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We’ve all experienced it.

A fellow competitor acts one way within a debate round and when they walk out of the room they act like a completely different person.

Maybe they’re quite polished and professional while debating and then you see them in goofy antics with their pod of friends later on. 

Perhaps you’ve even found yourself doing this exact thing. I know I have. 

Why does there seem to be such a disconnect between our “debate personality” and our real personality? And is it a problem to act like a different person in a debate round?

Everyone has their own unique personality. Some people are more outgoing, others prefer to spend time alone. Certain people fill the room with their booming voice and charisma, others prefer to shy away from the center of attention. There are lots of different senses of humor. All of these various personalities come together in a speech and debate context.

Traits like confidence and powerful speaking don’t come easy to everyone, but they’re pretty much universally praised in the debate context. As such, competitors whose natural personalities do not line up with confident, powerful speaking will feel out of place, and their “debate persona” will develop to adapt to the standards of what a good persona in a round looks like.

I propose two things to keep in mind as you mature and progress in your speech and debate skills. 

First, learning how to debate well should shape you into the fullest version of yourself. If you feel that you’re becoming a different person in a debate round that isn’t really you, then something is wrong. Everyone should be able to keep their unique persona, but refine and tailor it to meet the standards of effective communication set by the forensics community one is a part of. 

Second, (and this may seem at odds with the previous paragraph) detach yourself from those parts of your persona that are at odds with the pursuit of effective communication. Sometimes, you may have bad habits or practices that are discouraged by the community. Whether it’s being too aggressive, using lots of filler words, or dressing sloppily, it’s important to not let that be our defining characteristic if they’re genuine bad habits that we have. 

We should all want to be sincere and genuine human beings, and an important aspect to that is being consistent with how we present ourselves. It’s through using competitive speech and debate to hone our communication skills that will allow us to live out the gospel and truly find ourselves in the process.

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Nathanael Morgan is a sophomore at the Saint Constantine College in Houston, Texas. As an accomplished debater with 3 years of competitive experience in Stoa and numerous awards, he enjoys researching and coaching others. He is studying to be a cybersecurity analyst and currently works for a telecommunications company based in Wisconsin.
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