Concept of teamwork with senior executives who are debating; maximizing parliamentary procedure debate

Tips for Ensuring Maximum Impact When You Debate a Motion

Seeking recognition to speak during a meeting is no small thing. If the group is large, some level of courage is required to share your views in front of so many people. Even if the group is small, speaking up is still risky—you’re asking other busy people to stop and listen to your thoughts, and they may or may not agree. But discussion is an essential and extremely important aspect of group decision making, and if you have a viewpoint on an issue that a group is considering, it’s important that you make the most of your opportunity to speak up. Here are some tips to help.

1. Organize your thoughts before you seek recognition.

Before you raise your hand or come to a microphone and ask the person presiding over the meeting to recognize you, take a minute or two and organize your thoughts. I’m not saying you need to prepare as if you’re giving your next Ted Talk. Just take a couple of minutes to ask yourself four things:

  • What do I want the group to do?
  • Why do I want them to do it?
  • What support do I have for my views?
  • Why should the group listen to me?

You might even consider jotting down a few notes to help you remember your key points. But even brief mental preparation along these lines has potential to dramatically increase your listeners’ reception of your ideas. And your presentation will be much more cohesive and coherent if you’re not just throwing out thoughts on the fly.

2. Start and end your debate by telling the group what you want them to do.

In my line of work, I get to observe thousands of people each year debate any and every kind of topic. And let me tell you, it is fascinating to watch how or if a group is swayed by an individual’s comments in debate.

What’s also fascinating is the very small number of people that actually tell a group what they want the group to do. Most individuals talk about their support of or opposition to an idea, but they never come out and say the words, “And so, I urge you to vote ‘no.’” Or, “And so, you should vote ‘yes.’”

Today, I’m here to tell you that you should add those words to your debating repertoire. Add them at the beginning and the end of your comments.

  • Once you’re recognized, start by saying, “I would urge you to vote in favor of this motion, and here’s why.”
  • Then make all of your well-organized points—briefly, without rabbit trails or drama.
  • And then end by saying, “And so, I urge you to vote ‘yes.’”

If you’re convinced of your position, don’t leave the group with any doubt about what you want them to do.

3. Debate the motion that is on the floor, not some other topic that interests you.

Effective debate is focused. Once you have your thoughts organized (tip 1), doublecheck your main points to make sure you’re addressing the motion that is on the floor in the most focused way that you can.

For example, if the motion on the floor concerns the spending of a large amount of money on a capital project, you should speak to the pros and cons of spending that amount of money on that project, and avoid veering into topics such as whether the funds of the organization are generally well-managed, or whether the contractor that the organization used for the last capital project did a good job.

Summing Up 

Don’t be afraid to speak up when there’s an issue on the table, you feel some concrete feedback is needed, and you’re inclined to share your opinion and support a particular side of the matter at hand. Your organization needs people like you. But just do it effectively: Prep for a minute. Urge the group to a precise action. And stay on track.

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