The Tea Party phenomena confirms one thing that we all learned in 2008 - there are a lot more people involved in politics, a lot more people receiving a lot more information in much different ways. Furthermore, if your debating skills are not up to par, your campaign won't be either. The 2010 political debate season has started with some drama, however none of it the kind a candidate pines for.
The 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate illustrated the importance of debating skills in the age of television. As new mediums are utilized to distribute and receive information, debates now live a much longer life than one night, a follow up article or two and a few minutes on nightly news. Still, too many candidates spend more time preparing breakfast than preparing for a debate, and it shows, especially through the first few engagements of 2010.
Here is a playbook every candidate, R, D or Tea, can use to succeed this debate season:
Tip #1: The candidate who doesn't prepare will quickly know how they will fare.
Tip #2: Too Long is Wrong The moment is finally here"the moderator has offered up a softball. "Candidate xyz, how do you feel about ____?" This is the ultimate opportunity to really deliver a crisp, focused, moving message. The candidate answers and hits a home run, and then keeps going, and going, and going, until finally the moderator puts a painful end to it.
Tip #3: Never Forget to Memorize -- Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona is the latest victim of trying to memorize an opening statement, and "blanking." It happens to everyone, but very rarely on such a national stage. Audiences will forgive a lot, but an audience will not forgive blanking on an opening statement when articulating on why you are running for office, especially in this climate. (Hint a speech coach or media trainer is worth the investment!)
Tip #4: Bills Don't Pay -- In training dozens of political incumbents, most share one trait when it comes to answering a debate question. "My bill on"; "Senate Bill 1234, which I co-sponsored";" House Resolution 123, which I voted against"" Tea Party candidates have done especially well driving holes into the arguments of incumbents focused on process.
Tip #5: Smile. It's Candid Camera Time. Today, if a candidate is running for dog catcher and is debating, it will be recorded. Say something questionable and it will be on YouTube and take on a life of its own. Approach an opponent before the debate begins, smile, shake hands, and act like an adult for the next hour. Even if the debate isn't televised, mess up and it will be.
Tip #6: Be a Composer Delivery is as important as content. Allow cadence to guide the listener. Allow tone to serve as a verbal highlighter when making a point, changing course, or framing an issue. Pause between thoughts. The voice is an instrument. To make a dramatic point, build up to it through changes in tone.
Tip #7: Don't Lose Composure. There isn't a candidate yet who has lost a debate solely by being too civil. Many lose solely by failing to be civil enough.
Tip #8: Mind Your Manners. No pointing, slouching, smirking, scowling -- all send a message, and all have led to debate losses by major party candidates in the past two decades.
Tip #9: Fighting is for Fools. Debates are not the time for anger, invective, cursing, etc. A debate is a duel, not a fight, and there is a difference.
Tip #10: Discipline Defeats Drama. A disciplined candidate has a message, stays on the message, maintains decorum and directs the line of discussion, as opposed to constantly reacting to an opponent. Discipline trumps drama every time.