a rephrased argument, because they have only been trained to respond to a given argument using a certain set of terms.
Experience can teach you the various ‘trigger words’ of the typical American which will get them to froth and become enraged. In a debate, it’s much easier to get the opposing side to cede all of their points if you can navigate around these triggers.
Given that formal debate has almost been eliminated, even in academies, the chief concern in informal debate is in controlling the trashing-around of your opponent so that he speaks to your advantage.
To break the opponent’s resistance, you ought to establish your case in a dialectic fashion, carefully breaking it apart. While it may be sometimes sufficient to expose a contradiction in the argument of your opponent, to popular audiences, the sophistic presentation of the speech is much more important.
Since all audiences are now common audiences, the Socratic method is only useful at appealing to the minority with the cultivation to appreciate it, and even those are often more than a little bit crazy.
Finally, you should never waste time debating someone on their home grounds, surrounded by their friends and supporters — unless you are confident enough in your abilities that you can rephrase an argument so well that they have no idea that they actually started off disagreeing with you on the essential points.