Many students wonder how they can become better public speakers – especially when it comes to debating. Hongkongers struggle in three important areas: preparation, delivery, and critical thinking.
Ariq Hatibie, a South Island School graduate who's now studying at Yale University in the US, is a two-time member of the Hong Kong National Team says: “It’s important to look at what debate really is, outside of just a competitive activity.” He believes it is about interpreting the truth about issues – but from different standpoints.
Presenting this truth requires more than just well-thought out ideas, it takes confidence.
“While the idea of ‘fake it till you make it’ is appealing, what will count is a debater’s ability to show they believe in their case,” says Ariq. “This can be from mannerisms or tone of voice, but also by avoiding reading their speeches. So when writing your argument, it’s good to get into the habit of not writing your speech word for word, but rather putting keywords on your notes.,” Ariq says, because what distinguishes a good speaker from a great speaker is their delivery.
Keshav Menon, 16, of South Island School also, is a reserve member for this year’s World Schools Debating Championships, agrees. He says debaters need to have faith in themselves. “Be calm, be confident, and make sure you’re clear,” he says. “Don’t speak too quickly. Allow the judges and audience to understand you. What you say has merit to it, you just need to back it up [with facts].”
And it’s the facts that are the most important part. Ariq says aspects such as style and structure – which many students believe are important in debating – are not as important as the content and analysis they bring.
“It might sound daunting, as debaters heavily rely on stylistic features, but debaters need to look beyond the rhetorical flourishes,” he says, “because no matter how impressive their speeches are, it’s their ideas that will matter.”
Presenting the best ideas at the debate begins with good preparation. When you meet with your team before the debate, you need to discuss the model you will use to support your argument. This can include clearly stating how something would be implemented and who it would affect.
Keshav says that even with good preparation, debaters often also struggle with rebuttal.
“During the actual debate, students struggle to interpret an issue or tackle a flaw in their opponent’s case.”
If the opposition raises a point that changes the status quo of the topic, that’s when you should use a stakeholder analysis, which shows the topic’s impact on the people who would be most affected by it.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of simply repeating information which has already been established. Instead, be sure to provide a critical analysis or development. It may seem obvious, but students forget to do this.
Between the argument, presenting the facts, and doing it all with grace, there’s a lot to think about with debating and public speaking. It’s always helpful to take a step back and analyse your case.
Many of your debating missteps can easily be changed. With continuous practise and help, before long, debating might seem like a casual thing to do!