Owning the Room

Confidence is a key factor when it comes to selling an idea. It captivates people, it elicits trust from the audience, and it keeps the speech interesting. People enjoy watching someone who feels comfortable in front of others; an awkward, shy presenter succeeds in producing an equally disinterested audience. Given as public speaking/performing is one of the largest fears the general population battles, it follows that not all speakers and performers are absolutely confident when entering a round--particularly with a judge scrutinizing their performance. However, there are little techniques a speaker can employ to gain confidence.

Come Prepared

Confidence stems from feeling secure in the preparation one has done prior to the tournament. First and foremost, know the piece! The better a competitor understands and has internalized their piece, the better the chances of knowing the text cold. Feeling worried about forgetting a line already has removed a bit of poise. Coming prepared also refers to being capable of handling the long day at a tournament. Be sure to have gotten a good night’s sleep, to have eaten breakfast, and to have packed everything that is needed for a tournament the night before. Waking up feeling exhausted or stressed is certainly not the best method to get onto the bus, prepared to win.

Dress Professionally

Not only should a performer dress nicely to impress the judges and audience, but a performer should dress impeccably to impress themselves. There is a distinct link between dressing smartly and feeling invigorated, ready to tackle the World’s problems. Much of identity is found within the clothes we wear. Clothing is one of many factors that act as a projection of who we are. Therefore, while we project on image of sophistication while wearing a suit, we also internalize that and add to the projection by believing the image--while others reinforce that through the expressions we detect amid interactions. Simply put, dressing in a suit at a tournament is more likely to boost confidence than wearing track pants.

Room Interactions

When a performer enters a round there will undoubtedly be people that are recognized, some not. Regardless of this, there is a certain advantage given towards those who make an effort to be courteous to those in the round. Sitting in silence with five other people, waiting for the judge to appear, can be uncomfortable--especially when everyone in there wants to win and everyone else falter. This tension compounds even more as people then perform to a group who typically look disinterested. Why should performing be done in such a joyless room? Saying “hello” or having a small conversation prior to the round’s start, paying attention to others’ pieces, or even offering a “good luck” when leaving the room due to double-entry will not weaken a performance. If anything, creating a warm environment to compete in will foster better performances as people feel more comfortable within the room. And comfort leads to confidence during a performance.

The Open and Close

There is a moment prior to the piece's beginning, and one at the very end, where the performer “addresses” the audience. This is never verbally done but physically. Prior to starting the piece take a second or so to gain control of the audience. These few seconds not only announce that the piece is starting, but also allows for the presenter’s own focus to be reigned. Also, this helps establish confidence levels for the piece. And at the close, never finish and walk “off stage” immediately (and NEVER offer a “thank you”). Instead, take a few seconds to leave a lasting imprint on the audience with an expression that captures the last moment of the piece--or one of confidence. Using these few seconds pre and post piece will add a small, but necessary, detail of ownership and self-assuredness for the round.

How to Hold Oneself

Showing a display of confidence is critical for owning a room. Unless the character requires otherwise, a speaker should stand with feet shoulder width apart, shoulders back, and back straight. This image will transmit that of utmost conviction. People are very visual, and when another makes themselves appear larger it is interpreted as power. This is not to say that a presenter should exaggerate their natural form. What is meant is that by standing in this fashion the audience will perceive the speaker as more in control and sturdy than, say, someone with their feet side-by-side and legs together.

Conquering Mishaps

One of the biggest contenders towards a competitor losing their edge in a round is due to exponential blunders. Imagine delivering a speech when suddenly a sneeze cannot be suppressed! Or a line is forgotten. Whatever oddity occurs, this must not affect a performance. If a mistake happens it is easy to let the knowledge of it fester and stink within the mind. However, focusing on this tiny error will almost predictably encourage more. Never, never acknowledge that a blunder even happened. Hide the moment of shock from the face, take a breath for composure if necessary, and move forward. There is nothing quite as confident as a speaker/performer who, after an obvious mistake, is not phased and forges into the piece.

Believe It

Confidence is more than just a suit. Confidence has to come from within an individual. Firmly know that the piece being presented is as good as it can be on that day. Accepting this will allow for presence. Trusting oneself to do a great job will lead to better eye contact, a stronger interpretation both vocally and physically, and a less-twitchy, more powerful stance. Generally, feeling good about the performance leads to a solid performance. The best advice someone can follow is to stop caring what the judge or audience is thinking while performing, focus on the piece, and have fun. Speech and debate are meant to be exhilarating and enjoyable!

Owning the room is important for eventual ownership of the piece, for feeling in control and sure of the round is crucial to eventually selling the presentation. People have to believe the piece as much as the presenter does. And this belief felt in the audience originates from the speaker. Remember, a judge might be presented with excellent pieces during the round, but it is whomever offers the cleaner piece with conviction of their performance who is usually given the advantage.