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“Being open is key in most situations”

Forgotten papers, poor team work or nervousness before giving a presentation – the president of the Freiburg Debate Club shares her advice.

Freiburg, Oct 01, 2021

Students meet weekly at the Freiburg Debate Club to discuss topics ranging from society, politics, and business. Johanna Williams studies medicine and is the club’s chairwoman. In an interview with Lara Wehler, she explains to her fellow students at the University of Freiburg how they can best solve typical study situations rhetorically.

Johanna Williams, President of the Freiburg Debate Club. Photo: Sandra Meyndt

It's semester break right now, and with it, term paper time. A deadline is approaching and I realize that I will not be ready in time. How do I explain this to the lecturer in order to get an extension?

Johanna Williams: In this situation, being open is key. Whether the request is in person or in writing, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, apologize and explain why I am not meeting the deadline. Also, explain what point I am at in my work and suggest a new deadline. In this way, I signal that I am open and honest and at the same time go on the offensive. It is not enough to write: “I need one week longer,” because I actually want something from my counterpart.

Many students have experienced group work in which cooperation was difficult because, for example, the distribution of tasks was unfair. How do I address this without affecting the working atmosphere?

First, I would avoid using the word unfair because it is judgmental. I would address all group members at the same time and make sure not to attack anyone personally. Reproaches do not help in this situation. Instead, you can make a joint analysis of the workload of the individual tasks and their distribution. Either I realize that I have overlooked a work-intensive part of a task or the other group members realize that the tasks are unequally distributed. It is important to dare to raise the issue and to remain objective.

The group work is done and I have to make the presentation. I’m nervous and want to appear confident while giving it. What can I do in this situation?

During debates or lectures, I go to the front, free up my hands, take a deep breath, and only then do I begin. My greatest challenge are my hands. When I’m nervous, I tend to tense them up. It helps me at that moment to release the tension. For example, I am able to let go of the tension when I move on to the presentation by taking a deep breath at that moment. Rhetorically, the typical “um” doesn’t come across as confident. I have gotten out of the habit of using this filler word by taking deliberate pauses. You can do this, for example, by swallowing or consciously breathing.

And what do I do if something goes wrong during the presentation?

I communicate that to the audience and explain that I need a moment to solve it. Saying, “Here, um, should be, um, this,” sounds inconsiderate and is overwhelming because you are trying to do several things at once. That’s why it’s better to do one thing at a time: Pause, problem solve, and then move on. My extra tip is to come to the debate club. There we practice such situations and with repetition you become more confident.

“Introducing the debate club” – You can find the whole story on our Instagram-Account.

Visit the debate club Website here.