We love playing devil’s advocates but we hate if that takes ages. In this first episode we introduce our short form debating podcast and ourselves…
Dirk – Welcome everyone to our, well what shall we call it, meta-episode, first episode, start episode, that explains in the beginning what-the- hell-we’re up-to episode. I’m Dirk Primbs, I’m one of your hosts of 2debate.net, the podcast of debates. And I’m looking at a very relaxed, friendly face, Sebastian: how are you doing?
Sebastian – I’m fantastic so I’m Sebastian with a complicated last name which I’m not going to pronounce, that will be a quiz for another session and you’ll get a free T-shirt. Yes, I said I’m doing great.
Dirk – We can make a contest out of that because I have a name no one knows how to write as well so let’s call us Dirk and Seb.
Sebastian – Strangely enough I’ve never had a nickname, I did have spastic when I lived in the UK, that was 25 years ago and I was 11. Yeah, I don’t like that too much but since then strangely enough I’ve never had a nickname. A few people called me “Seb” but it didn’t stick so I think it’s also got people confused because I’m a French citizen and Sebastian is not a French name. We have “Sébastien” but my real first name is Sebastian with “an” at the end. So I think it got people confused so they always called me with the “am” at the end whatever the language, which is the same in German or Spanish or Polish.
Dirk – Yes, I guess the only name or the only spelling that counts is the version that your mum used when she was angry at you.
Sebastian – My mum was never angry at me! I’m a very docile and a good son, a good brother. What are you claiming, Dirk?!
Dirk – My mum was amazing even though I’m a nice guy too. What the listener can take out of that little banter here is that we are not of the same nationality so Sebastian is actually French, is that right Sebastian?
Sebastian – Yes, I am French, my father’s Polish which explains why some of my last name is that complicated with only two vowels in the nine-letter word but otherwise I’m a French citizen, born in France, raised in France mostly, a bit in the UK and currently living in Switzerland or mostly in a plane as I like to joke. How many languages do you speak? French and English fluently. I’m supposed to speak German because I learned it at school extensively but I don’t use it, that’s the problem. The thing is because I live in the german-speaking area of Switzerland: when I go and do my taxes for instance so I go and visit the tax inspector to ask a few questions. And he’s delighted to switch to French because he never uses French. Why bother? I’m just gonna switch to French with him and he helps me with my taxes. He’s so friendly to me that I want to buy him a bottle of wine but then he’s a tax inspector so if I buy the bottle, it would be seen as bribery which in Switzerland obviously would not be particularly well accepted. This is like you know I get this free almost-accounting service from the tax inspector himself and I can’t even say thank you beyond just “thank you”.
Dirk – He chose that job so it’s his bad, I would say. Yeah, so we hinted at it: in my case, I’m a German citizen, raised German, born German, went to school in Germany. The Germans like to make a lot of words and complex constructions and the occasional German spelling mistake.
Sebastian – I’m actually a big advocate of the German language. I think it’s… the flipside of what you’re saying is that it’s a highly structured language so if you compare the ease at which people can learn German or French, it’s way easier to learn German because the constructions are completely logical or almost logical whereas in French, you have a good number of exceptions which does not make it easy when you’re not let’s say a Spaniard or an Italian whose languages are fairly close to French. It makes it way more complicated. I don’t know if people know this if you hear this, but English also comes… is a Germanic language. So it’s funny: when you actually learn German or if you’re an English speaker and start learning German, you will see the similarity. I’m a big fan of words in general but when you learn languages, there’s this additional, I don’t know, curiosity and interest that people can have by detecting how words have evolved from one language to another.
Dirk – For our listeners, we are together in a podcast project so I think the interesting question then is “how did it all start?”
Sebastian – So how do this project come about? I think it was in New York in early October and we had to be there for work for about 10 days, there was a weekend in between. It was raining and gray and I guess Dirk was lonely so I said why don’t we have lunch. So we went on this walk and I explain after hearing from you that you’re an active podcaster, that I have this idea of a project which consists of debating, recording ourselves or celebrities or semi-celebrities or whomever was interested. There’s a number of existing projects out there but I thought what was missing was that there was nothing about current news, current topics and I think it makes it interesting to share with listeners the fact that we can debate on topics that are appearing in the press. So for instance: our first episode was about whether it’s worth going to Mars because Elon Musk had made this announcement in September, end of September about his plans are getting a million inhabitants on the planet Mars by 2050 or something like this, and it’s a recurring topic of interest in the press as well.
