Golfer Jack Nicklaus said that he never hit a shot, even during practice, without visualizing it first. He won 18 major championships. For decades, professional athletes have considered visualization an essential tool, often spending hours visualizing their victory. Public speakers can use this same technique to improve their speaking.
“So you’re saying that by daydreaming about being a good speaker, you will suddenly get better? That’s ridiculous.”
I agree it sounds bogus. But after reading about several studies that proved visualization works, I decided to try it in a debate round. I had some extra prep time before my 2AR, so I closed my eyes and visualized myself giving a brilliant speech. When I stood up and spoke, it wasn’t brilliant.
But it was good.
So good, in fact, that I got 30 speaker points.
If you’re a good speaker already, you’re probably thinking “Nice try, but 30 speaker points is my average.” Okay, but 30 speaker points wasn’t my average, and visualization helped make it happen.
How does this work?
Visualization is basically using your imagination to improve your actual performance. Either before the tournament or during a round, close your eyes and imagine every detail about a successful speech. That includes the judge having a receptive attitude, your confident posture, the charisma you want flowing from you, and the brilliant rhetoric you’re going to use.
Here’s a basic guide I put together. You can customize it to however you want to do the visualization, but it gives you a basic idea of how it’s done.
This is weird
Okay, I know it seems weird, even self-centered to just imagine yourself being a successful person.
I get that.
When I first read about visualization, I put it aside as something odd that I didn’t have time for.
Trust me when I say that this works. Not only does it work, it feels natural after you get used to it.
I would encourage you to try it at least 10 times on separate days at home before attempting it during a round, just to get used to the idea. If you try your first time at a tournament you’ll feel self-conscious.
Why does it work?
The same reason method acting works. Method acting is something many famous actors (including Daniel Day-Lewis) use. They try to “get into the shoes” of whomever they’re acting as. If they’re acting like a person with broken legs, these actors will go around their normal daily lives outside of the set in a wheelchair!
The most non-insane form of method acting used by actors is to simply visualize themselves as their character. Trying to feel the emotions, trying to empathize completely with their character.
Here’s the tricky part about body language: it’s impossible to fully fake body language. There are thousands of individual parts to the body language of a particular state of mind. You can try acting confident by adopting the posture, but other parts will give away that you’re not confident.
Visualization bypasses this problem by helping your brain to automate your body language. Basically, you’ve convinced your brain that you’re a confident speaker, so it helps you act that way.
“There is good evidence that imagining oneself performing an activity activates parts of the brain that are used in actually performing that activity,” said Professor Stephen Kosslyn, director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
You’re essentially tricking your mind into thinking you’re a good speaker!
Extra stuff you can do
If you’ve got the idea of visualization down, and want to go even further, here are a few extra tips.
- Come up with and memorize simple catchphrases to calm yourself down. “This too shall pass.” “No one cares if I mess up.”
- If you aren’t nervous but you want to really power through your speech, you could use the Potent Speaking motto: “Impress the audience.”
- Play your favorite pump-up music. Play anything that makes you feel awesome, confident, and ready to debate.
- Smile to yourself. This is SO important. If you frown while listening to your music and visualizing, you’ll just make yourself nervous. A confident, smug smile makes you feel better. Trust me.
- This one is so weird that I never did it, but you can even try physical motions that make you feel pumped up. Like a fist pump or something. If you want, you can do that, but I never convinced myself to do it 🙂
- Come up with a visualization that works for you and rehearse it so that it’s easy for you to remember it in times of need. That way you don’t have to make one up on the fly when you’re nervous.
- Imagine yourself giving a twenty second hug to someone you care about. No, not your crush, that’s just weird. This increases your level of oxytocin, which helps you deal with the nerves.
- Read the book “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane. This is where I learned about visualization. If you take the book seriously you’ll learn a lot. It not only improved my debating, it improved my social skills. Still working on those 😉
How do I do this in round?
Most of these tips can’t be done in a debate round. But the basic idea of visualization still works beautifully.
Right before an important speech in which you need to be absolutely persuasive, just imagine yourself absolutely owning the speech, the judge, and the entire room. Imagine yourself in finals as a result of your brilliant debating. You can spend 30+ seconds of prep time on this.
I’d advise closing your eyes, since it can be hard to concentrate otherwise. You also might accidentally stare at your judge awkwardly while you space out (not a good thing)!
Consider doing this right before postings go up, as well. That way you can spend more time on it and do other things like listening to music to help out.
Visualization is a powerful tool in your Potent Speaking kit. If you write it off as bogus, creepy, or unnecessary, you’re missing out. Just hope that your opponent didn’t read this blog post!
I wrote an example visualization out for you so you can get a better feel for what it is like. Click here to access it.
I’d encourage you to make up one of your own, however. My idea of a successful speaker is different from yours.
I know how things like this go: you will probably open up my sample visualization, skim it, and decide it’s not for you and forget about it. I did that at first too. Just try it. Right now. Then print it immediately, put it in your debate binder, and try it at a debate tournament. If you wait, you won’t do it, and you won’t get the benefit. Did I read your mind? Let me know in the comments below 🙂
Thanks for reading my first official tip. I hope this shows how unique and in-depth you can expect my tips to be.