Ever since Ancient Greece, debates have been a common way of disclosing particular topics. After all, it wouldn’t be realistic to think that we all have the same point of view and values. 

Debates have been modified and adapted to the context and people’s needs and to the topic that is discussed. From auditoriums, forums, and debate halls, to school tournaments, and legislative assemblies, there are many different types of debates and they are not going away any time soon. 

Debates are a great example of how the winner is not necessarily who is “right” but who gives the “best” argument. There are many aspects to consider when you get ready to participate in one of these fascinating communication acts. Let’s discuss some of the key debate strategies, starting with an essential component that will always be present, regardless of the type of debate you will participate in.


Five candidates. Five menswear looks. Who looks more “presidential” to you? Electoral debate in Spain, 2019. Image Courtesy of El Mundo.

Clothes may not be the key factor that determines who wins after a debate, but they do influence people’s perception of the contestant. Your clothes during a debate are part of your introduction card as people are getting to know you, so they must definitely define who you are and what you want to communicate. Unless the organizers of the event give you a specific debate dress code, go for a business formal attire. It's very hard to go wrong with this type of attire and it will enhance your professional presence on stage.

Here are some of the most important aspects to consider when picking your clothes for a debate.

The fabric

The fabric plays an important role in the overall look of your clothing. Think about the properties of the fabric and how they can benefit or drawback your look. For instance, linen is a comfortable, fresh, and good-looking fabric for hot weather. You can find it in shirts, dresses, suits, and pants, so it is easy to find a business outfit made of linen. The problem with this material is that it gets wrinkled very easily, so you have to move it around with care or press it right before you put on your clothes. If none of these sounds like realistic options for you, you can choose a cotton or cotton-polyester blend, which less likely will get so many wrinkles.

Think about the properties and movement of the fabric. Stay away from shiny fabrics that may create weird reflections with the lightning or the cameras. It’s better to go with matte fabrics that can be easily pressed and will photograph well.

In general, solid colors will look better in cameras than small prints, but you can play with color blocking or different colors in a tie, a scarf, or a blazer. Avoid color combinations that may be associated with something goofy that will risk your professional presence and will turn you into a meme. (For example, yellow and black stripes may be associated with bees, red and yellow often represent fast-food restaurants.)

The tailoring

Debates are crucial for perception. Your clothes speak for you. Image Courtesy of El País.

The fit of a garment is crucial for a public appearance, especially one in which you will talk, move around, and be seen from different angles. A blazer that is too small will restrict your movement and make you look uncomfortable. A blazer that is too large will cover your hands, limiting the visibility of your non-verbal language.

Trying on your clothes at the store before buying them is very important. However, it’s also valuable to try on your clothes with enough time before the debate. Walk a few steps, move your arms in different ways and see how the clothes move in response to your movements.

The Accessories

Carefully selected accessories will add sophistication to the look. Just make sure these are not ostentatious or distracting. Image Courtesy of Wired.

These items are the topping of the desert, they can be a beautiful and balanced visual component, or they can bring your whole look down. If your neckline allows you to, a nice necklace can be an interesting way to add color and a little bit of self-expression to your look. Avoid heavy or chunky bracelets because they will be distracting when you move your hands around during the debate.

 Remember that the way you look is important, but the goal is to make people speak about what you say during the event rather than what you wear. 

Be careful with jewelry that moves a lot because it can create annoying noises in the microphone, which will distract the audience from what you are saying. 

In menswear, the room for jewelry is more limited. A watch and a ring are more than enough to add sophistication to the look, but be careful with wearing expensive jewelry, specially in political debates where every decision you take, and every item you wear is questioned and mentioned by the audience. Don't be the candidate that will be remembered for wearing a Rolex watch in a debate about wealth distribution. The message of your clothes should be consistent with the message you are delivering verbally.

When it comes to choosing a tie, think of solid colors or classic prints like stripes that won’t be too distracting. There is a full range of colors and textures in ties, so make sure that it matches the type of debate you are attending. 

Classic colors such as reds, blues, greys, black and white are some of the safest options for any debate. Stay away from neons or silly prints that will endanger your professional presence.

Now that we’ve covered some of the essential aspects of fashion for a debate let’s go over some debate strategies to consider when getting ready for these important events. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

There will always be factors out of our reach. Fly laying on former Vice President Mike Pence’s head. Image Courtesy of CTV News.

Folks who are prepared and do their homework tend to receive a positive response from the audience. It is true that you don’t know exactly what can happen during a debate, but there are certain “possible scenarios” that you and your team can imagine, so  you can practice your response during these scenarios.


