Learning to persuade people is a skill that’ll take you far in life. From navigating a pay rise, to deciding where to get dinner, knowing how to change people’s minds is something everyone can benefit from knowing. In fact, it’s such a difficult skill to master that people dedicate time, training and money to compete in debating competitions around the world, myself included.
So who better to give advice on being persuasive than a bond fide professional debater? Here’s a guide to stepping up your argument game, with help from President of the Deakin Debating Society at Deakin University and debating coach, Rebekah De Keijzer.
#1 Give evidence
It’s one thing to make a good point, it’s a whole other thing to substantiate that point with hard evidence. If you don’t back up your arguments, it’s just a matter of he-said-she-said, which doesn’t make for a good debate or a persuasive argument.
“Evidence is super important because you need to prove the real-life benefits of your proposal,” says De Keijzer. “It is all well and good to argue on a principled level in debater-land, but in the real-world people need case studies and examples of things actually working.”
So when you’re trying to make a point, always make sure you refer to past events or hard facts to back up your arguments in order to persuade the other person. This will help demonstrate that you’re trying to persuade that what you’re saying has merit. Otherwise it’s all just words.
#2 Make your conclusions
Debating is all about pinpointing your opponent’s assumptions, and tearing them down. As such, you want to make sure you’re making as few assumptions as possible when trying to persuade someone. That’s why actually reaching your conclusion is super important. You can never assume your opponent is on the same line of thought as you, so spelling it all out ensures you’re on the same page, and that your arguments make sense and are understood.
NEVER GO INTO AN ARGUMENT UNPREPARED. THIS MEANS KNOWING WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO SAY, BUT ALSO HAVING AN IDEA OF WHAT YOUR OPPONENT WILL BRING UP.
“Be really clear when you are discussing your arguments that you actually use enough reasoning to support your contentions,” De Keijzer suggests. “Make sure you clearly state what your argument is but also step through your reasoning and support it with evidence to reach your conclusion.”
So, for example, if you’re arguing about where to go for dinner (hey, we get how important these choices are) and use the reason that you never get to pick, bring your argument full circle by also explaining why there should be equal opportunities for everyone to choose dinner venues. Then you can conclude that for those reasons you should be able to pick the location for dinner tonight – and your friend or SO can choose again next time.
This ensures you’ve covered all your bases, and your friend or SO can more clearly see the error of their ways.
#3 Make your point
One thing debaters are marked on is whether their information is relevant to the topic. This is key to being compelling. Make sure what you’re saying is actually relevant to what you’re trying to prove.
De Keijzer suggests coming up with a framework of what issues you’re trying to resolve, and stick to them.
“So many times, I see speeches that discuss a lot of strong issues but don’t really go anywhere because they don’t have a framework that address the major issues in the debate,” she says.
So if you’re trying to get a housemate to clean up after themselves, simply berating them for being lazy isn’t going to prove anything about their obligations to be tidy, it’s just going to prove to them that you think they’re lazy. Alternatively, coming up with a framework means you won’t get bogged down by irrelevant information that doesn’t help your cause in the first place.
#4 Anticipate your opponent’s arguments
Never go into an argument unprepared. This means knowing what you’re going to say, but also having an idea of what your opponent will bring up. Having this knowledge means you can craft your arguments against their points, as well as come up with good comebacks on all of them. It’s also worth being aware of any holes in your argument, and compensating for them.
As an example, if you’re preparing to go into a performance review and ask for a pay rise, you should be prepared to talk about your performance and why you deserve a higher salary, but also anticipate that maybe your boss will mention that you haven’t quite achieved x or y goal. If you’re prepared, you can talk them around why you deserve a raise despite this point.
Remember, your argument doesn’t have the be the best option in the world, it just has to be better than the other side.
No matter where you end up in life, knowing how to persuade will definitely come in handy. So the next time you find yourself in an argument, keep these tips in mind to make sure your reasoning comes out on top.