A Debater's personality

A debater's personality is a critical component in being able to communicate effectively, think critically and display thought leadership wherever you find yourself


Olabayo Balogun

3 years ago | 9 min read

Over the course of my debate career, I have seen many individuals marvel at the prowess of debaters and their ability to make convincing arguments in favour of their cause. To many, it looks like all debaters are the same and that one needs to be born in a certain way or grow up in a certain environment to be a debater. I’m here to denounce these myths and to give you more insight into the personality of a debater. Every year for the past eight years, I have participated as a British Parliamentary style debater in numerous debate tournaments both locally and internationally, I represented my department at faculty tournaments, my faculty at university-level tournaments, and my university at inter-university tournaments. I have also trained individuals in the art of debating and adjudicated debate tournaments as such we can conclude that I have been around the block a bit. As a side note, if you’ve not heard of the British Parliamentary style of debating you really should look it up. Basically, there are two major styles of debate; Karl Popper and the British Parliamentary style.

Let’s delve into the minds of debaters now shall we?. Contrary to public perception and stereotype, debaters aren’t all extroverts who make their presence known wherever they go and are the life of the party, debaters are just like the average person with the usual quirks and predisposition. They do have a game face, when the debate starts, regardless of their personality type, debaters embody more than themselves, they become more observant, dogged, eloquent, convincing among other traits. Why I feel the need to dissociate the debate personality from the personality of debaters is that if you hang around debaters long enough you’ll still find them doing silly things or things that you wouldn’t expect from super-smart people. The debate instinct and personality is quite energy-consuming and draining, you can’t expect them to keep it up when it’s not needed.

I am willing to wager that you find debating interesting and would like to pick up some of their finer traits which is why I will list below ten different traits you find in debaters when they are debating or preparing for a debate and explain them, you should also be aware that depending on a debater’s predisposition, he or she may not embody all of these traits. Without further ado let us begin;

  • Boldness
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical listening
  • Deconstruction prowess
  • Doggedness
  • Innovative thinking
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Matter generation
  • Oral communication prowess
  • Rebuttal capacity

BOLDNESS: Debating will involve public speaking as you can’t compete against yourself, the better you get the more people will make time to watch you talk. As a result of this debaters aren’t afraid of the camera or speaking publicly. People who are bold are perceived to be more convincing than those who appear timid. Regardless of the personality type of a debater, when he or she begins to debate the boldness must be present to be able to convince the audience that you are sure of what you’re saying.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS: What works with critical listening should most definitely be critical analysis, you need to be able to analyze what your opponent is saying in order to come up with a rebuttal. Without critical analysis, you won’t be able to catch your opponent when they manipulate facts. There are other times when the correlation isn’t causation an example is a scenario where ice cream sales are up in the summer, so are drowning cases. This doesn’t in any way suggest that ice cream causes people to drown (because you will have to first prove that most people who drowned took ice cream before drowning), you will however find debaters that will link both situations and if they do it right the audience will believe them. There are doomsday debaters who will say things like “and it’ll lead to an increase in unemployment which will lead to an increase in crime rate and that will lead to the collapse of this nation and everybody will die” (I’m not joking, I’ve heard these stuff). It is not enough to say something, you have to be able to explain it’s related and how it’ll happen and this where critical analysis is gold.

CRITICAL LISTENING: A lot is said during debates, both by yourself and your opponents. If you’re to stand any chance of winning you have to be able to pay attention to what your opponent is saying, it’ll be an act of hubris to assume your opponent doesn’t have anything meaningful to say, regardless of who spoke first you must always listen. Because debaters are judged by the listeners (who are the adjudication most times), you find that what doesn’t make sense to you (because you’re most likely to be biased in favour of your argument) will make sense to the adjudication and the average listener. Listening helps you pick up the focus of your opponent, their strongest arguments and it enables you to spot the weaknesses of their argument or things you can question in their arguments. Sometimes debaters manipulate facts to prop up their argument, if you don’t listen critically they’ll deceive you and the audience.

DECONSTRUCTION PROWESS: As a debater, one will come face to face with esoteric terms and concepts, they’re usually mind-boggling especially when that field isn’t your forte. As much as a debater is supposed to know something about everything we understand that it’s somewhat difficult to have an in-depth understanding of everything under the sun. Deconstruction prowess is your ability to break down complex chunks of information into simpler bits of information that you can easily absorb and communicate to the audience. There are debaters who in a bid to show off their knowledge throw around big words that confuse both their opponents and the audience, there are times that the audience equates big words with superior argument. I have however seen cases where debaters win debates by simplifying big words and arguing using simpler words that the audience can understand. Deconstruction prowess can be a lifesaver when you face off against people with more knowledge and experience than yourself.

