Learning the art of persuasion

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2009, 12:00am

Whining may have worked when you were a child, but not any more. If teenagers want to get what they want, they need to learn the art of persuasion, and debating can help them develop this skill.

According to Nesta-SCMP Inter-School Debating Competition co-ordinator Stan Dyer, the trick to getting your allowance raised or negotiating your 'curfew' is to make your parents see the merits of your argument.

In the real world, most parents are unlikely to double your pocket money or allow you to go out every night.

But you can strengthen your position and enhance your benefits by discussing the pros and cons of an issue in a rational way.

'Debating is about looking at different facets of an argument and trying to persuade and appeal to different feelings [and] what's right and wrong. Its part logic and [part] appeal,' Dyer said.

Usually, businessmen, government officials, lawyers and hostage negotiators have good communication skills, which are a vital aspect of debating.

Some debaters can be so persuasive they can make the impossible seem possible.

An argument needs to be clear, convincing and coherent, allowing listeners to follow a person's reasons easily, says Karen Margetts, a native English teacher at Pui Tak Canossian College in Aberdeen.

The key to winning over judges or the 'mob' is to make your argument relevant to your audience, interesting, and most of all, not too academic, according to a debating manual written by Margetts.

Learning to prove your point also means protecting it from rebuttals, which seek to attack an argument's critical points to undermine its persuasiveness while establishing arguments for another point of view, the handbook says.

A good debater should not only have a point that is logically sound but also deliver it well. According to the guidebook, conviction, humour, gestures, tones and eye contact all go a long way in selling yourself and your argument. Take United States President Barack Obama and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, for example. They excel at persuading people through their speeches.

A recent speech by lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung also captivated the audience. He was speaking in court during the judicial review launched by Citizens' Radio over its broadcasting rights.

The fourth round of the Nesta-SCMP Inter-School Debating Competition will be held at Kwok Tak Seng Catholic Secondary School in Sha Tin on September 30 from 4.30-5.30pm. The topic for this round is: Fung shui is a waste of time and money.