It is not unusual for an Oxonian to walk into buildings no less than a couple of centuries old. But walking right through the Oxford Union’s “Members Only” labelled gate for the first time last night had a special feeling. It was even more amplified after crossing the garden into the Debate Chamber; the room that hosted debates featuring some of the world’s most prominent figures like Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, Buzz Aldrin, Malcolm X, Michael Jackson, Stephen Hawking, Peter Thiele, Thatcher, Einstein, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, … only to name a few!
Saïd Business School professors Sussman and Phalippou along with 2015 almuni Varendh-Mansson and Jagadish spoke in proposition of Milton Friedman’s: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business … to increase its profits …”. While professors Morrisson and Hellmann along with 2015 alumni Jamadar and Dalal spoke in opposition.
I am not here to discuss particulars of the debate, judge the performance, or criticise the outcome. As I witnessed the discussion though, I found myself imagining being on the stand and reflecting on Simon Bucknall’s MBA Launch session on public speaking. I then thought about various lessons that could make a better debater if I ever get the chance to stand there, I wanted to share them here:
1. Draw on simple analogies
2. Be attentive of the other speaker’s talk and/or attitude to seize any chance for improvised response — it comes out witty
3. Although taking “points of information” may cut through your train of thoughts as a speaker, accepting them shows strength.
4. Historical stances are better given proper context to convey them clearly
5. Craft a strong closing sentence
1. Do not use more than three axes of discussion for the argument
2. Do not use references that may not be universal
3. Avoid half-baked examples
4. If you could do without a paper in front of you, by all means let go of the paper
5. Don’t forget to pace yourself
Finally, you can never be too prepared for a high ammunition question!
Most of us ended up on the opposition side last night and walked out of the chambers through NOES door, disagreeing with Friedman. I look forward to witnessing more debates at the Union, hopefully with even more pressing arguments relating to the chaotic world we live in.
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