In the previous unit, you learned about the reasons why debate skills are useful, as well as one standard way to hold a debate. In this unit, we’ll focus on a few specific skills you should keep in mind while debating.
Attitude: The purpose of a debate is to persuade, or convince, your opponent(s) and audience to agree with your point of view, strategy or opinion about a certain topic. Your debate will not be successful unless you present yourself in a positive, confident, and persuasive way. These three key points can be easily achieved in one way—knowledge. Simply speaking, if you know what you’re talking about, and have a lot of information about your opponent’s arguments, then you will feel more confident in what you are saying, and, therefore, more persuasive.
Rhythm: Many people believe that a “fast talker” is a convincing talker, but the opposite is actually true! The faster a person talks, the more unsure and untrustworthy they may sound. You are not selling car insurance door-to-door, so take your time when presenting your main points. Speak slowly so everyone can understand you, but not too slow—remember, there is usually a time keeper who is making sure you complete your thoughts before a certain time is up.
Tone: Like a previous unit explained, your voice can provide more information to your listeners. Make sure your voice sounds firm and confident, not angry or frustrated. Change your tone to soften when you’re talking about sensitive matters, and stronger when you’re talking about important issues that need to be stressed.
Volume: How loud or quiet your voice should largely depend on the size of the room you’re in, as well as the topic you’re debating. Shouting never won any debates, but neither have whispers. A good rule is to speak at 150% (100% being your regular voice you use to talk to friends or order food from a restaurant). Adjust your volume according to the size of the room, how many people are in the room, and other factors (such as microphones being used).
Pronunciation: Practicing pronunciation, even for native English speakers, is a requirement before speaking in public. You want to be sure every word is understood, so speak slowly, clearly, and concisely. Learn your culture’s pronunciation “trouble spots” (for example, how the “l,” “r,” and “th-“ sounds are pronounced by Japanese speakers).
Eye contact: Another key point that was made in a previous unit is the important of eye contact. One way to ensure you won’t be reading pre-written scripts is to simply not have them. Notes on small index cards can be helpful, but avoid writing full sentences on them. Nobody wants to watch you read a piece of paper like a robot, so practice your speech and only use index cards if absolutely necessary.
Take notes: Lastly, take notes when you are not speaking. If your partner is speaking, write down what she or he is saying, as well as how the other team or even some audience members responded to anything mentioned. This could help you adjust your next speech and hopefully get your message across clearly and effectively!
With one partner, practice reading through your lists from above (or from another issue that that you and your partner are familiar with). No one is trying to “win” the debate, so just practice the suggestions given above, and then give each other feedback on how to improve your debate skills.