Monday, December 12, 2011

To beat tired or brick-wall arguments, use the speaker's switcheroo

You're making a passionate, eloquent case for something you want to put across: a new idea, a bold proposal, a change to the status quo. Then here come the counter-arguments, the same-old-same-old objections you can recite from memory, they're so familiar. What speaker trick can you use to come back to that brick wall of naysaying?

I'm dubbing your best bet the "speaker switcheroo." This works best with predictable, time-honored objections that have no basis in reality. Things like "Everyone who uses Facebook is going to lose their job someday over some picture they posted" or "women can't handle the stress of these senior-most jobs." The objections you can counter with the speaker switcheroo are sweeping and erroneous, but also familiar to your listeners, and you can upend them simply by replacing a word to show how off-base those objections are today--and always have been.

Here are two examples that will get you thinking about how you can use this rhetorical trick of turning your opponent's arguments to your advantage:
  • Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?" speech, featured in our Famous Speech Friday series, is a classic example of this technique. The suffragette took common objections to giving Canadian women the right to vote, swapped the word "women" for "men," then put a parody hearing together in which the question of whether men should vote was debated--using her critics' own objections. "Man is made for something higher and better than voting" is just one example.
  • A more recent example can be found on Twitter in Pencilchat, in which education pros are combating tired objections to technology in the classroom by swapping the words "computer" or "Internet" for an older, revered technology, the pencil. Using the hashtag #pencilchat, teachers are posting objections to new technology with the pencil twist, yielding funny results like "I don't know why we have to let them have pencils. All they are going to do is cheat" and "Too many teachers need additional training to integrate pencils into the learning environment."
Why do these examples of the speaker's switcheroo work? They play it for laughs without having to overwork the humor, for starters. They swap the current objectionable item with one that's already widely accepted, familiar, even beloved by the naysayers. And they point up a discrepancy in logic, whether it's discriminatory in the voting example, or mixing up tools with content, as in the technology example. The humorous angle adds another advantage, allowing you to look thoughtful and reasonable at your opponent's expense, without getting angry or flustered. It's a great tool to have in your back pocket when you're making arguments or cases for a cause or proposal.

If you've used this speaker trick or will use it, please share your examples in the comments and let us know how it went!


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