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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Why debate #2 - because it will make you more confident.

Do you remember the first time you had to speak in public? Or the second? Or the third?

How did you feel?

Were your legs shaking? Did your face (and / or other parts of your body) go red? Was your stomach like a hamster who’s just drunk a triple espresso running on her wheel? Did you think everyone was laughing at you?

Everyone feels like that. Even people who seem utterly confident fear failure and humiliation, whether they’re doing Show and Tell in Year One, or presenting on a topic in class, or doing a reading in Assembly, or making their first speech in the House of Commons, or giving their inaugural address as the newly elected President of the United States. I have no evidence for this, but I bet Martin Luther King went to the bathroom more often than usual just before he gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

It never goes away. 

So what should you do about it? Hide under the duvet? Or in the cupboard? Draw the curtains? Never go out?

That won’t work.

Even if you don’t become an MP, or President of the United States, or lead a mass movement against racism, you will have to speak in public, whatever line of work or way of life you end up in. You may well have to do it in your private life too. So you might as well get good at it.

It never goes away, that adrenalin overload, that ‘fight or flight’ feeling. But it does get easier to manage. Here’s how to manage it.

Let’s think about athletes (like we did in our first ‘Why debate?’ post). They tend to be fitter than other people. How do they get fit? 

Did you ever hear someone say, ‘I can’t go for a run. I’m not fit enough.’? That’s an easy argument to demolish. Going for a run is how you get fit. Olympic gold medal winners weren’t born fit; they got fit. And they got fit by running, or jumping, or throwing, again and again and again. Public speaking (which is to debating what running, jumping and throwing are to athletics) is no different. You get better at it by doing it. And the more you do it the more confident you will be, not least because you will have done it in the past and therefore know you can do it in the future. Athletes talk about ‘muscle memory’, the way in which, if you repeat a certain action often enough, it becomes automatic, almost a part of you. Your mind can develop muscle memory too. Speak in public often enough, and it will end up seeming as normal as speaking in private. Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Debating will have you doing it a lot.

And there’s more. 

Public speaking isn’t the only thing that debating will give you confidence with. It will also give you confidence with private speaking. I mean the sort of private speaking where someone wants you to do something, or think something, or even be something which you know in your heart of hearts is wrong - wrong for you, or maybe just wrong full stop. If you’re not used to seeing the flaws in the other person’s ideas, or defending your own way of thinking, than it can be hard to stand up for yourself. You can end up either giving in, or losing your temper and storming off, maybe losing a friend in the process. If you’re a debater, though, you will be able to question what you’ve been told, and then put your side of the story calmly, confidently and assertively. 

Debaters are the sort of people who can say what needs to be said without fear or anxiety, but also without having to bully or shout, both in public and in private. People respect them for it.

As one of my students said once: ‘Since I’ve been a debater my parents tell me I’ve become much more argumentative. That is so not true.’


Debating will make you more confident, both in public and in private.

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