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Ethos and Confidence Essential to Debate Success

The skills you use to win debates also helps you win in life.

Do you ever wish that you can just get in the debate judges mind and persuade them to vote pro or con. Oh if I can only send subliminal messages to the judge. Well you can!! How you present yourself in a debate is the most critical key to your success. Confidence will win the day every time. Many times, the debate is way too close for the judge to decide who is the winner. So judges start looking for nonverbal cues and/or body language. If you look like you won the debate and you think you won the debate, that can be all you need to tip the edge over to your side.

So what is ethos? Aristotle coined Ethos, Pathos and Logos as keys to persuasion. Pathos deals with emotional appeals to the audience, Logos is logical arguments and Ethos is the speakers credibility. When you are confidence and believe in yourself, your credibility and ethos increases. This is easy to see in Presidential Debates. When Barack Obama appeared less enthusiastic, tired and not interested in his first debate, the audience gave the edge to Mitt Romney even though substantively it was a very close debate.

Think about this in your everyday life. Isn’t the one in your school who walks with his/her head up, shoulders back, and a confident smile seem to have it more together than the person who is slumped over, not smiling and head down. We judge people everyday based on their confidence. So what things can you do in debate and public speaking to enhance your credibility and ethos!

Here are some easy steps that you can immediately implement:

  • Stand tall, put your shoulders back and Smile. Keep a close eye on your posture. Research has shown that physiology has a huge impact in our confidence. Taking charge of your stance can immediately redirect your negative energy.
  • Believe in yourself. Tell yourself over and over again during a debate that you are doing awesome, that you are a great debater and public speaker, that you are going to win and that you are the bomb! Not cocky though. Research has also shown that your mind has incredible control over your body and how you project yourself. If you believe in yourself, then the audience will see that.
  • Never Comment on Any Mistakes you make – if you miss a line or don’t make the right argument in the debate, most of the time the audience misses it. They only notice it when you highlight it. Like a good actor that forgets her lines, she never says “ooops” and neither should you.
  • Visualize success – Gestalt psychology contends that if you can visualize yourself doing well and being confident before the debate, that will carry over to competition. At summer debate camps, I always advise the audience to visualize success for the next morning. See it. Believe it.
  • First impressions are everything – When you approach the lecturn or stand up or enter the room, enter with bravo and confidence. Take charge. Don’t hesitate. When you approach something with confidence, confidence follows you. Your initial physiology will dictate how you do the rest of the speech.
  • Last Impressions are important – after your speech, debate or performance, say to yourself “I did aweome” or “I won” over and over again in your mind. The worse thing to say when you are being evaluated after the debate is “I messed up” or think about that as that will be projected to judge.
  • Don’t listen to the monster on your shoulder – if it starts telling you that you are messing up, just redirect your focus back on your speech or debate.

These are some basic ideas to get you started. At our summer debate camps, Capitol Debate will take the time to go more indepth on ethos and debate. For now, watch things fall in place when you act confidently!!

Ronald Bratt, CEO of Capitol Debate, Summer Academic and Debate Camps for Elementary, Middle School and High School students.