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person-801823_1920An Ethos Customer asked us:

“Could you give tips on developing credibility while maintaining rapport with the judges? Especially for girls. Guys seem to have a slightly easier time of it. I usually give funny and rather pertinent stories as openers for my speeches, which the judges appreciate a lot because they explain things well, but I can’t seem to come across as very professional or “quietly in charge” if you know what I mean. What are some physical, verbal, and mental tools to help me master ethos?

Could you expand a little more on physical presentation? How can girls stand to be commanding without losing appropriate femininity? What is your opinion on moving the podium? What gestures are most and least effective?”

Whether or not I agree with that premise, here are some tips for gestures, techniques, and attitudes to be more commanding in formal debate.


  • Zero expressions at the prep table. Especially not shock. The “oh, interesting” and start writing look is good.
  • Start using a 3 ring binder with page protectors for all speeches. i.e. take your evidence and put it into a slim (1/4 inch or less) 3-ring and take that up to the lectern for each speech. You flip to your flagged evidence in the binder, rather than having loose papers hanging around. This will help you feel (mentally) and act more professional and in charge.
  • No silliness in hand gestures or facial expressions. Think bemused humor, not interpy. Interpy is never in charge.
  • Most effective gestures are: 1. Steepling (diamond shape with thumbs/forefingers, all other fingers touching corresponding finger as well). 2. Palms always down (associated with command and authority), never up (associated with begging). 3. Tilt your head 8 degrees to the right.
  • I personally move the lectern (a podium is a raised platform you stand on, fyi) to eliminate barriers between my connection with the judge. Size of room, amount of evd you are going to use, and how cranky the judge is are all factors to consider though.
  • If you are a girl, never have your hair down. Hair up is always commanding and lady lawyers know it. That’s a big start. Also wear a pant suit if “being commanding” is really your goal (not sure if it should be or not…).

Mental: Be credible. You will feel credible when you are credible. Being right, not making horrible and contradictory arguments, not being nasty and snarky in CX, and having an attitude that even if you aren’t smarter than everyone you are only going to run arguments that are right will get your mind in the habit of knowing it is right.


  • Use high class language. “My opponent’s claimed” rather than “they said” for example
  • Build up your opponent’s argument showing that you understand and grasp it, before destroying it
  • Nuance. Adopt the attitude of “it’s not quite that simple” when responding to opponents
  • Don’t make bad arguments. Like “but there’s a bill in Congress” and almost any inherency argument.
  • Shell and extend — keeping your message tightly wrapped around a central theme
  • Three second rule at both ends of a speech, with very direct eye contact. Never end with “thank you”, or “for all these reasons” etc. Instead, end with the most powerful line of your speech and leave it hanging. They will think about it, you will command the room for a second, and suddenly someone will realize “oh, I guess it’s time to CX now”
  • Know history and act like you know it. “Of course my opponents forget the time that” (no quotes, just explain), or “I think we’ve seen this before…”. Even if your judge doesn’t know the history (they will when you explain it, right?) they will feel like they should and that you are wow, smart, in command.
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