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Bo Seo

Two-time world champion debater and author of Good Arguments

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Good Arguments: Bo Seo In-Conversation with Rick Sarre
  • About Bo Seo

    When two-time world champion debater Bo Seo was 8 years old, his family immigrated from South Korea to Australia. Knowing no English, Seo struggled with school before he discovered competitive debate, a new passion that helped him excel both socially and academically. In his inspirational talks, Seo speaks on how debate empowered him to find his voice, and he shares how spoken rhetoric has helped people on their paths to success. He offers workshops to teach audiences how to view a debate from the opposing perspective, to listen actively, and to disagree with respect and provides them with a range of tools they can use to better communicate with their co-workers, fellow students, or team members.

    In his beautifully written personal growth memoir, Good Arguments: How Debate Teaches Us to Listen and be Heard, Bo Seo tells the inspiring story of his journey from immigrant kid to world champion and reveals the timeless secrets of effective communication and persuasion. He explains how the central pillars in the art of debate—fact-finding, reason, persuasion, and listening to opponents—are important across all aspects of life, from ensuring a healthy democracy to everyday conversations. Seo shares the vital lessons on how to build a community with empathetic disagreement.

    Besides his passion for debating, Bo Seo is also a human rights activist who has previously held positions with the Human Rights Commission in Australia and volunteered with Harvard Human Rights in North Korea. Seo has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, and many other publications. He has worked as a national reporter for the Australian Financial Review and has been a regular panelist on the prime-time Australian debate program, The Drum.

    Bo Seo graduated from Harvard University. During his time with the Harvard College Debating Union, Bo Seo became the 2016 World Universities Debating Champion, the largest and most prestigious collegiate debate competition in the world. Seo and his partner were the second Harvard team to earn the title in three years. He received a master’s degree in public policy from Tsinghua University, and he is currently a Juris Doctor candidate at Harvard Law School.

    Contact us for more information about bringing Bo Seo to your next event.

  • Speaking Topics

    Evening with Bo Seo

    When Bo Seo was 8 years old, he and his family migrated from Korea to Australia. At the time, he did not speak English, and, unsurprisingly, struggled at school. But, then, in fifth grade, something happened to change his life: he discovered competitive debate. It became a way for Bo not only to find his voice, but to excel socially and academically. By tracing his own journey from immigrant kid to world champion, Seo shows how the skills of debating—information gathering, truth finding, lucidity, organization, and persuasion—are often the cornerstone of successful careers and happy lives.

    Empathetic Disagreement

    In this talk, also offered as a workshop, Bo Seo demonstrates that good arguments can help us bridge differences in our workplaces, campuses, and communities. Whereas empathy is often viewed as a spontaneous mental connection or a virtue, debate shows that it is an action. Participants learn through practical and versatile exercises how to view the debate from the opposing perspective, to listen actively, and to disagree with respect. In a time of polarization, Seo shares vital lessons from the world of competitive debate on how to build a community around, and not in spite of, disagreement.

    Debate as Self-defense

    In this talk, also offered as a workshop, Bo Seo tackles the problem of toxic disagreements. He coaches participants to diagnose, then defend themselves against the tactics of bullies who hijack debates and turn them into brawls. Seo also teaches participants how to discern when an argument is worth having at all. Throughout, Seo draws from his own journey from a shy, conflict-averse kid to a world debate champion. At a time when so many disagreements turn toxic, learning the limits and abuses of debate can help individuals and organizations chart a better course.

    How to Disagree Better

    In this workshop, two-time debate champion, Bo Seo, teaches participants the fundamentals that have aided him in debate. These highly practical lessons range from grasping the dispute at hand, to making effective arguments and rebuttal, to using words and gestures to deliver the point. Together, the lessons will change participants’ view of how disagreements work, and will give them a range of tools they can use to better communicate with their co-workers, fellow students, or team members. It will give organizations seeking to harness the power of disagreement among their membership a way to “level up” their skills and shared knowledge.

  • Video

  • Praise for Bo Seo

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    The keynote speech was outstanding. Our attendees really felt they learned the power of engaging communities in difficult discussions through positive debates. It provided tangible recommendations such as getting appropriate data to support your decision making.

    AISNE

    Praise for Good Arguments

    [An] enlightening introduction to the style, function, and variety of formal debate . . . Full of intriguing historical snapshots and practical advice, this is an inspiring study of how good-faith arguments can bring people together rather than tear them apart.

