Throughout history and in modern times, the formal techniques taught to students for strengthening their public speaking skills have largely depended on a system developed in antiquity. Cicero, a famous philosopher and orator of the Roman Empire, first wrote down these principles around 50 BC.
According to the works of Cicero and, later on, Quintilian, the principles of a strong debate can be broken down into these important components, called the Five Canons of Rhetoric:
- Invention. In this phase, consider the premise, the audience, the evidence and intention of the speech or debate.
- Arrangement. This stage of development focuses on the context of the speech and how the details of the speech can be organized for the greatest impact.
- Style. A speaker’s word choices and phrases can add color or paint a particular narrative picture that works in tandem with the literal elements of the speech.
- Memory. Practicing a speech so that it can be spoken without referencing notes frequently strengthens the position taken, but this also refers to keeping relevant quotes or anecdotes at the ready.
- Delivery. Vocal intonation and inflection play a huge role in pacing for a speech, but gestures and other body language can influence the strength of a delivery, too.
Within this framework are where many other rhetorical devices make an argument or position more effective. In fact, some of these are common in everyday usage, as well. Excessive exaggeration is known as hyperbole in formal debates, while metaphors and similes are better termed as analogies for speech purposes.
Natural language dynamics have been appropriated for debate, as well. As common as it may be to hear someone stop mid-sentence to prevent voicing a negative comment, the rhetorical device for this is called aposiopesis. Most often, it’s used so that the speaker can allow the audience to come to the conclusion themselves and thereby avoid responsibility for the negativity.
Other common practices have a proper name in the glossary of rhetorical terms. Repeating the same word several times is known as epizeuxis while quoting a well-known saying to support a point is called sententia.
These practices have survived for centuries because human nature responds to these patterns of speech not only intellectually, but instinctively. When a debate is solidly structured, powerfully worded and delivered with skill, the audience will be much more likely to believe or support the point being made.