If you're like the vast majority of people who seek out or discover debating for the first time, then you're probably looking to improve your public speaking skills and maybe even help your teams become better speakers too. So, why debating? Especially when there are so many established speaking clubs and speaker trainers out there waiting to work with you.
You probably have your own answer to that question, but if you want to know mine, it is this: speaker training is based on the time-honoured principle that it's not what you say that matters, but how you say it. In other words, delivery matters more than content. As a result, speaker training clubs and companies, many of which are truly exceptional and deliver the highest quality of training (I'm happy to recommend my favourites to anyone who wants to know), will indeed help you become a scintillating speaker, but what they won't necessarily do is teach you how to defend what you have to say under pressure and scrutiny.
This isn't really a problem if you're preparing to give an after-dinner keynote or the dreaded best man's speech, but it matters a great deal when important decisions rest on your ability to communicate. Whether you are a barrister defending your client, a director pitching a new strategy to the board, or a politician trying to win an election, being able to turn your ideas into structured arguments and justify them in response to difficult questions, or an opponent with a different idea, is crucial.
In short, being a great speaker will make people like you, but being a great debater will persuade them agree to with you too. That's why I want to help my clients be known for what they say just as much as how they say it.
How I can help
Debate club and training programme
The Great Debaters Club is the UK's only debate club and year round training programme for adults.
We deliver two training workshops per month, which includes a masterclass series on persuasive public speaking, debate strategy, and decision-making that we repeat three times a year to accommodate the busy schedules of our members.
Training is delivered by me with help from other talented and experienced debaters from different backgrounds. Members are then invited to speak in fortnightly public debates on current affairs and test their skills in front of a live audience.
Corporate debate training
Ideal for businesses looking for bespoke training tailored to their needs, from a single workshop to a broader package.
Single workshops typically last 2-6 hours and combine theory with practical exercises and test debates. These tend to focus on one particular skill, such as managing disagreements or condensing large volumes of information into succint points.
Broader packages typically offer a series of weekly workshops in which participants can learn a wide range of skills and track their progress over time. These work best when participants are given a forum to stage and speak in their own debates.
Writing and speaking about debating
When I'm not training others how to debate, I enjoy writing and speaking about it - specifically the importance of being able to disagree with each other without being disagreeable.
In 2016, I delivered my first TEDx talk (not the same thing as a TED talk to be clear) at Goodenough College on the subject of Safe Space at university and how the ethos of debating could help its advocates and critics to resolve their differences.
I have also contested and judged the final of the Corporate Challenge public speaking competition and gone up against an Indian Cabinet Minister in a public debate on governance as part of a debating tour of Calcutta, also in 2016.
Supporting advocacy charities
In 2013, a young man named Sam introduced himself and told me about the charity he set up to teach young Rwandans how to speak up for themselves and their communities.
This was the beginning of an enduring friendship with both Sam and his charity, iDebate Rwanda, that saw me and a team of fellow debate trainers fly out later that year to deliver the country's first national debate training programme.
In 2014, we returned to teach the budding debaters we met the previous year how to run the training programme by themselves. When we came back to London, we set up our own charity to support other groups like iDebate Rwanda.
I caught the debating bug at university, but it was only when I entered the world of work and discovered there were no debate clubs for graduates, or adults who had never attended university, that I decided to set up my own in 2009.
When I put the club on-line, opening it up to the general public, I imagined it would only attract other graduates like me. In fact, the vast majority of people who joined were young professionals who had never considered debating when they were younger, but had now come to appreciate how valuable it could be to their personal and professional development.
In 2012, when the club was still just a hobby horse that hosted fortnightly debates and little else, these new members began asking if I could train them because simply taking part was not quite enough any more. After a stuttering start in which I tested a few different formats with varying rates of success, I finally took the plunge in 2015 and created the UK's first structured year-round debate training programme for adults. The fortnightly public debates are still going strong too, giving members a platform to test their skills by trying to persuade a live audience of strangers to vote for them.
