Top debators reflect on the power of using their voice
Sixth Form students reflect on their experiences in debating competitions as part of our popular Debating Club.
My experiences in debating have not only enhanced my memories of school life, but have greatly developed both my capabilities and character in preparation for life beyond GCSEs. I strongly believe all secondary school pupils should have some involvement in debating, due to the significant positive impact it leaves on self-confidence, eloquence and collaboration.
In competition, I have mainly occupied the role of the second speaker, meaning that I have balanced the responsibilities of researching, writing and performing a speech with my skills of improvisation. I have been consistently required to think on my feet through performing and responding to points of information, rebuttals and unpredictable audience questions.
Before engaging with the debating society, I usually shied away from teamwork. However, this ‘sport’ has fulfilled me in ways in which I never expected it to, and I now delight in applying my collaborative skills developed in debating to current commitments, such as in my position in the Sixth Form Prefect Team and in coaching younger aspiring debaters.
As someone who has mainly occupied the role of summary speaker in debates, my task entailed condensing the entire debate into a short speech and convincing the audience and judges – without a reasonable doubt – of the superiority of our arguments. Since the arguments of the opposing team cannot be pre-empted, most of my work was done on the spot.
This role has taught me to present information in the most concise and clear way possible, in a very short span of time, as well as to stay calm under tremendous pressure. Debating is a very valuable skill, as undoubtedly, at some point in your life, you will have to make a case for something you want, and there is no better way to start than this!
To be honest, debating is something I never thought I’d enjoy! Walking into my first ever session in the Autumn Term of Year 10 was a scary experience. However, it’s been one of the best things I could have done. Learning to think logically and to articulate your argument in a clear, decisive way is a very rewarding experience and something I enjoyed from the start. Being confident enough to trust yourself in your ability to do so is, in my opinion, much more difficult.
Self-confidence is a key quality of any aspiring debater. However, I feel that it’s one that young women in particular often struggle with. Over the past few years of being involved with debating, I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to compete on several occasions – whilst this is exciting, moving away from a friendly club environment and into a larger sphere was something I found incredibly intimidating. With the help of a wonderfully supportive team (including Ms Cottingham and Miss Severis), I’ve learned to begin to own the space that my thoughts, ideas and opinions take up. I am now even considering a future in law – a path I would have otherwise never considered. For me, besides the life-long friendships and memories made along the way, this has been one of the most important and valuable lessons learned from debating and one which I am most keen to encourage in our younger club members as a coach.
For me, one of the brilliant things about debating is having an opportunity to coach younger students in debating. We have two clubs running each week – one for lower and one for upper school students. Our Year 7 and 8 club is currently working towards its first external competition – a very exciting time for coaches and students alike! It’s been rewarding to see the students beginning to develop their confidence and speaking more widely on a range of topics. Sessions are friendly, fun and welcoming. Everyone is invited to participate in the discussion.
Whilst students have gained enormously in their debating skills, coaches too have experienced leadership positions and learned a new skill set to accompany the role – this is something we have really enjoyed, and it’s lovely to think that debating has such a bright future at St Mary’s.
Isabelle, Vanya and Amelia
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