This article introduces a very powerful technique for being more persuasive in your public speaking. It’s a little more advanced than other techniques I’ve posted here before, so novices typically should focus on other more basic approaches such as structure, organization, and clarity. But if you’re more advanced or want to give this a spin, then consider addressing the counterargument in the middle of your speech. I’ll show you how to do that here.
Why Address the Counterargument?
As I’ve said before many times, my training is that of a trial lawyer, and my job is to convince judges and juries of my client’s position and to make the case for my client. Each lawsuit has two sides to it – the opposing side, and my client’s side (the right side!). Judges and juries – who decide the case – expect me to argue my client’s side, and expect the opposing lawyer to argue the other side. And that’s precisely why discussing the other side’s argument is so disarming: Because they don’t expect it. And because they don’t expect it, they are intrigued. And if they’re intrigued, you have their attention and can convince them a lot more easily. In doing so, you can do a number of things, and they work well in the courtroom, as well as in the board room. Because I’m a lawyer, I naturally expect there to be another side to what I’m saying. That’s not as obvious when you’re just giving a plain speech, such as a keynote address. But remember: Even a keynote address has a counterargument to it – the listener may be resistant to what you’re saying. Talk as if inside every audience member is someone who disagrees, and anticipate those arguments. That’s true for speeches, toasts, and job interviews.
Here are three reasons why addressing a counterargument works so well in terms of persuading the audience:
One: You can frame the counterargument in terms you like.
You can tell them: “Now, my opponent may argue that… However, they are wrong because….” This way, you get the first shot at characterizing the other side’s argument. Likewise, on sales presentations, you could anticipate a skeptic’s response and address it head-on. For example: “You may be wondering – with all the other products out there on the market already, why buy ours? Aren’t the other products cheaper? In reality, the other products will end up costing more in the long run, and this is why.” The advantage of anticipating a counterargument is that you are able to phrase it in terms that are advantageous to your side. For example, if you’re interviewing for a banking job, but your background has been in public service, you may spin it: “You may ask why a Peace Corps volunteer would be interested in working at JP Morgan. The reason is that both jobs actually deal with people at a very personal level with a mission of helping them.” So you turn a skills-based challenge into an answer that stresses your ability to deal with people and clients. The interviewer may have had questions about your quantitative skills, but because you address the counterargument, you’ve shifted the argument towards soft skills and played to your strengths.
Two: Planning to address a counterargument makes you a better speaker.
Finally, the reason you should expect a counterargument and address it is to benefit you as a public speaker. As Newton has said – for every force there is an equal counter force. Most speeches given across boardrooms and banquet halls and classrooms today lack power and passion. They are totally dull. Why? Because the speaker feels like they are simply imparting information, simply putting it out there, however carelessly, for the listener to do with it as he or she pleases. So most speakers do not talk as if there is someone else in the room about to knock down what they say – as a result, their speeches lack any force at all. And that makes for super boring and ineffective oratory.
This is the absolute wrong approach to being a charismatic speaker. A true and powerful speaker believes in what he or she is saying, whether it’s specific principles, or facts, or arguments. By definition, that means they do not believe in other principles, facts, or arguments. In other words, every speech you give is making a case for something, no matter what the format. And if that’s the case, always anticipate counterarguments, and address them.