Dirk – And from there it got a life of its own, we did a bit of research, we started playing devil’s advocate, that is that part of the idea that I really love: being really able to explore the full breadth of a topic without being in your own filter bubble right from the beginning. We will bring forward our own arguments, we make sure that we are consistent with our own personal belief system and our own personal background but which side we end up on is decided by the flip of a coin, which puts us in a very interesting position sometimes. So I remember one recording where we debated homeopathy and whether or not homeopathy is something we should consider a valid medical treatment. An interesting part of that is actually Sebastian and I share the belief that homeopathy is by no means anything that we could call scientific and it’s not a method that we believe in. Yet one of us should argue for the motion, the other one against, so it was a very interesting exercise to actually really think through the arguments that you can bring forward if you’re forced out of your own bubble. That’s one of the sweet spots for the product that I can point to right away. How is it for you, what’s your favorite part of the project so far, Sebastian?
Sebastian – The additional thing is we’re not pretending to be experts, we try to get people who listen to this podcast to be interested, to be open-minded, to be inspired to dig a bit deeper in any topic that we bring up, to do your own research.
Dirk – So the question then turns up is… I kind of explained why we do a flip of a coin thing. A question that we got very early was why we decided on the structure. As a reminder, we go first two minutes on each side, then we have like a three-minute rebuttal where we can either bring other arguments or ask questions or be rhetorical, and we conclude by putting one minute of final statement at the end. You’ve been the one actually suggesting that very structure: what was the advantage and the reasoning behind that structure from your side?
Sebastian – The initial inspiration came from I think my secondary school back in France when I came back from the UK. My mother reminded me of this when I shared the first episode with her to get her feedback and she reminded me that in my history [class], we had the teacher trying to get us – he was a British teacher, I had a dual education back in France so he was british and had history [taught] in English and I remember he was trying to organize these debates sessions, classic Oxford style of debating where you take turns and then you have the floor voting, the house voting for in favor or against the motion. I remember actually the first debate, or the only debate that we did, was yes or no to the monarchy in the UK, which is kind of a very old topic, a classic topic. I think that’s what probably stayed in my mind in terms of structure and, as you said, I think what is interesting in this case is that we try to keep it short-form, we try to keep it structured, so we actually actively listen to the other side’s opinions and arguments, and then we can respond to them. It’s not whoever speaks the loudest or the quickest because the time is the same so it’s really how you want to make use of that time and keep it within a structure so that then we can stick to the time without boring our listeners. We constrain ourselves and try to get right to the point of the debate without trying to waste time with unnecessary fluff or arguments which may not make sense. We try to drill it down to the core essentials of the debate.
Dirk – [Those] very first few debates already brought a couple of interesting learnings. So for instance, we very quickly discovered that there is a huge difference whether you go first or second in your argument. When I know I go first, I basically structure it completely differently compared to when I’m going second. The other…
Sebastian – I discovered this the hard way because I think for the first three episodes you were the one starting, or the first two I can’t remember, and then I had to start the next debate and I found it incredibly hard exactly to your point. And [at] the end of the day, it’s also what happens in real life: someone will have the final word so are you going to respond again and again forever, or are you going to be respectful and sometimes actually let the other one have the final word. And I find it incredibly hard I think also in my personal life. So that’s also a very good lesson to be able to just let the other one have the final word, have that final minute because you have started the debate, so the other one will finalize the debate and [you] just keep quiet. It’s over we can always blab around it but at least for the sake of the exercise, you have to respect the others final few words even if you disagree with them. So I think, even from a personal standpoint for me, it’s actually good lesson to learn just to let go, to let the other person finish off and not be arrogant to believe that I’m the one who’s right, that has to have the final word.
Dirk – The other thing also is it changes debating tactics, so now when I know I go first, I try to anticipate what you’re going to say or what your sharpest sword is going to be, and sometimes I try to to kill that argument in my first two minutes. And in the beginning when we did our first few recordings, I wasn’t that tactical about it, I basically had a selection of arguments and I kind of brought them forward whenever I had time for it, so the top of the list would go to the first two minutes and the bottom of the list go to the other three minutes. And then at some point that turned and this is what makes it a very interesting project for me because I kind of sharpen the edge when it comes to debating in general, and also that time constraint also really forces you to be precise in in your prep. It’s not… you don’t have the time for going on and on with five, six, seven, eight arguments: you have to constrain yourself to the two or three that really matter for you and hope for the best.
