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Should Greece Leave the Euro?

Thursday 13th August 2015

Debate Motion
Greece should leave the Eurozone (the group of EU countries who use the Euro as their currency)
The Speakers
From left to right: 
Paul Carroll and Tony Koutsoumbos (the NO team)
Richard George O'Keefe and Paul Taylor (the YES team)
Debate Chair: Charlotte Rose
The Arguments
The Q&A
It was clear from the start that the YES team faced an uphill task after the preliminary vote revealed an audience heavily skewed in their opponents' favour. This is the reality if debating in the modern world, of course. Most of the time your audience will already have an opinion before the debate starts and it won't always be one you'll like. How you engage with such an audience and persuade them to change their minds is what really interests us here at Debating London. This is why we take two votes - not to see who wins the debate, but to see who changes the most minds.
Why did the YES team receive even fewer votes after the debate than they did before?
You can tell a lot about how your audience has received your arguments from the questions they ask in return. Specifically, they reveal two things:
  1. The part of each side's argument that stuck with them the most 
  2. The underlying assumptions that informed their response to those arguments
The first question, for example, (why can't you stay in the EU if you leave the Eurozone?) which was put to the NO team after they made exactly this claim, shows that this point could be important to that audience member's final decision. But, because they're still not convinced it is true, their vote is still up for grabs.
What stands out most about the questions and comments presented by the audience during this debate (see above) is that the first five were all directed to the NO team. The tide suddenly changes after the 6th question, after which, virtually every question was directed to the YES team. In fact, question (7) was asked twice in the row due to the dis-satisfaction with the first answer given.
This suggests that the answers given - by both sides - to the first five questions gradually turned the audience's attention to the YES team and the perceived weaknesses in their argument.
So, what did they say to change the audience's minds?
In the case of the YES team, it was more a case of what they didn't say. The audience's questions and comments made clear what question both sides really needed to answer to win the debate - what mattered more: the immediate future or the long term?
The most compelling argument the YES team had made was that leaving the Eurozone meant Greece could de-value its currency right away and begin repairing its economy immediately. The NO team had focused much more on addressing the structural problems that would pave the way to prosperity in the long term, but they had no plan for alleviating the country's suffering in the short term. The opening five questions made it clear where the audience's sympathies instinctively lay.
Unfortunately, for the YES team, only once in their replies to these questions did they try to capitalise on this opportunity, instead choosing to focus on blaming the banks for causing the crisis in the first place, predicting the collapse of the entire single currency, and even adding that if Greece left the Eurozone, Spain, Portugal, and Italy would soon follow suit - surely a point in the NO team's favour.
Eventually, they got on to talking about how tourism and cheaper exports would help restore the economy, but by that point it was too late and they were the ones receiving all the difficult questions. The NO team, in contrast, answered each of those questions head on, predicting doom and gloom if Greece abandoned the Euro - a credit crisis, bank runs, loss of savings etc. More importantly, they explained why devaluation would only make these problems worse in the short term and would fail to address the long term problems at all.
What could the YES team have done differently?
  • Listen to the audience - it makes sense to test out a few different arguments in your opening speeches, but once the audience makes it clear to you which one resonates with them the most, make sure you stick to it and pay close attention to what it is you need to prove to win their support. 
  • Listen to your opponents - especially when they appear to be on the back foot and are fielding all the difficult questions. If they're doing a decent job, they'll be offering the audience compelling evidence to dispel their concerns. It is your job to critique this evidence and see if it stands up to scrutiny.
  • Avoid sweeping statements - this isn't a speech where grandiose claims and lofty rhetoric can be relied upon to win over your audience. If your opponents expose a significant flaw in your thinking, your entire credibility is at stake. Better to spend five minutes making a single robust argument than three weak ones.
By Tony Koutsoumbos, founder of Debating London
(yes that makes me bias, but it doesn't make me wrong...I hope)
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