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.