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Quick Take: Jake Thompson on Winning in Debates

The coach of UNLV's nationally ranked debate team offers a few pointers on making your point.
People  |  Apr 17, 2012  |  By Cate Weeks
Jake Thompson, coach of UNLV's Sanford I. Berman Debate Team (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

UNLV's Sanford I. Berman Debate Team reasoned its way into the top 10 among varsity teams in the National Debate Tournament rankings. The accomplishment is especially notable considering the team was resurrected just five years ago, when communication studies professor Jake Thompson joined UNLV.

How to win a debate: First, always recognize that there's some truth on the other side and account for that. Second, the best evidence will make the best argument. So the third thing is to do your background research; 95 percent of debates are won before the debate even starts.

Misconceptions: When I tell people what I do, they always say, "Oh, it must be difficult for your wife." Those people either are not married or don't know how marriages work. Articulating an argument in a competitive debate is very different from in a marriage -- most notably, a debate is not "'til death do us part."

Getting hyped for matches: I recite lines from speeches. Gen. (George) Patton's famous, and semi-profane, speech to troops before World War II is my favorite.

Best debater in politics today: It's a tie. President Obama is incredibly intelligent and articulate on policy issues. I've also been impressed by Newt Gingrich's performances in the Republican primary debates. His formal training set him apart.

Proudest moment: When we qualified for nationals for the first time three years ago. It's like making the NCAA championship in basketball. I think our teams prove that it doesn't take expensive private-school education to be among the elite. Our top team has two kids who went to public school in Henderson. At our last regular-season debate, they beat a team from Harvard in the first round.

That top team of Michael Eisenstadt and Stefan Menese won first in the district competition in February with an undefeated record. They also took individual first- and second-place honors respectively. Also qualifying for the national competition in early April is the team of Christian Bato and Alex Velto. They qualified by beating a University of Southern California team in a tie-breaker.