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5 Readiness tips for Debaters


For a debutante debater or for that matter, a couple of appearances old debater, the experience can be very daunting and can sometimes make you feel frustrated and like it simply “isn’t my thing”. The key is, just to stay in the game and believe in yourself because it really isn’t too demanding and the experience that you walk away with is incomparable. Irrespective of the outcome, it’s a fantastic learning that enables you to be open to different standpoints and pushes you to have a wider perspective. To help with this enriching process here are five things that will make it hopefully a little less challenging.

  1. Know your speech:


As obvious as this may seem, it’s very often overlooked because it’s not considered to be very significant but having this feather in your hat will make you more confident and in the wider scheme of things it’s one less thing to worry about. Of course, a challenge associated with this is the fact that your speech can appear scripted but it’s nothing a little bit of confidence and passion can’t handle. There’s nothing wrong with taking a piece of paper up to the podium but if you know your speech you won’t be looking at it too much which will mean you are making more eye contact with the audience and this will make your speech more effective and leave a lasting impact on the audience and judges. In order to take the trophy home, it’s not about whether you get every line out in your four minutes it’s more about whether you made an impact in the lines that you do remember to get out to make a conscious effort to know your speech and yes, a couple of lines missed out will not mean much as long as what you uttered made the impact and in some ways got the message home.


  1. The first 20 seconds:


A debate can very often be intimidating because of the hundreds of people watching, the trophy staring you in the eye, every participant’s desperation to win, and all this has a way of charging the atmosphere. In all of this, the first few seconds of your speech may be hard to get out because of nervousness and a typical social anxiety syndrome, but if despite feeling like your heart is in your mouth you can get the first twenty seconds out confidently and effectively you’ve set a fantastic pattern for the rest of your speech. It’s in the first twenty seconds of listening to your speech that the judges and the audience decide whether they want to listen to the remaining 200 or not. Not to mention the incentive it gives you to maintain the tempo of confidence and passion for the remainder of the speech. “Content is always king” so don’t let the content get lost in the fear of delivering it. Even if that means giving yourself cliched pep talks like ” Life is too short” or ” it doesn’t matter what people think”, so be it, whatever floats your boat.


  1. Rebuttal:


Nervous jitters, fear of judgement and sometimes just plain sluggishness prevents one from making an effort with the rebuttal. If your turn is right in the beginning then you may be tempted to stay put in your chair after your speech and let out a sigh of relief that lasts till the very last speaker and in that case, you run the risk of getting forgotten and if your speech is, in the end, you might be tempted to keep practicing your speech and then you run the risk of being regarded as uninterested in the debate due to lack of involvement. Active participation in the rebuttal will introduce you to the judges before your speech and add to your credibility as a speaker so much so that in the long run you will be much happier you spent your time asking questions rather than practising. Sometimes, rebuttal helps provide you opportunities to talk on the mic, in short bursts, a couple of times before your actual speech because with every question you ask your fear of speaking in front of the crowd will diminish. You will also be regarded as stiff competition from your opponents, one to watch out for and the judges will appreciate your willingness to listen to every speech closely and call out the inaccuracies. It portrays your passion for the subject and desperation to make your side prevail and this will only add to your points as a debater. The debater who takes the trophy home will always have a good combination of the rebuttal and speech coupled with eloquence and passion, this is certainly something worth emulating.


  1. Be aggressive:


Being nice and politically correct will only take you so far because in a debate you only have four minutes to prove that you deserve to win and If you spend that time making diplomatic statements that need to be thought out to infer the conclusion, your speech probably won’t have as much of an impact as it would if you simply hit the hammer on the head and aggressively put across exactly what you’re thinking. And I say aggressively only because it demonstrates conviction for the viewpoint to the judges and it shows your opponents that you’re not willing to back down as cliched as that may sound.  In a debate, the last thing you can afford is to appear vulnerable and to this end, some aggression will help manage this requirement. In a debate more often than not, game face on is a game changer and it might not win you the debate but it definitely implies that you mean business and are here to win!


  1. Have fun, Experiment, and explore:


If you genuinely enjoy debating it will be very obvious in the speech that you deliver and every debate that you attend but it’s binding on you to judge whether it’s your cup of tea or not. As you keep debating, make sure to keep the process interesting by experimenting with your style and finding one that works for you and provides you with optimum results in minimum time and effort. Find out what speech structure works for you and tweak it every now and then so that you evolve your “go to speech structure” as you deliver some of the best speeches.

Test the boundaries of causes, effects, solutions and take the plunge, it may be a decision you’ll be forever grateful for.

About the Author

Riddhi Gopinath is a student at Bishop Cotton Girls’ School, Bangalore.