Credibility and Debating

Public speaking is about belief and disbelief, not about make-belief. Credibility is the principal virtue of every good orator. Whether or whether not the audience will trust you is not entirely up to you, but there are quite a few things you can do to show that you’re credible, that is reliable, trustworthy, and accurate.

Forms of credibility in a debate

  • Ethical credibility: First, can I make the audience see that the motion is bound to an ethical question? Second, can I manage to convince the audience that my case is morally justified?
  • Intellectualcredibility (logos): Does my audience realize that my conclusion based on sound reasoning?
  • Dependability: Will I be able to show that I stick to my position, despite the fact that I am well aware that there are other options?
  • Credibility derived from experience: Can the audience see that I have gained personal experience with the motion?
  • Emotional credibility (pathos): Does the audience see my emotions as signs of involvement in the debate? Does my body language support my argumenmts?
  • Factual credibility: Is my case based on solid facts that cannot easily be invalidated?

Credibility in a debate: pros and cons

To be credible,

  • Avoid absurd statements and far-fetched examples;
  • Don’t make suggestions that are ethically questionable;
  • Reference studies in your speech;
  • Avoid emphasizing your credibility;
  • When attacked, don’t defend yourself on an emotional level;
  • Keep to the main points, don’t wander off the topic;
  • Give examples and visual language;
  • Don’t move your hands too much and don’t touch your face;
  • Maintain eye contact;
  • Don’t exaggerate;
  • Demonstrate your fairness and openness;
  • Be transparent about your goals;
  • Make sure you can defend your case well;
  • Avoid affectation and preciosity;
  • Don’t express radical views;
  • Abstain from religious fundamentalism or esotericism;
  • Don’t try to impress by wordiness but explain your point clearly and intelligibly.
  • Don’t attack your opponent too vigorously, but remain calm throughout the debate;
  • When presenting your suggestions, discuss alternatives and explain your final decision;
  • Don’t hide your feelings, but don’t get overly emotional; but handle things with caution if you debate in a cultural context where emotions are generally repressed rather than expressed.
  • Relate your arguments to norms of high moral standards;
  • Show that you understand your opponents’ way of thinking (“I would have thought that too, but…”).
  • Name potential fallacies and show how you avoid them;
  • Avoid vagueness and obscurity;
  • Don’t show that you simply want to win the debate;
  • Use official sources and name them;
  • Show that you really care for the people who may be affected by the consequences of your scheme;
  • Be honest; don’t use strategies that look like traps and ambushes.
  • Don’t show off.
  • Your clothing should match your school culture and the level of debating; uniforms and two-piece suits in a German junior league setting will undermine your credibility. Dress in blue, brown or black, but never too formal. (Things might be different as soon as you enter international competitions.)
  • Don’t use sources which are generally regarded as biased, tend to simplify facts or are prone to manipulation.
  • Avoid the impression that you push someone’s hidden agenda or speak in favour of a specific group.