Sebastian – I’m still learning that process to be honest. I’m far from perfect and I realise this every time we have a recording for our debates. I have usually a good number of arguments and I have to think what I’m going to… which ones am I going to use for the first part, which ones am I going to use for the second part; and indeed whether I start or not makes a little bit of a difference but I’m still learning so that’s an interesting evolution. Maybe listeners will notice over time if we do get better or not, I don’t know. I do feel that it’s… the pressure is mounting every time because of what you say because I noticed that you’re actually also improving your techniques so my stress levels have actually increased over time although we try to have as much fun as possible and this remains a fun project. My stress levels have increased every time like because I know it’s going to be serious for these 12 minutes.
Dirk – And that’s very interesting by the way. So we have in our debating podcast a couple of missions. One mission is to debate the actual topic. And the second aspect of it: we try to improve our debating styles so getting feedback on that, we are dead series when we say please let us know what other arguments we could have used or “give us feedback in terms of structure”, “what you would have picked as a first argument” or if there is something that worked particularly well. That would be a tool for us to really improve that debating style. The third aspect of it… you already mentioned that I’m a podcaster already, so I’m doing podcasting for well three years now. For me it’s an interesting aspect to really start an English project together with an English-speaking friend of mine, with an English audience, so I’m looking forward to see how things differ and the other very interesting aspect.
Sebastian – Do you want to give the website [address] to your personal other projects, podcasts?
Dirk – Haha yeah so to torture my English listeners with a couple of German words, right?! I’ll put a link in the show’s notes, I think that’s the easiest. So I have a daily show podcast that launches everyday, a new episode. I have finished a one-year show where I had monthly interviews with someone who was traveling the world. What I was about to say is another aspect of this project which probably is different from most of the podcasts out there is we really intend to loop in our audience in our debates. So typical Oxford style debating for those of you who don’t know include the audience typically: the audience votes before the debate and they vote after the debate and then it depends on the specific rules that sometimes it’s an absolute voting but most of the time, practically the side wins that one more people over to their side. So it’s the difference between the votes.
Sebastian – It’s the delta.
Dirk – Sebastian is a bit of a data nerd, he already started data-crunching everything he can get his hands on so he educated me on the number of words we are speaking per minute and my side of that whole experience is that I try to find a way to include our community, our listeners into the debating exercise. So we are going to ask you every second episode to start pre-voting on the next motion. We don’t have the name yet but we will probably call it something like in-between-sode or announcement episode or whatever, so our actual debates will launch every two weeks and we have one episode in the middle where we announce the next motion and ask you to start voting on that motion. You can do so on the website and after we debated of course you can also vote. Those two are data points we intend to use to really determine how we did in the debate and we plan to share the data with you and maybe interesting observations we make on the way. So the listeners are asked to really participate in this debating podcast.
Sebastian – We talked about data so I’ve run some of the data and what we observed on the first three episodes is that you were using about a hundred and forty words per minute, which you told me was also the average speaking speed in English if I’m not mistaken.
Dirk – A little bit slow honestly and maybe I think it works for me that I’m not a native speaker.
Sebastian – In my case, I’ve used on average on the three first episodes, thirty percent more words per minute, and therefore in total as well since we use the exact same amount of time, an average about a hundred eighty four words per minute but it’s interesting to see how from one debate to the other, my speech rate will be very different, whereas Dirk you’re way more consistent: your number of total words used for each debate was almost exactly 850 for each of the first three episodes. Just to refer back to what we said before ,it’s also good way to learn about our own way of talking and improving it and removing perhaps hesitations when we speak, or filler words, and going straight to the point and being clear enough without maybe speaking too slowly, or too quickly in my case.
Dirk – We also created a couple of social media outlets for you to engage with us. So there is a G+ group, there is a Facebook group where we hope to see lively debates. People ask me that, friends ask me that, are you serious you plan on sparking debates on Facebook, are you nuts? Well I don’t care, I believe in our audience. I think you guys are smart, engaged people so yeah, let’s have already baits on those social media forums and help us getting better.
Sebastian – You can find the links on our website www.2debate.net, 2 is the number, and you’ll see all the links to the social media outlets that are using, Google+, Facebook and Twitter, all these interactions that we want to pursue in between our episodes and before and after.
Dirk – Yeah, the way it’s going to work at least on Facebook is that we post a separate thread for every debating topic so whenever you want to give arguments or feedback on a specific motion we debated, there is going to be a thread on Facebook that you can go to and put your input in. Also of course, general feedback: in the blog, on the website, on Twitter, wherever you you try to get in touch with us, 2debate thankfully is very easy to find, a pretty good name when it comes to search engine optimization it turns out.
