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5 Steps to Being a Confident Debater

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

What does Confidence truly mean in the eyes of a debater?

Well, it took me a while to figure it out. When I was an 8th grader I joined the speech and debate class at my school. I did not know much about the program, but my older sister did forensics and told me to join. When I started to go to competitions in 8th grade, I did not put in much effort but somehow still placed in my events where I competed against people in my grade. Then, as a 9th grader, I started competing against all kids in high school. These high school competitors were experienced and professional, and I felt as though I was a terrible speaker. My confidence was low and I wanted to quit. However, I decided to switch it up and tried doing debate. This was a whole new world for me. I had to research, understand topics, find evidence, be able to argue both sides, refute my competitors, and most of all I had to learn to be confident again. It sounded daunting but I loved the environment of the Speech and Debate program at my school and my sister and friends convinced me not to quit. So, I was ready to take on the challenge. In my first competition as a debater, I was competing in Congressional Debate. I vividly remember the intense room filled with 20 competitors. I had no idea what I was doing and was so scared and intimidated that I did not even speak once, in the entire 3 hour session. Yet, once that session was over I was not relieved, I was angry with myself. I did not understand why people just like me could go up to the front of the room and give an incredible speech, while I was about to pee my pants. That is when I learned: I needed to be more confident. I finally decided to take the steps that needed to be done to feel confident.

That is how I came up with my 5 Steps To Being a Confident Debater:

1. Set yourself up for success.

Do everything in your power to be able to compete. In order to achieve this step I did the following actions. I accepted criticism on my case from my coach and teammates. I made an A+ template I could use for all cases. I practiced my speaking to have better articulation, tone, and range. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me. I attended practice rounds and/or watched videos of the event I was competing in online. Prioritizing these actions, despite feeling shy or insecure set me up for improvement.

2. Get yourself in the zone.

On the way to competition you must get in the zone. This means that in order to be more confident you have to be in the right headspace. I conquered this step by making a music playlist. It consisted of hype songs that would get me pumped for my rounds. The songs made me feel more excited and prepared and less nervous. I got into the habit of bringing my phone and earbuds onto the bus to be able to listen to it before I competed. This step does not have to be just music. It can entail anything that makes you feel comfortable and more confident.

3. Affirm Yourself.

I am a big believer of self affirmation. Anything you say aloud after the words “I am” convinces your brain to believe it. I would always go to the bathroom before rounds to look at myself in the mirror and say affirmations. It would go something like “ I am amazing! I am fierce! I am ready! I am confident! I am going to WIN! ” It may sound silly, but you’ll never know the impact if you do not try it.

4. Fake it until you Make it.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to take the steps to be more confident. The butterflies and nervousness gets to you during rounds. This is when you have to fake the confidence. Think about your role model or a competitor you admire and mimic their confident gestures. This way you will also learn how to make it your own and you can succeed.

5. Every experience is an opportunity to grow.

Many times when I lost a round, I would feel like I had failed. I would be discouraged and would want to quit. However, we must realize that a loss gives us the opportunity to learn and grow. When you start to have this mindset your confidence will also boost.

These Five Steps took me a few years to learn and embed into my life. When I started speech and debate as an 8th grader I had no clue what to do, but now that I have faced obstacles and overcame my insecurities I have never felt this confident about myself. After all, these 5 steps are at least worth a try!


Soumya Kolluru (she/her)

Bentonville West High School Senior


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