Miami Herald OpEd: A classical guide to debate

Miami Herald: A classical guide to debate

10/13/2014 7:14 PM

When it comes to Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate, viewers should consider tips on how to watch such a political face-off:

A debate is an exercise in the art of persuasion. We can find no better guide than the man who literally wrote the book on persuasion, Aristotle, and his principles of Ethos (credibility), Logos (logic) and Pathos (emotion).

A candidate’s credibility will be a determining factor in a voter’s choice. Credibility has four elements:

▪ Competence: Candidates need to demonstrate they possess the skill set to govern by emphasizing experience, decision-making and leadership.

▪ Trust: People will rarely vote for someone they don’t trust. Not only should each candidate cite unbiased information, but their eye contact, posture, facial expressions and overall demeanor will influence believability.

▪ Charm: The old adage “People buy from whom they like” applies here. Again, it isn’t always what you say, it is how you say it. Each must remain calm and relaxed and draw the audience to them.

▪ Relatability: Any good leader needs to understand those they are leading. The candidate doesn’t need to be all things to all people, but simply show empathy and leave the voter thinking, “He gets me.”

The candidates want to use logic to show their policies are justified by reason. Ideas must pass the “smell test.” Concepts such as cause/effect, problem/solution and need/satisfaction should be applied to policy. Given the limited time frame, the candidates need to make the complex seem simple.

While most people will tell you they use logic to make decisions, more often than not they use logic to justify the decisions they made emotionally. Both candidates will not only try to make a positive emotional connection with the audience but also create a negative emotional association with their opponent.

While these ideas originated in Greece thousands of years ago, the candidate who masters ethos, logos and pathos can win a debate in Florida in 2014.

GREG BARNES, COMMUNICATIONS PROFESSOR AND THE SPEECH AND DEBATE COACH, BROWARD COLLEGE, DAVIE

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