Sebastian – It seems that from a recent research, I think it was from Harvard or Wharton University, I can’t remember where I saw that: apparently, the most optimal domain names have seven characters including a number. We couldn’t have the dot-com domain so dot net is the closest one so I don’t know, this is based on research, helps with traffic, we will see.
Dirk – Alright, yeah so I’m pretty pumped, I have to say.
Sebastian – I am pumped too!
Dirk – You look that in a calm, professional way. So give me your pumping face here.
Sebastian – I’m keeping the pumping for the debate. I’m keeping my passion for the debate. And maybe it’s something you did not mention but I think it’s worth maybe just observing here is actually while this remains a fun project, we really conduct this like a professional project, like even like a start-up I would say: from the infrastructure that you mostly take care of, in terms of building the website and having the podcast feed, even preparing to having a weekly follow-up in which we go through our various action items that we’ve worked on in the meantime, and having various areas of responsibilities and helping each other out, and we define the next topics that we want to debate upon, and then we record our debates. I think we got into a momentum and it actually feels really gratifying.
Dirk – I have to agree: it’s a lot of fun to actually work through the whole thing. Also it’s my first project where I share the workload and it’s fun to see how our two experiences really match very nicely.
Sebastian – We have a lot of ideas for the future as well, in terms of maybe, possibly having guest debaters or speakers, we can see. In the meantime, we’re trying to offer a number of episodes on three main areas: it usually revolves around business, technology and politics. It just turns out this way. I think we have an interest in these areas and in the end it’s really about having fun.
Dirk – There are things coming up. Please stay tuned: the next debate is going to be in two weeks. If you’ve just discovered this podcast then that would be as a Christmas gift more or less. We are going to release one more episode this year and we are going to follow up with another episode early next year. And then we get into the swing of having a regular interaction with you our listeners. Right now we are producing content so we’re good to go for the next month. There’s no risk that you just subscribed and after four or five engaging debates you’re going to die off. There is there is more to come and plenty of material in the pipe already.
Sebastian – Oh we have plenty I guess enough to go through when, let me think I guess the end of February, February 2017 or even March, so if you subscribe to the podcast feed in your app or if go back to the website, you’ll have enough content until the end of February at the very least and then we keep carrying on so we’re not going to stop so I do expect that we’ll have content for the entire year so you can stay with us.
Dirk – Forever!
Sebastian – Forever. And it’s free. Forever? I don’t know.
Dirk – Yeah I think as you could tell we are not in it for the money so there is no plan right now to monetize the project, although in podcast land, there are plenty of ways to start monetizing and if at some point you want to see a coffee mug with Sebastian’s face on it, we can make that happen.
Sebastian – If we’re not in it for the money, in it for what then?
Dirk – For personal growth and for the fun.
Sebastian – Aww I was hoping for something else.
Dirk – For something else? For sex and drugs…
Sebastian – No! Come on! When you debate, you want to win. You tell me I’m in it for the…
Dirk – For the kill?
Sebastian – Yes! I’m in for the kill!
Dirk – That’s your quote. You’re the wild one in this relationship.
Sebastian – Such a sick mind ! Unbelievable!
Dirk – So thank you for listening to this introductory episode. I hope you have fun with the debates. In case you didn’t notice, we are eager to hear from you, so please share your feedback in Google+, in Facebook, on Twitter, on the webpage, pick your favorite channel. Also do us a favor: go to iTunes now and rate the project. Yeah, please do that, thank you. Alright so Sebastian what’s next on our list? What is the next debating topic on our list actually that’s going to be launched in two weeks?
Sebastian – In two weeks, it’s going to be “election polls should be banned”.
Dirk – Yes, that’s one of my personal favorites so far. And you should check out on our various social media channels: we’ve created a number of means to introduce each of our debates so check them out. I had a good laugh when we created them. I also love the video you created by the way, the teaser video, especially the second one that’s like a silent movie. From the nineteen twenties.
Sebastian – Yes I got inspired from finding the music on YouTube and I just thought “hey maybe we could do something with that”. It took me 15 hours to find various specific segments of videos of our debates and trying to make something out of it, create a storyline. Actually the hardest thing was to create a story out of it because initially I thought about this, I thought i’m going to use our faces and other weird expressions on video. And then I didn’t have a good story behind this so that took a bit of time to think through things and then make something which could make sense overall, but it was good fun. Check them out: I think type 2debate, 2 is the number – debate.
Dirk – Yeah, on 2debate.net, you’ll find it on the bottom of the website. Just scroll all the way down on the right hand side, it’s embedded on the page. Alright, thanks for listening, share your feedback and see you at 2debate.net or one of our social media channels.
Sebastian – Thank you!