I got to judge a debate tournament last weekend. It was fascinating—high school students discussed complex policy and legislative issues in much more detail than I could have.
The debate took a specific format, with students alternating speeches in the affirmative and negative about the proposed legislation. Each student also stood for questioning when their speeches were over.
How do you “judge” this? What does it mean to weigh in on how good a job someone does in this area?
I was moderately familiar with most of the issues they debated, but not all. Sometimes there was a disconnect between the rationale of a speech and the confidence with which the student gave it. If I already knew about the topic, I could look past the delivery. If I wasn’t, I had no idea if the student actually knew what they were talking about. I relied then on the questioning of the other students to give me a hint as to whether the speech held water.
The delivery of the speech shouldn’t affect our interpretation of the content—but it does. And this is always true, not just at high school debate tournaments. The first thing we do when we’re looking at someone else is assess whether we can trust them. And when what they say is at odds with how they say it, we decide we can’t.
When I coach clients, they often say “I do fine when I know the material.” That makes sense—we feel more integrated, less vulnerable, when the content of our speech is familiar territory.
Here’s the trick, then—how can we behave as though we’re confident about our material, even when we’re not? How can we close this gap between seeming and being, so that the audience can trust us and listen to our message?
Do you have a speech or presentation coming up soon? Need help?