One of my favorite subjects is Russia.  Russian culture, politics, language, history…it’s all fun to me.  Because of this deep interest, I decided to deliver a platform speech about U.S.-Russian relations last year.  Let’s just say my opinion wasn’t the most popular one.  Instead of painting Russia as a communist devil, I suggested some ways we could work with them for the betterment of world peace.

That didn’t go over well.

Most of the Christian homeschool conservative judges from my league weren’t a fan of my outlook on the situation.  I, therefore, was left with a question.  How do you get around the bias from your judges when you’re arguing an unpopular opinion?  Here are a few tactics I tried that moved my speech much higher in the ranks.

1. Respectfully acknowledge their opinion.  This corporation is called Ethos for a reason.  Ethos is a Greek word that means credibility – one of the most important factors in a public speech.  Credibility gives people cause to believe you.  When you acknowledge that your audience may have another point of view on the topic at hand, you accomplish two things:

  • You make yourself look reasonable.  Your judges will be much more willing to listen to you if you recognize that there are arguments to be made for both sides.  An unreasonable person would simply argue for their own position without understanding there is another.
  • You weaken their defenses.  When you start off arguing for an opinion your judges disagree with, they immediately want to defend their own ideas.  By recognizing their ideology, you open them up to listening to you.  Their mindset will shift from “this kid needs to hear my opinion” to “he obviously knows what he’s talking about…I’ll hear what he has to say.”

2. Respond to their arguments. This is something that my extemporaneous coach puts a lot of emphasis on.  Try to foresee what arguments their side would make, and then debate against those.  When you go beyond simply recognizing their opinion exists to actually discussing and combating it, you are inherently treating their argument with more respect.  And just like magic, when you respect their opinion they’ll respect yours.  In addition to that, it gives you an opportunity to strengthen your position by weakening the counter.

3. Throw in some humor.  Judges like to listen to people that they enjoy.  Personality is everything.  If you’re lighthearted (when appropriate), you can bring yourself up in the judge’s favor, even when arguing for an opinion they may disagree with.  Humor is something that I personally have really struggled with.  For those of you that don’t know me…I’m not the most hilarious guy.  In order to bring a lighter feel to my speeches, I had to do two things: 1) consistently practice making jokes (I eventually learned how!), and 2) pre-write and prepare some jokes.  For my Russia speech, I had a few one-liners that I wrote ahead of time and used in my delivery.  As long as it’s appropriate for the topic (it usually is), use a bit of comedy.

So how does this all look on a practical level?  It’s actually very simple.  You can acknowledge toward the beginning of your speech that different views exist on your subject.  At that point, find something we all agree on, and then point out where views actually become separate.  For example, if you’re arguing that we should completely open our market to Cuba, point out that we all want what’s best for the Cuban people.  The disagreement comes in what the effects of sanctions are.  Secondly, you can discuss counter-arguments pretty much anytime, but toward the latter part of your speech is generally a better idea.  Finally, have your humor interspersed throughout.  Put a little bit all over the place.  That leaves the audience with a generally positive impression of you as a speaker.

The amazing thing about these strategies is they propel you forward in the judge’s mind.  Even though you argued for something they might still disagree with, you were likable and intelligent.  Ultimately, that’s what judges want to vote for.