Published Date

November 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 90: GI Radio Roundtable (1944)

The most important rule for good discussion is: follow the theme of the roundtable.

Keep on the track. Let your statements fit into the development of ideas in the entire discussion. Don’t sit in waiting for a chance to suggest a pet idea, or to tell a joke you’ve been saving, whether or not it fits into the discussion. Sacrifice your personal vanity or ambition for the sake of the roundtable as a whole—in other words, think with the group, just the way yon have to think and work with the group or team, squad, platoon, company, on up to the whole army—to do your job best in winning the war.

Here are some further rules. These are chiefly meant to help the listener feel as if he is part of the discussion. He’ll like the program best if he has that feeling.

Be consistent about names

Don’t call someone “Donald” one moment, “McManus” the next, and then “Red.” The audience won’t know whether the names refer to one, two or three people. Decide whether to use first or last names. Usually you’ll find more different last names than first names, so it may be better to stick to them.

Address people by name now and then

Especially when starting a remark, it’s well to address it by name to the last speaker, if you are answering a point he has made. At the beginning of the roundtable, it’s also a good idea to bring in some descriptive information about a speaker when you address him, like this: “Smith, you worked for a building contractor before the war, what’s your idea about the life of these prefabricated houses?”, or “Jones, you’ve shot down some buzz bombs.” This way of addressing speakers makes them, for your listeners, real people with a history, and lends authority and interest to what they say.

Re-identify the subject

Mentioning the topic of the broadcast from time to time helps orient the listener who tunes in late, and keeps everybody reminded of what it’s all about. But you don’t need to repeat the exact title of the broadcast. Rephrase it, or refer to it indirectly, like this: “I think a world court—”; “A world court is all right but—”; “How will we decide who’ll be on this world court? And what will back up its decisions?” All are Wways of making clear that the discussion has to do with a world court.

Don’t drag out bits of paper to read

Bring t few notes if you like, but don’t read long quotations. You wouldn’t listen to them if you were at the receiving end. Make the discussion conversational, just as if you were talking things over a thousand miles from a mike.

Don’t refer to the shortage of time

It’s a boring kind of apology. Use your time efficiently, and you’ll have plenty of time to start your listeners thinking. And anyway, a lively, interesting discussion seems over before you know it—a dull one seems twice as long. Don’t remind your audience about time at all.

Don’t refer to “unseen listeners”

Or to the “radio audience.” Or to the mike, control room, etc. The discussion is the thing. Don’t take people’s minds off it.

Don’t be “reminded” of a joke

If the joke makes a relevant point, you can introduce it without apologies. If you’re in doubt about using it, leave it out. Spontaneous humor can develop naturally in roundtables out of the thinking and the experiences of the participants.

Don’t get statistical

The listener can’t swallow complex figures. Use round numbers. “About 5 million” is a lot clearer than 4,853,262. Use percentages in “human” terms, too. “Three out of every five soldiers” is better than “60 percent of the soldiers.” If somebody persists in using figures like a statistician, the chairman or some other speaker should restate them in round numbers and “human” terms. The repetition of factual material will help drive home the facts.

Tricks of argument

As a participant, you should become aware of the tricks of argument by which discussers sometimes confuse the unwary. These devices may be used consciously or unconsciously. By becoming alert to these devices, you can spot weak points, phoney points, in other people’s arguments—and also in your own.

The purpose of most tricks of propaganda is to get the audience emotionally on one side or another without giving it a chance to examine the evidence. A speaker manages this sometimes through “name-calling”. For ideas or people he opposes, he uses unpopular labels that already have implications of danger. For ideas or people he favors, he uses words that already carry a halo. Ask yourself: “Is his use of labels justified?”

A speaker may also arouse indignation or admiration over something irrelevant. He speaks eloquently against the starving babies, implying that the course he opposes will lead to such starvation. Ask yourself, “Are his implications warranted by the facts?” If not, the emotion aroused is irrelevant, and may have been meant to get listeners’ minds off the real issue.

A speaker can also sway listeners by emphasizing one isolated fact, while ignoring others. Such an appeal, based on truth but not on the whole truth, may be harder to combat than an outright misstatement. Ask yourself: “Is he using half-truths to mislead and arouse?”

Appeal to emotion is fair enough in itself, but see to it that it isn’t used to camouflage the issues.

Next section: For the Chairman