Monday, July 19, 2010

Help! I have to be in a debate!

Part 1

Since JFK and Nixon got it started, TV debates are a political reality. They’re now featuring more and more in public and corporate life.

I’m a dedicated believer in debating as a life skill, and I am thrilled to see it happening so much, but if you’re over 35 (especially if you’re female) you may have shunned school debating in favour of sport. When your CEO, or the head of your industry association asks you to debate at the corporate retreat, or the next big conference, it might be your first time. So what are you going to do? This cry for help is a message I’ve received a few times lately.

Here is the first of two posts to get you started.

How the game is played

Just settle in and bear with me - it's not as complex as it sounds. It's basically a series of speeches where the Pro alternates with the Con.

The 1st speaker for the affirmative (sometimes called the government) opens with a speech. They are followed by the 1st negative (opposition), who is in turn rebutted by 2nd affirmative who is rebutted by 2nd negative, the 3rd speakers (if there are any) repeat this process and the final speaker summarises the debate overall.

Each speaker (except 1st Affirmative) should spend about one third of the speech refuting the person who spoke before them. The rest of the time is for putting forward your own case.

Once you know how debating works, my advice is to think about three things: content, process and being 'on'.

Content: Unless you’re a political candidate, in a public debate you are usually meant to be amusing yet also to make a point. So first figure out your main thesis or key message. Select themes on the basis of what your audience will be interested in.

Depending on time you can make up to three points - not more. People can't retain much – a few points will be plenty. The extent to which you elaborate on each point is at your discretion – you can be brief or go in-depth depending on whether you have ten minutes to fill or two.

Like any speech you need some good facts and information, and a conviction or point of view. It may sound obvious but you need to have something to say.

You need an arresting opening. Try telling them something they don't know - statistics and 'hey martha!' style tidbits are very impressive and will shock people into paying attention.

Use ‘PRE’ as a structure, that’s Point Reason Example. You make a point, give some reasons for it and discuss it, then exemplify it. Examples will really tell the story. People love them, so have plenty.

To attack your opposition takes skill - you have to listen and think on your feet. However, usually you can predict at least some of what they will say, so ‘pre-cook’ your arguments ahead of time and keep them up your sleeve, ready if needed.

Open your speech with a summary of what the previous speaker said but from an angle that shows they are wrong. Point our the flaws and the fallacies, and the awful consequences of what they want to do. The extent to which you are witty, or ridicule or make fun of them is entirely up to you, depending on the nature of the occasion.

In my next post I'll talk about how to get yourself and your team mates organised, and how to handle yourself up front or on stage.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Men are from Earth Woman are from Earth (deal with it)

Recently Virginia Trioli on ABC radio interviewed two cartoonists about the defining characteristics of Julia Gillard as PM. She wanted to know what her quirks are, which bits of her they intend to pick on. In the catalogue of possibilities Trioli named Gillard‘s ‘metronomic’ spoken delivery.

I think she was talking about the evenness of Gillard’s pitch and pace. But 'metronomic'? As in mechanical, inflexible, automatic? That’s not fair. And why raise it anyway? Why is it even an issue? Kristina Keneally, the NSW Premier, gets similar treatment. ‘They’re doing a good job with her’ people say sagely. I try to believe they might have said the same thing about Nathan Rees or Morris Iemma, but I just can’t. We never saw Kevin Rudd condemned for monotony of tone and thought, Tony Abbot’s piercing nasal twang is not newsworthy, and Malcolm Turnbull’s rich gift for oratory was rarely mentioned.

The truth? Gillard and Keneally’s voices are newsworthy because they’re female.

An ancient and enduring demarcation gave women their voice in the domestic sphere, while men had it in public. It's still shaping expectation about the roles we’ve all played for generations.

A recent article in the Washington Post wonders if Obama is a ‘female’ president.

‘We've come a long way gender-wise. Not so long ago, women would be censured for speaking or writing in public. But cultural expectations are stickier and sludgier than oil. Our enlightened human selves may want to eliminate gender norms, but our lizard brains have a different agenda.
Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting "too masculine" or "not feminine enough." In her fascinating study about "Hating Hillary," Karlyn Kohrs Campbell details the ways our former first lady was chastised for the sin of talking like a lawyer and, by extension, "like a man." ‘

Disconcertingly it’s justified these days by a view that women and men have different communication styles. Put simply, women supposedly talk to connect, men to establish their status. Women talk to strengthen bonds. Men to assert their independence.