    Publishers Weekly

    Bo Seo pulls off the hat trick of persuasion, combining crisp logic, a compelling story, and a likeable, trustworthy narrator. While his book will turn the shyest introvert into a wannabe debater, it makes a compelling argument of its own: that civil disagreement can save our troubled civilization.

    Jay Heinrichs, New York Times-bestselling author of Thank You for Arguing

    At a time of polarization and rage, we all need to learn how to disagree well—and this important, compelling and wise book should be at the heart of how we do so.

    Johann Hari, New York Times-bestselling author of Stolen Focus and Lost Connections

    Good Arguments is a book so timely and needed in this fraction-ing world we are living in. It assumes that a quarrel is something you first have with yourself, get it out of the way and start to respect and listen to the person across the room from you. Seo has written a book that forces us to think and then speak as the philosopher he knows is right on the tip of every tongue. This book is brilliant and a pleasure to read; in the end, he instructs us not to win but to convince and unexpectedly, it teaches how to persuade for words are deployed as weapons of love.

    Jamaica Kincaid, author of See Now Then, Mr. Potter, and The Autobiography of My Mother

    In a world increasingly rent by division within and between nations, Bo Seo’s lucid and humane search for ‘better ways to disagree’ could not be more timely or valuable.

    Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and author of The Case for Courage

    I adore this beautiful story of a young person’s journey from fear of conflict and altercation to embrace of wonderful disagreement and argument. In this touching memoir, debate is not a mere activity but a way of life that offers hope of a cure for a diseased society. Good Arguments is essential reading!

    Jeannie Suk Gersen, John H. Watson Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and author of A Light Inside

    From two-time world champion debater Bo Seo, a thoughtful, instructive and eloquent meditation on the art of debate and why its central pillars—fact-finding, reason, persuasion and listening to opponents—are so valuable in today’s alarming ecosystem of misinformation and extreme emotion. When Bo Seo’s family immigrated from South Korea to Australia, he was a shy, conflict-averse eight year old who worried about being an outsider, and in Good Arguments, he recounts how debate not only helped him to cross language lines, but also gave him confidence and a voice of his own.

    Michiko Kakutani, New York Times-bestselling author of Ex Libris and The Death of Truth

    I had lots of conversations about political and social issues with Bo Seo when he was a student at Harvard, and I never felt even, for a second, that he was being disputatious or even argumentative. On the contrary, they were delightfully agreeable. Now I understand why: it was because Bo Seo is a debater, in fact, one of the best debaters in the world. If you want to learn how debating can help you become a more engaging conversationalist, a more broad-minded thinker, or even, maybe, just a better human being, you must read Good Arguments.

    Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Metaphysical Club and The Free World

    Today, more than ever, we see the importance of navigating disagreements constructively. In his new book, Good Arguments, Bo Seo offers some tips we can all use in doing so, drawing on his deep experience as a champion debater.

    Stephen A. Schwarzman, New York Times-bestselling author of What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence

    Good Arguments is an antidote to spin, fake news, ‘political correctness’ and plain muddled thinking. Bo Seo teaches us how to listen and to be heard in both a healthy democracy and around the kitchen table.

    Gillian Triggs, author of Speaking Up and UN Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant High Commissioner for Protection with UNHC

    This excellent book begins with the challenge faced by a schoolboy whose family moved from South Korea to Australia. From a culture where structured debate was sometimes considered a futile and impolite game to one that saw it as a call to the pleasure of discovering new ways to look at our world through the eyes of others. From school debating to university dialogue and on to witnessing global political conflict, Bo Seo identifies how debate and argument are essential to human understanding. Out of good arguments comes a synthesis. It has been so from the time of Socrates, to the world of Khrushchev and Mandela, and of Putin and Zelinsky. He argues that debate is central to human freedom even as our world faces dramatic challenges for human survival. Distinguishing ‘good arguments’ from unconvincing rubbish, has never been more central to human survival and to achieving love for one another.

    Michael Kirby, AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia and former President of the International Commission of Jurists

    A useful reflection on how to disagree, especially important in toxic times.

    Kirkus

    Lucidly recounting anecdotes and observations from his live debate sessions, Seo takes readers on a refreshing and inspiring journey . . . this illuminating book examines the fascinating world of competitive debate and offers much food for thought.

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