4 tips from an expert that will make you a more confident and talented debater

By Nicholas White

Being able to win a debate isn’t just making sure you know your subject front to back, it’s about being able to overcome your nerves on stage

By Nicholas White |

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Every school debate team in Hong Kong wants to become division champions, but it’s a prize only one team can win. What’s the secret to a team’s success? Is it patience? Research? Giving a great rebuttal to an argument? Thinking up creative strategies? Being able to connect with your audience?

Well, all of these things matter, of course, but what many debaters forget is that it’s also important to be able to believe in your own ability, and to not be nervous. Even the most seasoned debaters can lose an argument if they’re nervous. Sure, teams from elite schools in Hong Kong normally have the edge when it comes to being confident, because they’re more likely to be fluent in English, but there are many ways in which debaters from lesser-known schools can achieve the same thing.

Face your fears

Ask yourself – are you nervous? Where is your anxiety coming from? A lot of the time, fear stems from a lack of confidence.

If you’re scared of what the outcome of a debate will be, then you’re not likely to go into it looking or acting like you will win – you sort of set yourself up to lose.

When you start to think that way, you should examine why you feel like that. If you can find the source, you can think of reasons to overcome it.

Fake it, you’ll make it

Have you heard of the phrase, “fake it until you make it”? It means if you want to be more confident, you act like you are confident – even if you don’t feel like you are.

The more you act like something, the more you will eventually become that thing. You can do this by thinking back to a time when you felt confident, and trying to recapture that feeling. Stand up tall, lift your chin up, and let the tension seep away from your shoulders. This strategy has certainly helped many of my debaters in competitions.

Transform your energy

Don’t get upset if you are still nervous – that’s perfectly normal. It’s not even a bad thing, if you can channel that feeling into excitement, as this energy will be picked up by your audience. You might come across as being more persuasive and engaged during a debate.

Positive thinking is also important. It’s not helpful, for example, to imagine that the judges and the audience are waiting to see you fail. They probably just want to hear an interesting, engaging, and informative debate.

Smile like you mean it

Do you know that smiling releases feel-good chemicals in your brain? They relax the body and calm the nerves. A smile conveys confidence and self-assurance. You are telling everyone that you are happy to be there and enthusiastic about the motion.

When your confidence builds, so does your motivation to defeat your demons. Fearlessness and confidence are the mental keys to debating success.

All the right reasons

Ask yourself – are you debating because you love to debate, are you doing it because you want approval from other people, or are you doing it because you feel like it would look good on your résumé? Debating should be done for the right reasons, and with the right attitude – which you can’t have if you don’t want to be there.

To find out more about debating, visit hkssdebating.com or contact Hong Kong Secondary Schools Debating Competition Coordinator Stan Dyer, via [email protected]

Edited by Ginny Wong