Credit goes to Samuel Sefzik (several time tournament champion and high-placing debater at Nationals) for the second and third idea.
Confident body language sometimes boils down to small details in how you act in a debate round. Some of the things you don’t even pay attention to while debating can affect the judge’s perception of your confidence.
1. Setting up at the lectern
When you go up to speak, do your papers look disorganized? That already makes you seem frantic, so work on that. Samuel recommends taking everything up in a binder that you can open when you get to the lectern, and close when you are about to leave. While I never did this, this may work for some people. Alternatively, tag all your evidence and bring it up in a neat stack along with your flowpad, and that will look organized as well.
If you have to shuffle some things around on the lectern, take your time. If you do it quickly it makes you look nervous.
Finally, when you’re done setting up, take a couple of seconds to look at the judge or judges in the eye and make sure they’re ready before proceeding.
I’m a big fan of saying “looks like everyone is ready, so I’ll begin”, rather than going through the ritual of asking each person if they’re ready.
2. Leaving the lectern
Many debaters will finish their speech, say “thank you”, and immediately shuffle away from the lectern as if they’re breathing a sigh of relief. No matter how good your speech sounded, if you leave with the posture of defeat, you’ll undermine your speech.
After finishing, take a moment to give each judge appropriate eye contact, then leave or say you’re ready for cross-examination.
3. Eye contact with multiple judges
While you’re speaking, try to switch from judge to judge without blinking in between. If you blink before every transition, it looks as if you’re looking away because you’re nervous or have something to hide.
Instead, have a steady gaze that stops meaningfully at each judge.
Of course, not blinking would be a bad idea. I don’t mean to take it to that extreme. Just try not to always blink during transitions from one set of eyes to another.
These three tips will improve your perceived confidence at the lectern, making it seem like you own the place.
Of course, it can be difficult to pay attention to each of these tips individually, but that’s why “fake it till you make it” only works up to a certain point. Eventually, you’ll want to learn true confidence so that these behaviors are automatic, not pre-planned.
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