DOGGEDNESS: As a debater, there are times you will face off against other debaters with more experience than you have, or you’re in a debate and an opponent who spoke before you or after you went on to demolish all your arguments. It is common in the middle of a British Parliamentary-style debate to see debaters rip apart the paper where they jotted their arguments and begin crafting new arguments. As a debater there’s no such thing as surrendering or giving up within the debate, you keep fighting till the adjudication gives the verdict. Doggedness is one of the strongest traits of debaters, it comes from a place of hope and determination that regardless of the situation you can pull off a win. There have been many upset victories in a debate that yield testament to the effect of doggedness in a debate.

INNOVATIVE THINKING: In debates you’re most likely going to be arguing about a problem, justifying an action, or providing solutions to a problem, this requires innovative thinking if you hope to win. As a result of this, debaters are quite good at thinking out of the box. Each opponent is trying to outsmart the other and innovative thinking wins debates especially when the debater is able to bring a new angle that wasn’t thought about by the opponent. I’ve left many debates asking myself “why didn’t I think of that?”. Innovation is very important in a debate, it can’t be overemphasized as such creativity is one of the litmus tests of debaters. It’s like a muscle, it has to be developed over time and it has to consistently be put to use.

INQUISITIVENESS: To be a debater is to be curious, debaters are expected to know something about everything as such there is no subject, topic, or discussion that a debater should find boring. A debater should be able to question everything while trying to absorb everything. One of the things that differentiates the best debaters from the rest is their inquisitiveness, highly inquisitive debaters know more than peers and this is apparent in debate competitions. The more you know the better you can argue convincingly. I’ve been in debates where I had no idea about the motion (this is common in British Parliamentary style debate where you get the motion 7 minutes to the start of the debate and are expected to prepare within that time, without the use of the internet, only a dictionary at most). Being inquisitive by nature helps in the long run as you have a rich repository of information in your brain that can give you the edge in a debate.

MATTER GENERATION: As a debater, you have to be able to create arguments that show why you’re right and why your opponent is wrong, you tend to find that debaters become on the spot content creators because of their ability to instantly create narratives or critical justification as to why they’re right about something. This is an integral part of debating. If you think something is wrong and you can’t explain why it is wrong then you don’t even know that it’s wrong. In debates, everything is subjective, you have to place your feelings aside and argue logically which means creating logical content. As a Christian, I have had to participate in debate rounds where I supported the abolishment of religion (I won these rounds). Being able to see things from different perspectives and being someone who studies different things can make all the difference in matter generation.

ORAL COMMUNICATION PROWESS: To be an excellent debater, one has to continuously hone one’s ability to communicate, those amazing ideas and amazing words on paper won’t speak to the audience, because it’s a debate and not a writing competition you have to be able to vocalize your arguments and ideas. The debaters who are able to do this better are usually perceived by the audience as more convincing than their opponents. In the area of oral communication, debaters have to keep practising.

REBUTTAL CAPACITY: A debate isn’t about just arguing about why you’re right, you must also disprove the arguments of the opponent or the audience will be unable to pick which argument is stronger. As a debater, one has to compare one’s argument to the opponent’s argument and you have to show logical reasons why your arguments are more important than the opponent’s. You can’t argue a parallel case with your opponent, you have to relate your argument to the motion while showing that yours is more significant. Rebuttal capacity sets the best apart from the rest because it is by doing this efficiently that one can win debates. The best debaters don’t rebut every argument (you don’t have enough time to do that), they identify the opponent’s most important arguments and rebut those ones.


The personality type of a debater (as an individual) doesn’t in any way make the person unable to debate, quite the contrary, I have found that each personality type gives the individual an edge when it comes to embodying the personality traits of a debater; reserved people tend to be more analytic and do well with critical listening, critical analysis, deconstruction prowess, inquisitiveness, and innovative thinking. The more outspoken types tend to do well with boldness, matter generation, doggedness, oral communication prowess, and matter generation. The key to becoming the best version of yourself is to polish your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Once again as a debater, you may not be perfect in all debater personality traits, the important thing is to acknowledge that they exist and look for ways to ensure that you can hold your own against anyone. The dividends in debating or thinking like a debater are enjoyed even outside of the debating circle. While I admit that debaters aren’t always in that state, it is quite easy to slip into the debate mode in conversations and interactions with others. People who have debater personality traits are perceived to be thought leaders and problem-solvers. People always want to hear debaters talk because they present multiple perspectives and generally weigh different possible outcomes if different actions before making a decision. The debater personality traits are transferable skills that can help accelerate one’s career and make the journey of entrepreneurship a lot easier.


Created by

Olabayo Balogun

A .Net software engineer who is committed to building technological infrastructures capable of solving the challenges of netizens now and in the future. I am interested in a backend engineering role with an organization that is committed to surpassing stakeholder expectations by collaborating with humans and machines in a quest to create and deliver software solutions.







Related Articles