Management lessons from my time as a debate promoter

Come December, I am filled with memories and recollections of competitive debating, especially the World Universities Peace Invitational Debate.

My managerial approach is inspired from my days as an international debate promoter.

Let us get things straight, first and foremost. This is not a tribute entry. This is an insight into what event promoters or managers need to consider regarding their managerial approaches.

Many people run their organisations and manage their employees like a business entity, viewing employees as exactly just that: people who work for them and their vision.

Believe it or not, the lack of honest and sincere empathy in that approach, creates a working environment very much similar to the one you find in a factory or prison.

The Children: The Volunteers or The Runners

Runners are the convenor’s imperial guards. It takes unusual skills to be a runner. Despite being at a debate event, language skills are not important. What matters is speed, the ability to gauge quickly what is going on in a busy and hectic situation, keeping time during a debate, remembering the location of all the debate rooms, and prioritising sensibly.

Their primary role is to keep time during the debate, stand motionless at the door while waiting for the adjudicators to reach a verdict, and shuttle the speed-ballot to the tabulation room quickly, once the result is finalised.

Their job is also to do the convenor’s bidding – whatever that might entail. Other, more nebulous tasks might include intelligence-gathering, like a scout reporting back to his expeditor, providing bits of data like the answer to “What is delaying the speed ballot from that room?”, “Are they ready to be served lunch?”, and so on.

Most of my runners may not know how to speak the English language, but they certainly know what is expected of them, and how to execute them. My runners, particularly, are highly motivated. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’s version of the Oompa-Loompas.

They will be generally whipped into such a frenzy of enthusiasm, fear, and naked aggression, that I find myself constantly having to tell them to refrain from bowling over the participants.

A really good runner is a rare and beautiful kind. In the best cases, there is a near telepathic relationship between convenor and runner, requiring only a glance or a facial expression to communicate scads of information or instruction.

A really good runner will read the dupes over the shoulders of his or her master, immediately identifying what will likely come next, and what is required.

The Criminal Uncle: The Porter or The Fixer

I wish I didn’t need a porter or a fixer. But I do.

As a convenor, you must always remain to be seen as the good guy. But at events, you do come across instances where your feet occasionally get stuck, and being the good guy is just not sufficient anymore.

And that’s when you make a call to The Porter. Somebody has to do the tasks that no one else in his right mind would do for love or money.

Somebody has to chase the debts, deal with the evil and uncontrollably angry participants, and retrain arrogant, stubborn, and undisciplined runners quickly.

And for that, you need somebody who is wide-bodied, willing to work alone, and unsupervised.

It’s a thankless, dirty job.

Mr Porter is the guy that would be happy to give an elbow in the kidney every time an incompetent runner passes him by. After a few of these inadvertent bumps and elbow-checks, people usually get the
message.

He’s the guy that is licensed to have a level of discourse that only Lucifer would concede as usual in terms of endearment, all perfectly acceptable in casual conversations … in hell.

Porters or fixers are handpicked or personally trained. You don’t advertise an opening for this special position. Ideally, you would want someone that the debating fraternity has never seen before, a background for running events, and a “criminal record”.

The Wife: Tournament Director

There has long been a symbiotic relationship between the convenor and the tournament director.

Simply put, the convenor wants quality and fair debating organised, and the tournament director wants other events within the tournament handled smoothly.

In a debate event, this is the real person with the technical know-how of competitive debating, removing an exact 50 per cent of the entire work of organising a debate tournament from the shoulders of the convenor.

The tournament director would ideally be a former accomplished debater, adjudicator, and preferably, a tab director.

The ideal working relationship with the tournament director would be somewhat close, like your wife. Let me rephrase that: The ideal tournament director would be someone much closer, than your wife.

Running an international debating championship, driving the people running it, and herding the participants, is very much like how parents run the house with their kids, as well as the entire neighbourhoods’ kids – as parents battle through together in making sure that the family (working committee) stays glued together, and the house (the event) is in order.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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