On Fiery Debates


Occasionally I'm asked to make a debate programme, and often the commissioner wants it lively. Here's some thoughts on this.

  1. Lively shouldn't necessarily mean combative. Booking guests that have some consensus can be just as stimulating as those that disagree. And disagreements can sometimes make us feel like we haven't learnt anything.
  2. Keep it focused. Where possible, call all of the participants beforehand and get a sense of their priorities. That way you can write them into the presenter's script - and let them know if what they want to talk about is relevant/potentially libellous.
  3. Get them in the studio. Eye contact is really important, even on radio... and it makes it far easier for the presenter to move guests on / shut them up.
  4. Resolution takes many forms. It feels right to conclude the discussion, but don't look to solve the problem.

So with this in mind, I produced a debate last week for World Water Day with the Guardian's Global Development desk. As with all things in reality, you can't get it all your own way - so most guests were via ISDN and Skype. But the whole programme felt very considered, mostly down to the man in the presenting seat; environmental journalist extraordinaire, John Vidal.

Here it is, via the new Soundcloud page. Leave your debate tips below!

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