Ben Shapiro is a famous or infamous political debater (depending on your political preferences). We don’t care one way or another about his politics, but we waned to dive into his debate strategies. His role or niche is to prove his team’s intellectual superiority. Debate tricks help you do that.
Debate strategies are obviously useful for winning a debate, but they can also be useful in other situations. Debate skills are very useful in dominance challenges, so if you care about power, pay attention.
An important thing to keep in mind is that winning a debate has little to do with being right. Winning a debate is about the perception. Sure, being right might help you win, or among some audiences might be necessary for winning, but that misses the point. Each audience has a criterion for deciding who is victorious. Learn that before debating.
Finally, keep in mind that debating isn’t really about persuasion under most circumstances. Debating is more about dominance. When you join a debate, make sure your primary goal isn’t to persuade people. If it is, you might not be best off using these techniques. These techniques are about winning, not changing minds. If you want to change minds, see this article about how to have persuasive conversations.
1. Speak With Confidence
Arguably the most important skill Shapiro displays is his ability to communicate his thoughts and responses with the upmost confidence. He does this with his tone, posture, speech, and the words he says. Studies have shown that volume, tone, and other acoustic properties of speech affect perceived confidence. Tone also is linked to dominance, which establishes who is in charge. While the body language part can be pseudo scientific at times, Shapiro conveys body language signals that people believe mark confidence, which can be in itself convincing.
If you aren’t confident, there are a few things you can do. First ask yourself what is making you feel less confident? Maybe you haven’t spent the necessary time researching both sides of the argument. Maybe you think other people are smarter than you and you don’t have anything to add. Fix these fears by confronting them. See exposure therapy.
Second, you can practice speaking in front of a mirror. Record your voice and body with your phone. Practice your arguments and presentation skills. Watch the recording and correct those skills. Play around with your tone, pace, and movements. Often if you are nervous about speaking it is simply because you just haven’t practiced it enough.
Here is one example of Ben Shapiro speaking confidently.
A significantly under valued part of debates is preparation. You might be the best debater in the world but if you don’t know your material, you won’t look like you know what you are talking about. One of the reasons Shapiro appears so skilled at debate is that he is usually prepared. Part of this is his law school background which gave him a legal understanding of the law. But another part is the fact that he spends time researching arguments and following the trending ways of attacking topics. He comes up with ways to address these common maneuvers so he is rarely caught off guard.
In fact, attorneys argue that the most important parts of a legal case take place in the discovery portion. Discovery is when attorneys ask questions and review the other side’s paperwork in order to spot weaknesses and strengths in the topic they will be discussing. Attorneys come up with a case narrative, or a story that allows them to favorably present the facts of the case.
This leads to another reason Shapiro is good at debates. He prepares with statistics. Statistics give the appearance that you are being reasonable, factual, and accurate. He memorizes statistics that support his narrative of the common issues. He also memorizes statistics that harm the opponent’s side. But he only can do this because he first knows the story or narrative he wants to tell about the topic. Only then can he know the right statistics to memorize. See also the propaganda technique called card stacking.
Get better at this by first choosing a case narrative. How can you arrange the facts to best serve your point of view? Can you present things in a new and novel way so that people will be caught off guard when they hear you speak? Second, spend time researching the other side’s arguments. This is best done by reading academic articles, watching debates on YouTube, and reading comments on sites like Reddit or Quora.
Another undervalued part of debate is practice. Shapiro has been debating on television for years, and in classrooms and school setting for years before that. Nothing replaces practice. You can read all the strategies, know all the facts, and have all the verbal skill, but until you actually apply it with someone sitting across from you, you don’t know how you will perform under pressure.
Get better at this in two ways. First practice taking the devil’s advocate position. Argue for things you don’t believe in every day life. Second you can use online platforms to get debate experience if you don’t have a school or social group that debates near you. Sites like Omegle or platforms like Discord allow for debate and discussion practice.
Aggression is a rarely mentioned technique that Shapiro applies to help him win arguments. Aggressive tones, body language, facial expressions, vocal speed, and comments put the other person on the defensive and revert their brain into fight or flight mode. When you enter fight or flight mode your brain has a harder time reacting logically, and your anxiety increases. This makes you more likely to make mistakes.
Take advantage of this in three ways. First make longer eye contact with people when they are speaking. This can be intimidating to have more people stare at you. It also signals you are watching and listening for any mistakes. Second use a slightly aggressive tone. Practice recording your voice and adjust it so that it is only slightly aggressive, and just short of angry. Finally don’t let any points made by the opposing side go unattacked. Push back on every comment they make that has a problem. Expect them to do the same.
The final debate technique and strategy Ben Shapiro uses is framing. Framing is a skill that is widely applicable. It is found in sales, persuasion, manipulation, debate, and more. Shapiro instantiates his way of viewing the issue and then holds people to his narrative. If they get off course he seers them back. This allows him to better respond to what they are going to say because it is well practiced territory for him.
Shapiro also is good at undermining frames. He mainly does this with statistics that try to poke holes in the other person’s argument. Whether they work or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that statistics are hard to look up and he selects statistics that make him appear correct to the average person.
If you want to improve your frame skills see this article. The best way to attack an opponent’s frame is to think of questions that make the opposing side look bad. The best way to keep people on your frame is to simply choose a plausible narrative and stubbornly stick to it. Consider choosing simple narratives that are easy for anyone to understand.