4 Ways to Win Every Argument

At Rollins College, every member of the debate team must master these four skills.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

Presentation. Rhetoric. Technique. Knowledge. When it comes to winning a debate, proficiency in these four areas is key.

For nine years, Eric Smaw, associate professor of philosophy and director of forensics, has led the Rollins College Debate Team to top finishes in state, national, and international competitions.

To get you in the mood for Rollins’ annual Great Debate—February 17 at 7 p.m. in the Tiedtke Concert Hall—here are the four secrets to articulating a winning argument, as told by Smaw.

Impressive Presentation

The first thing the audience will notice is how well the debaters present themselves. All participants must enter the room and walk onto the stage before they begin speaking. Thus, it is important for debate teams to present themselves well. This is why the Rollins College Debate Team wears uniforms and attends seminars on presentation etiquette.

Eloquent Rhetoric

Once the competition starts, the audience will immediately notice the debaters’ rhetorical abilities. In fact, all debaters begin with introductory remarks before they articulate their cases, so it is important for debaters to have astute abilities to “turn a phrase.” The Rollins Debate Team reads the works of some of the most influential people in history as a way of understanding what audiences find convincing.

Flawless Technique

The audience will also notice if the debaters have proper debating techniques—that is, if the debaters understand how to use debating techniques to their advantage. The Rollins Debate Team practices many exercises to develop its skills in this area—but those secrets are closely guarded.

Thorough Knowledge

By the end of the debate, the audience will know whether or not the debaters are knowledgeable about the topic. Notice, however, that this won’t occur until the competition has been underway for some time. This is important because novice debaters often make the mistake of trying to acquire as much information as possible in a short period of time, believing that information alone will make them excellent debaters. Knowledge is important, of course, but it is only one element of excellent debating. To be successful, debaters must master each of the four elements.

In addition, Rollins debaters are trained in subjects that span the classical and contemporary liberal arts: philosophy, logic, politics, law, and economics.

“In competitions,” Smaw says, “they must apply their knowledge and skills in order to develop solutions to domestic and international problems such as racial profiling in the United States, air pollution in Beijing, or the refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, and Western Europe. In these ways, we ipso facto achieve our mission of educating our students for global citizenship and responsible leadership.”

Upcoming: Great Debate

The Rollins debate team is halfway through its yearlong season, which includes competitions in England, South Korea, and China.

Up next is the Great Debate against Beijing Foreign Studies University, centering on the topic of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The event, which is free and open to the public, is the highlight of Debate Week—a four-day stretch in which the debaters attend classes, visit area schools, participate in cultural events, and host debating seminars.

Rollins has won three consecutive Great Debates, including last year’s victory over the University of Miami. Since the debate team’s revival in 2007, the program has placed as high as No. 1 in Florida, No. 3 in the nation, and No. 5 in the Americas.