During a debate with his opponent, Walter Mondale, he quipped “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”.
With one simple joke, he turned the main argument against him into an argument for him.
But you don’t even have to be witty, or Ronald Reagan, to pull off what he did. He just acted like he was winning.
One of the most basic ways to be and appear more confident is to just pretend that you are winning.
If done correctly, it gives you the mindset that will cause real confidence to emerge, and the body language will come naturally to you.
Spend some time right now thinking about what a winning debater looks like. I’ll provide some of my own ideas, and you can compare lists with mine.
- Good, tall posture and confident body language
- Lectern aside, doesn’t need it in order to remember what to say
- Uses big hand motions if needed, not afraid of making an impact
- Voice betrays that he/she absolutely believes in their position
- Argumentation is polite but also clear in betraying that the opposition’s arguments are weak
- Doesn’t use nit-picky arguments, because he/she can show the flaw in the opposition’s philosophy as a whole
- Sits up well at the table, doesn’t look rushed during prep time
- Confident smiles, occasionally bordering on smirks (without looking arrogant)
- Isn’t pushed around in cross-examination, gets the answers he/she wants
- Makes few arguments, but each one is very strong
- Is able to transition from joking to very serious argumentation, and keep the judge tagging along
- Well dressed, hair well done (and out of their face, girls!)
- If you were to watch a video of the round without listening to the words said, you’d choose this debater as the winner
Now, here’s the important part: you don’t necessarily have to consciously think about doing all of these things in round.
If you can picture what I just described in your head, you should be able to turn on your “inner winner” switch, and automatically implement several of those tips.
Of course, if you practice all the tips I provide on this website one by one before the tournament, you’ll be a lot better at looking like you’re winning. But this tip helps you to activate all the previous tips (and upcoming ones).
But there are good reasons why pretending you’re winning is actually beneficial.
Judges are often uncertain who to vote for.
The arguments can be very overwhelming. Any bit of extra bias you give the judge towards your position is critical, in many rounds.
In my last year, I lost very, very few rounds that I felt I was winning. Whenever I felt like the underdog in a round, it showed in the way I spoke. It got in my psyche. I lost almost all the rounds I felt like I had lost.
Sometimes I had the better arguments, but I felt like the judge wasn’t getting it. This made me uncomfortable and made it feel like I was the underdog, so once again I failed to pretend I was winning.
Even when you feel like you’re losing, remind yourself that your arguments can technically win (hopefully you have at least decent ones!) then just push forward. Start speaking as if the other team is being ludicrous.
I’m not talking about being mean.
Look at the list above: a debater who is acting like that throughout a round will usually win.
Give it a try, pretend you’re winning.
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