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16 Ways to Make Your Case at Meetings

Winning an argument
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What’s the best way to prepare for an argument or debate? Keeping an open mind and preparing for different points of view can help tremendously when you’re getting ready to present your case. Here, Sims has written 16 key points to make sure that you’re always ready to represent your idea as efficiently and persuasively as possible. 

One reason we hold meetings is to hear opposing arguments. President Obama would ask his closest allies to prepare arguments, pro vs. con, trusting that the clash of different minds would give birth to the best decision. Equally, in Jim Harvey’s recent podcast he made the point that a useful exercise to help you to help you make more balanced arguments was to take an issue – any issue – and practice looking at it from different angles and different points of view. This leads to a deeper understanding of your audience and ultimately to becoming a more persuasive speaker.

Here are 16 more ways to improve your chances of winning your arguments in the meeting rooms and boardrooms where you work.

1. Forget about trying to convert your adversaries

The chances of seeing them get down on their knees and apologize for being wrong are remote. Your job is to raise doubts about the wisdom of their view.

2. Be a good listener

Make sure you hear and understand your opponent’s reasoning. You have to shift gears between listening well, and thinking about how to respond.

3. Ask for clarification

If you are not sure about what your opponent has said, ask for clarification. In the heat of battle, we often counter-attack reflexively without making sure we’ve heard the other party.

4. Be mindful of your emotions

When anger and fear overtake you, your cause will be weakened. Be passionate. Be expressive. But stay calm and carry on. Anger makes you less appealing.

5. Remember the agenda

Pay a lot of attention to the agenda of the debate and the issue that you’re fighting over. She who defines the issues and establishes her priority is on the way to winning.

6. Preach to the converted in the room

Preaching to the choir is vital. Preachers do it on a weekly basis. It strengthens the commitment, intellectual confidence, and morale of your allies, making them more effective advocates for your idea.

7. Do not forget the uncommitted

They are, inevitably, the majority. Your job is to pull them in your direction by making vivid the advantages of your idea and the downside of your opponent’s. You will also earn trust with the undecided if you acknowledge that your idea is not perfect, but is nevertheless superior to the alternative.

8. Offer to compromise

If you choose to make a broad appeal to everyone, offer to compromise and be modest and restrained in your presentation. You may also choose to make a sharply focused pitch to a particular audience, even at the risk of alienating others. The new American President did this in his inaugural address.

9. When you have a good point to make, make it often

Repeating top points in your argument can keep them fresh on people’s minds, so they don’t get lost amidst other ideas.

10. Know what you can concede

Knowing what you can concede without damaging your stance is one of the great arts of winning an argument. As a debater, Abraham Lincoln conceded that States had rights, but not the right to enslave or export slavery to other States.

11. Analogy is powerful

Analogy is a powerful and persuasive way to bring a point home, especially when the analogy links the subject at issue to the personal experience of the audience. For instance, I’ve heard it said that, during the financial crisis, what the banks did by selling toxic assets to their clients was similar to car dealers selling used cars with bad brakes to teenagers. But be careful with analogies. Use them sparingly. Be well armed to develop and defend the validity of the ones you use.

12. Use quotes for balance and for impact

When quoting some well-known figure, it’s best if the source of the quote is not identified with your case. My favorite example is Senator Barry Goldwater, an Arizona conservative, saying on the issue of gays in the military, “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.” In this case you wouldn’t expect Goldwater to support the case so the quote gives more balance and impact to the argument.

13. Don’t condemn your opponent for her motives

Stick to poking holes in what she says.

14. Be an iceberg

Learn more about your topic than you can conceivably use or show. But demonstrate a mastery of the facts and you will increase your authority and cause your opponent to tread carefully when he speaks.

15. Know your enemy

Understand the position of your adversary – not in a caricatured or superficial form, but at it’s strongest. Knowing your own position is only half the battle.

16. Be plain, be simple, be earnest

Don’t try to impress. Check your emotional appeals at the door. Just try to persuade with a thorough, well-reasoned approach.

Sims Wyeth
Sims Wyeth is the president of Sims Wyeth & Co., an executive development firm devoted to the art and science of speaking persuasively. Sims specializes in 1:1 coaching and small group workshops. He believes that while the delivery of a presentation is key, the structure of it is often more important. Sims is also the author of The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.
Sims Wyeth
Sims Wyeth
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