This is the moment when it is helpful to think of the worst possible scenarios: “What if the rival asks me a question and I forget the answer?” “How would I handle that?” “What if someone attempts to make the debate personal with unprofessional body language and teasing?” In political debates, for example, the candidate’s team knows what topics benefit a certain candidate and which ones should be avoided. Still, it is crucial to prepare to speak about all of them since the opponents might bring up the “uncomfortable topics” to weaken the perception of this candidate.

In the 2020 Vice presidential debate, Kamala's team analyzed Mike Pence's previous public discussions and debates. They saw that Pence tends to interrupt people when making his point, so Harris's team saw the opportunity to advice the Democrat candidate with the now famous phrase: "Mr. Vice president, I'm speaking". In the debate, the phrase wasn't that effective as Pence kept interrupting Harris, but on social media and with the audience, in general, these five words connected with many people, specially women in work meetings who are talked over by men.

Look for the opportunities in your opponents, in your arguments, and in the nature of the debate. The more you address these possibilities during your rehearsal, the more prepared you will be for the debate.


A debate requires a lot of focus. Make sure you rest before the big day. ​​Image Courtesy of Data for Progress.

Lots of research and studies say that resting is important to increase your productivity (Science Daily). This is true at work, at studying, and at tasks that require lots of focus and effort, such as getting ready for a debate. Make sure to take breaks during your rehearsal sessions, but most importantly, take a break before the debate, and unplug yourself from all the information you are studying as you get ready to sleep the night before this important occasion.

Resting is important for the intellectual component of yourself so you can be your best during the debate, but it’s also important for the non-verbal component of your presence. Think of a public figure who shows up to an important event with baggy eyes and a sloppy visual presence, whether that’s in the hairstyle, in the clothes, or the skin. You need to look rested and at your fullest self. 


After many hours of studying a certain topic, you get so familiar with it that all of the information is in your brain. You process the information about this topic quicker than someone unfamiliar with it. So when you speak in a debate or in front of any audience whatsoever, make sure that you don’t talk too quickly and use a general language that most people can follow. This is not the moment to brag about the new complicated term that you just learned because if people don’t understand what you are saying, there will be a problem of miscommunication, which will damage your overall performance at the debate.

Choose simple words to explain yourself, and choose simple methods to explain yourself. As in most debates, the time is very limited for each participant to talk. You must leverage every second you have. Do your best to simplify your arguments and get rid of unnecessary details that don’t benefit your perspective. Simplicity in words. Simplicity in explanations.


Remember that 70% of your success is at stake with non-verbal language so make sure you acknowledge it during your sessions of rehearsal. Image Courtesy of  August de Richelieu.

The studies around body language have grown exponentially ever since that historic debate in 1960 between Republican Vice President Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy. This was the first debate to be seen on national television. Most people believed Nixon would be the winner of this election. However, Nixon didn’t take his body language seriously and focused on his arguments. In contrast, Kennedy’s great body language, presence, and communication with the cameras made more undecided voters support his campaign and eventually made him the President of the United States.

Most experts agree that at least 70% of communication is nonverbal (Youth Time). Nonverbal language includes your body language, your visual presentation, your voice, the way you speak, and essentially everything about your performance that is not the words that you are saying. 

70% is a lot! So you must invest time in analyzing this area of your performance as well. Many times we move our body unconsciously in ways that reveal nervousness, shame, or lack of preparedness. Movements like playing with our hands, drinking water constantly, licking our lips, touching our hair, or moving our head down, are all examples of movements we should avoid during a public presentation. 

The best way to know if you do any of these unconscious movements is by recording yourself during your rehearsal. Practice one of the arguments you would like to address during the debate as if you were in front of your opponents and the audience. By watching the recording after, you’ll see how you move your body, your hands, if you move forward and backward with insecurity, or if you stand still during the whole speech. 


​​Many people smile or laugh too much when they are nervous. Hillary Clinton was often judged for smiling too much. Remember every smile should be authentic and pertinent. Image Courtesy of Fortune.

Knowledge is power, but knowledge presented with an attitude of prepotency or arrogance will not be received positively. As confident and prepared as you feel speaking in public, remember to do it with a positive and humble attitude. An authentic smile never did any damage, and it could make a difference between a positive and a negative score. 

It’s also beneficial to practice in front of a friend, family member, or colleague, so that they give you feedback on your body language and what you are portraying with it. 

Debates are a great way to address different points of view. Always do it with professionalism and respect. The person who loses their temper first or starts yelling and being aggressive is usually the most nervous and least prepared opponent. If you don’t recognize someone in your debate with these characteristics, look at yourself, and make sure it’s not you.