Debating in public, whether at university or college can seem like an intimidating prospect. The possibility of forgetting your lines, stumbling over your words or even being embarrassed by an opponent are enough to put many off.
This paints a rather daunting picture. So how can these nerves be defeated? And, how can you ensure that you perform to your best in a debating environment?
These are some potential do’s and don’ts which should hopefully offer some guidance on how you can overcome any issues and reach your debating peak.
Every individual person is different. Not all can be great orators, have perfect comedic timing or even be able to retain a lot of information. However, this does not mean that you cannot be an effective debater.
This means you should be confident in your own individual style. There is no point trying to be something that you are not. You need to play to your strengths. Debate in a way and a manner that you feel comfortable with and highlights who you are as a person.
Know Your Argument
A successful debater will have a strong grasp of their brief. They will be able to provide detailed information and answers on their topic. This means knowing your facts. No matter how you are feeling, having a good grasp of these details is crucial.
A failure to understand your argument or do the necessary research can make you look foolish and can give an advantage to your opponent. Not all the facts or detail has to be used, but you should be prepared to use them if necessary.
You will not be able to replicate the exact style or format of the debate, but that does not mean you should not practice (bringing friends along to change the atmosphere can also help!) Practice can help with your confidence and can make you feel more secure in your arguments and positions.
Once you are confident with your argument, it is then vital to be able to turn off. Over practising can be potentially damaging and can often make you more nervous. Each individual has to find their optimum level of comfort and walk away from practice when the time is right.
Try and Enjoy Yourself
This is easier said than done! However, it is good to remember why you have put yourself in this place in the first time. This is something that you feel passionate about and that you enjoy. This shouldn’t feel like a chore.
Once you have begun to make your points, you will find that you settle down and that your nerves will begin to dissipate. When this happens, it is quite natural to begin to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable in your environment.
Anger is not your friend. Anger will take you out of your comfort zone and will lead you to stop focussing on your argument and the points that you want to make. From a basic perspective, this will make you less effective.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t be passionate, but there is a clear difference between passion and anger. Understanding this, and understanding how to control your emotions is key for anyone in a debate format.
Personal arguments do not win debates or make good speeches. They take the focus away from the points that you are making and give succour to your opponents who will believe they have been successful in dictating the terms.
It is also not good practice. Choosing to attack the man rather than the ball will make you careless. It will take your focus off your argument and your points and could form a habit. This is not a good habit for any debater to get themselves in.
Worry About Nerves
Nerves happy to everyone. No matter how many times you debate or how many times you speak you will always get nervous. Having nerves before you speak is not anything to worry about and in reality just makes you human.
In addition, don’t be concerned about mistakes. Mistakes also happen to everyone. If you don’t believe me just watch a debate in the House of Commons. When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is refocus and concentrate on your initial aim.
Worry about how You Sound
This seems like a really small issue, but is one that needs to be made. Very few people are comfortable with how they sound or how they speak. This can be blindingly evident when you speak in front of people for the first time.
As best as you can, this has to be put to the back of your mind. Remember, it is not how you are talking or the accent that you have that matters, but it is the points you are making. That is what must dictate your performance.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are just a few do’s and don’ts. It is firmly up to you whether you take this advice.
Anyway good luck and get debating!