These traits are used to explain the glass ceiling. They’re said to make it more difficult for women to succeed at work. They are used as proof of female unsuitability for power. We are less likely to speak out, and therefore easier to ignore. More likely to be modest, and therefore not get promoted, more likely avoid confrontation, and therefore not able to do the tough stuff. In Australia’s Federal Parliament, women MPs make up a third of the numbers but ask far fewer questions than men. In the British parliament, women call out and interrupt less frequently than men.

Some linguists have research that supports the idea that women’s language is distinct but I’m more persuaded by the ones who don’t. I think it’s as believable as Men being from Mars and women from Venus. It feels intuitively correct – because it’s playing to a stereotype we all recognise.

Deborah Cameron at Oxford says flatly it’s a myth – when there are differences they are statistically insignificant, and she cites studies to prove it depends on who you’re studying and what the context is. That’s the key. Female MPs don’t ask questions because the party whips don’t set them up for it. They don’t call out because (as women in male dominated industries like IT and engineering know), the men in the place can make you feel pretty unwelcome. You don’t want to stick your head up for it to be shot off.

Having the domestic sphere under our control, is it so surprising that girls and women learned to value connection, defuse conflict, and to create bonds through listening, empathy, interest and concern? Isn’t that sort of understanding you want at home? And doesn’t it make sense for their male partners go out into the dangerous world of breadwinning, profit making and governing, armed with combative and selfserving survival-speak ? All each gender did was develop a communication style that worked for the situation we’re in. Men are from earth and women are from earth. Deal with it .

Ingrained behaviours and beliefs are not overturned in an instant. Female heads of state are still rare. All Gillard and Keneally really have to do is the job. Their communication style should be judged only by how well it suits their office.

Here’s hoping.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Special Occasion Speaking

This week I’ve attended three personally significant events. The funeral of an old friend, and two coming of age parties - one in my family, and one for an organisation I'm involved with that's enriched thousands of lives through music. Needless to say, the speeches were central to both. The eulogies and the congratulations speeches I heard this week were wonderful. We heard things we didn't know, and got to share and remember some things we all knew. They were heart warming, illuminating, inspiring. The people who gave them had worked hard to make them so.

Whether casual or formal, speeches are pat of most ceremonies and rituals. These occasions mark a change in someone’s life, a celebration, or the beginning or end of something.

A ceremonial speech really is a big moment for a speaker. You can make (or break) the event. A memorable speaker will be the highlight of a special occasion whether it’s a happy or a sad one.

If you find yourself having to deliver a eulogy, or propose a toast or make valedictory remarks, make sure your speech emphasises the identities and values that unite the people in your audience. They want to feel they are part of one group. Your speech is a way of saying ‘we all belong to this community/group/family/profession and there are things that we share’.

The normal rules apply: work out what you want your audience to take away from your speech at the end. With one clear message in mind, you can then develop some points to lead you there. Memories of shared experiences, or your own reflections on the occasion are good material to use.

Your speech should include the different interests and viewpoints of people in the audience. Say something about what the person or the occasion means to you, but also look at what others will be feeling. What would a friend, family member or colleague, want to hear? An 18th birthday could be spoiled for the parents and grandparents if the speech was only from a young person’s point of view. If you’re speaking about your sister, make sure you say something about her in her other roles - as a school friend or daughter. If it’s your grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary you need to mention their old friends as well as family of all generations. A graduation speech should be relevant for the students, their parents, families and teachers. A eulogy needs to take account of the whole life of the person you are mourning. You will need to research these perspectives, and speak to others as part of your preparation.

You will certainly need personal anecdotes or stories. You are expected to be entertaining on these occasions, but take care - humour needs to be carefully crafted and well presented. Your jokes must be kindly. It is not the time for payback, or in-jokes, or reminiscences about ‘socially unacceptable’ experiences. Only joke about things that everyone in the room will understand. ‘No embarrassment, no surprises’ is a good rule for special occasion speeches.

Depending on the occasion you may be on a stage or at a microphone on the floor. Often the audience at a dinner or party will be at tables all around you, and you need to be specially careful to include everyone with your eyes as you speak. You musn’t speak with your back to anyone, so if the organisers haven’t thought of this, make sure you take a speaking position that gives you command over the whole room.

If your speech requires you to propose a toast, invite everyone to ‘charge their glasses’ and stand up. Raise your glass as you say a single sentence: “good luck” or “long life” or whatever suits the occasion. Allow the audience to repeat it, then everyone resumes their seats and you sit down too.