Fall is in the air — footballs are flying at the local parks — and charges are flying between candidates. Also, there are the arguments over the ballot propositions. If you pick up a newspaper or turn on a TV, you see it unfold right before your eyes and ears. Let’s see what we can learn from all the hoopla.
Political Debates: Candidates who are judged to have “won” a political debate often share these basic characteristics: They have an unblinking knowledge of the material — an ease with their answers which says, “I know this stuff.” It’s especially necessary for the challenger to have this comfort and credibility with the topics that can come up in a debate. (Expectations were low for Ronald Reagan in 1980. He came prepared and won over many skeptics.)
A clever line or a new take on an old issue also can help win the day. As long as it doesn’t seem too staged, a great line can lift an otherwise boring exchange of answers. (Lloyd Benson’s line, “You sir are no Jack Kennedy!” didnÕt win the election, but probably forever damaged Dan Quayle and certainly took away a line of attack for Quayle. Behold the power of a single sentence!)
Listen! Anyone who is a skilled debater is often actually a very good listener. The person who is successful at getting an idea across not only hears the words but also understands the impact those words have on the audience.
Proposition Arguments: Have you ever noticed the battle over ballot propositions often has very little to do with the actual issues!? That’s because the people behind these often expensive fights know they will have to motivate people other than the “policy wonks” who really care about this stuff. That means appealing to our basic emotions Ð- especially fear. (“Vote ‘no’ on Prop X or all the criminals will be allowed to run free!”) Because these are not candidates but rather ideas which are being debated, caricatures are thrown up on both sides and voters often decide based on the side they hate less!
So what can we all learn during this crazy time of year? Watch the players — listen to them make the case for their side — and see who uses the tools at their disposal to make the most effective argument. Then turn around and use those same tools when you need to make a case for something you care about.
Debate “winners” also look the part. That means they are dressed professionally, with both an ease and energy about them. A quality, blue or black suit, light blue shirt (no patterns) and a quality simple blue or red tie for men and a quality, nice fitting dark suit with a simple blouse (again, no patterns) for women. Is it a uniform? Sure, but we expect leaders to look the part at critical moments — and a political debate is just such an occasion.