When participating in a debate, it is vital that you are prepared to effectively represent your side of an argument. Part of this process hinges on developing a debate-worthy demeanor — that is, you must be prepared to stand your ground, answer for yourself, and think on your feet. To complete this mental make-over, you must also adopt a certain level of assertion; the debate floor is no place for a pushover.
Having said that, too much aggression can also be detrimental to your presence in a debate. Debates are built upon a foundation of etiquette in which debaters are expected to exercise mutual respect, remaining dignified even in face of heated discourse.
Here are some tips for keeping your aggression under control, and for maintaining a healthy balance between assertion and respect.
Keep contentions on point
An obvious starting point for balanced debate preparation is to generate contentions that are focused, relevant, and constructive to the argument you are trying to build. Depending on the scenario or debate topic, it can be tempting to construct your contentions as weapons, as veiled personal attacks intended to fluster your opponent and knock him or her off balance mentally. Yes, to an extent, you will want to prove your opponent’s argument to be false or unfounded, but make sure you are keeping your efforts on a leash. An overkill approach will only derail your image in the eyes of the debate moderator and audience, and it may also ruin the healthy cadence of the debate in general. Do not attack your opponent — disarm their argument.
Do not view opponents as opponents
With the previous point in mind, a beneficial approach to debate interaction is to view your opponents as comrades, not adversaries. Reimagine your opponent as a fellow thought leader in your field of expertise, bringing an alternate interpretation of an issue to the table. You, in turn, are providing your own view on the matter so that the two of you may put your arguments together, through spirited discourse, and ultimately benefit the general body of knowledge you both represent.
Focus on learning
The best debaters aim to learn from, not win their debating experiences. It can feel satisfying to dominate an argument, to have an unflappable answer to every cross-examination and challenge. However, the desire for this feeling should be held in check. Instead, motivate yourself with the knowledge you will gain from the debate, specifically from the alternate angles you are interacting with. Regardless of who “wins” the debate, both debaters will have the chance to better their abilities as expert communicators.
Keep the moderator out of it
Outside of interactions with your opponent, you will want to make sure you are being respectful to the debate’s moderator — this is a major rule of thumb in debate etiquette. Moderators hold the sometimes difficult job of keeping debates on topic, under control, and in line with the aforementioned unspoken rules of mutual respect. Do not make their jobs harder by going against these values and allowing your anger or frustration to get the better of you. View the moderator like the heartbeat of the debate — without the moderator, there likely would not be a debate to begin with.