Now, I am a full-time debate trainer and divide my time between running the club and working with my corporate clients and a local authority in London, where I teach unemployed residents how to apply debating skills to achieve their goals.
Debate training for marketing strategists
My most recent project and hopefully an ongoing one after a successful first phase. Dentsu Aegis Network, a collection of global marketing agencies under one umbrella, took the step of creating their own debate club to discuss important issues and trends in the marketing industry. I assisted them by judging their in-house debates, and offering personalised feedback to speakers, to complement the one day workshop I delivered on how to structure and analyse different types of arguments.
Speaking with concision and clarity
A two hour workshop for a staff way day with a specific goal. The manager who sourced this training session wanted to help his team condense large amounts of data into clear and concise presentations without emitting key details. I used the example of newspaper stories to show them how to turn detailed reports into headlines and talking points.
École Militaire - Officer Training Workshop
A one-day intensive workshop for a group of 16 French military officers, enrolled at the École Militaire in Paris, to complement their own structured debate training programme. The aim of the workshop was to help the officers prepare for a competition debate against their UK counterparts, which they would later go on to win. This resulted in most likely the only letter of commendation that I will ever receive from a two-star General of any country.
Leading Difficult Conversations course
Three successful 8-week courses on debating and its applications for the Lambeth Adult Learning Service. The course was designed for unemployed adult learners, some with language or learning difficulties, to show them how to apply debating skills in their everyday lives. This included dealing with disagreements at home, applying for jobs and conducting themselves in the workplace, and reacting to extremism in the community.
Dealing with disagreement in the workplace
A two hour interactive workshop for an enterprise client of the School of Life on how to use the principles of debating to navigate unavoidable disagreement. The client, a well known media agency, wanted to know how to manage disagreements over strategic decision making or ethical dilemmas without damaging valuable relationships. The workshop provided them with a framework for detecting and preventing the mis-representation of their opinions along with advice on how to install the values and customs required to facilitate respectful and constructive debate in the workplace.
Debate workshop on Scottish Independence
The University of Aberdeen flew me up to Scotland for this half day workshop in September with a group of research scientists and PhD students. I carried out an analysis of the arguments made by both sides and then took them through a step by step guide to debating the issue for themselves, using my bespoke methodology.
Debating for Toastmasters
A long-standing friendship became a valued partnership when Canary Wharf's Toastmasters clubs combined to host me for an evening of debate training. After a short presentation on how to write and deliver a persuasive speech that can hold up under scrutiny, a panel of volunteers put theory into practice in a series of quickfire debates. Another workshop with the London Athenians in Hammersmith followed later with more on the horizon in the future.
Debating Masterclass for international students
Regent's College is one of the few educational institutions to offer public speaking as an accredited course. I have been invited on several occasions to deliver a masterclass in debating as part of the course with a view to Regent's one day becoming the first British university to formally offer debating as a recognised qualification.
Youth Council Debate Training
After hosting a public debate on the proliferation of betting shops in my home borough of Tower Hamlets, I was invited to work with the Youth Council. My remit was to help them articulate their views on the key issues facing their communities, from tackling knife crime and substance abuse to reforming education and the reducing the voting age to 16. Following a successful review, I look forward to continuing my partnership with this impressive group of young men and women.
Young Mayors Training Programme
A six week leadership course for the 25 applicants to become Young Mayor of Tower Hamlets, aged 15-17. My remit was to develop a fun and engaging programme on how to be an active and responsible Young Mayor. This consisted of six 2 hour workshops on all the key skills required for the position, including: public speaking, community engagement, lobbying policy makers, time management, and event planning. My assessment of the applicants will inform the council's short-listing of the 15 candidates who will contest the election next January.
If you would like to talk about debate training for you or your organisation, if you would like me to speak at your event, or if you would like me to write for your publication, send me an email or give me a call and I'll get right back to you.