Ethos in Debate: Tips to Up your Alpha


Ethos is important in Public Forum Debate. Crucial, even. Yet overlooked.


Ethos is the feeling or sense of being ‘in control’ of the situation. It’s the feeling of confidence the judge has knowing that voting for you is the right move.

Because PF has classically been run by lay judges, the importance of logic and technique and can often fly out the window— especially for a judge who’s not flowing, or who’s half-asleep, or is totally ignorant of the conventions of debate.

Even for non-lay judges, we as humans are all subject to the same psychological forces. Especially in close rounds, the more likable, more confident, more dominating you are, the more likely you are to win.

After all, as someone who’s judged thousands of rounds, deciding who won then creating an RFD around it is much more likely than you might think…


So, here’s some ways to be ‘alpha’ in a round and beat the other team’s ethos game, every time.


1. Know your Stuff Nothing sounds more slick than knowing all the facts. Have facts, figures, and sources all at the ready. Spending time with the material and with practice rounds will help you to get a firm grasp of the material. And consuming media like podcasts and Youtube videos on the topic helps to entrench the ideas in your mind. Coming at the topic with a genuine curiosity can ensure that you’re scaffolding your topic knowledge properly by connecting the knowledge to what you’re genuinely interested in.


2. Have a Plan

The more you plan, the less you leave to chance. Having a case, of course, is necessary. But have rebuttals prepared as well— with citations to back up your facts. Prepare as many frontlines as you can think of for your case, so that everything will be backed up. Prepare crossfire questions. Prepare several collapse strategies. Prepare your weighing arguments. The more time you spend in prep, the more confident you’ll be in round.


3. Take your time

If you’re confident that the round is in your hands, act like it: don’t rush through speeches. Careful organization, intentional collapse and powerful weighing strategies will ensure that the debate happens at your own pace. The judge will be able to sense your energy. Too often, rushing sounds like panicking.


4. Point out Mistakes

To create an ethos differential, you can increase your own ethos. Or, you can decrease your opponents’. The best way to do this is to point out dropped arguments, poor weighing, and concessions during crossfire. If your opponents’ go for the obviously wrong collapse, point it out before you capitalize on it.

5. Body language

Lastly, and most obviously, let your confidence show in your body. Maintain good eye contact, controlled and steady hand motions, and a confident poise. In terms of body language, it's hard to ‘fake it till you make it’. But your body language will, genuinely, make you more confident.

6. Own the Room

Being comfortable in the space will do wonders for your ethos. Take up room; own the room.

Before the round, make a point of walking around the room— look out the windows, read the posters around the room, and get comfortable in the space— this will help your body language. Make small talk to your partner and to the judge— crack some jokes and show your opponents that you’re truly at ease.

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