I embarrassed myself and rendered myself incapable of public speaking at a debate tournament

October 10, 2018 — by Selena Liu

As freshman me stood there on the podium in a large classroom at James Logan High School, staring at my laptop screen, my mind went blank. What was I saying? How could I possibly phrase the words on the screen into something understandable? My partner, opponents and judge were all staring at me, waiting for me to continue my counter argument, but I completely blanked out.

Without any other options, I said, “I’m sorry, I’m feeling sick. Can I just sit down?”

Despite having no prior experience with public speaking and barely being able to hold a decent conversation without tripping over my own words, I decided it would be a good idea to join the speech and debate freshman year.

Why did I sign up for debate, a competition that evaluates argumentative skills, a skill I barely have? I’m not so sure myself — I wanted to get better at public speaking, and I thought learning how to argue with logic would help me with that, but I had no idea that joining debate would force me to quickly come up with evidence-based arguments and counterarguments within a matter of minutes.

To make matters even worse, my debate captains decided it would be a “good experience” for me and my partner, also a rookie freshman, to take part in a varsity tournament for our very second debate tournament ever to see what a higher level tournament was like.

I soon regretted agreeing to their decision. In the first debate round, my partner and I were painstakingly refuted point after point by past varsity tournament finalists. I felt thoroughly humiliated by my opponents in both my lack of knowledge and argumentative skills.

Little did I know, this tournament had worse in store for me. By the second round, my wits had been properly thrown out the window. This time, my partner and I were up against a pair of debaters from Texas who had flown to California just to take part in this tournament. I knew I was going to have a bad time.

My opponents presented their case first, and when the speaker reached his second point of contention, I realized that I hadn’t been paying attention to anything he was saying.

My notebook, which should have been filled with my opponents’ points that I needed to promptly provide counterarguments against, was instead filled with nonsensical scribblings barely related to what my opponents were actually arguing for.

Consequently, when I walked up to the podium with my notebook and laptop and no plan on what I was going to say, you could say I was more than just a little nervous. My hands were shaking and my stomach felt like it would drop.

And from what I remember, the next few minutes were embarrassing and torturous. After a solid minute of word vomit and feeling my face grow more red by the second, I told the judge, “I’m sorry, I’m feeling sick. Can I just sit down?”

At that point I knew I had embarrassed both myself and my partner. It was the cringiest moment of my life. I wanted nothing else but to escape from that room.

While I left the James Logan tournament mortified, I still decided to participate in debate for the rest of the year, taking part in many more JV instead of varsity tournaments, much to my relief.

And by the end of the year, I realized, much to my surprise, that I had in fact gotten better at public speaking, perhaps even to the point that I could actually do decently at another varsity tournament.


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