Every four years presenters see effective, and ineffective, presentation skills on display at the presidential candidate debates. This year the debates again prove some time-tested presentation skills observations.
Debates, by their nature, are unpredictable. Candidates may go into a debate with a prepared series of talking points, an agenda to accomplish, and ready responses to likely challenges. But all that changes when confronted with moderator questions and other debater challenges.
Unlike a prepared presentation, you cannot enter a debate sure of what your presentation will be. All is dependant on the dynamics of the room, the moderator, the other debaters, and the audience.
Debaters can, however, become better prepared for these variables in four ways.
Candidates who hope to persuade voters of their presidential worth must look both commanding and in command of the issues. Both are difficult is the quickened format of debates.
Command of the issues is essential to gathering enough votes to win. Congressman Ron Paul and former Speaker Newt Gingrich both excel in stating their positions in a commanding way.
Looking commanding is a bit more difficult. Neither Gingrich nor Paul look presidential. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has that commanding presence we expect from candidates. Some of that presence is looks, but more comes with practice.
Debates are fast moving. A debater must, to be memorable, be able to explain his or her position in short bursts of words. Being pithy is critical. Texas Governor Rick Perry, Congressman Michele Bachmann, and Gingrich have all excelled at these short sound bites.
In Perry’s case, some of these short phrases have been detrimental, such as his comment that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme.
A candidate who has had trouble delivering pithy statements is Romney who practically twists himself into a pretzel trying to explain how the MA health care program he sponsored differs from the national “Obama Care” law.
Presenters can gain confidence from practice (see below). Owing to the free-flowing nature of debates, those candidates who succeed best—especially in the GOP but not always in the Democratic Party—are those who have run the presidential race in prior years. This is Romney’s biggest advantage. Having been through the debate mill before, he has gained confidence. He knows what to expect, how to react, and how to remain confident in any circumstances. Pundits have routinely declared him the winner of these encounters and his past experience has been a clear advantage.
Nothing does more to make for a good presentation than practice. Practice builds up a candidate’s abilities to answer any question or challenge with pith, confidence, and command. Practice prepares a candidate for the unexpected.
Perry’s inability to respond effectively beyond sound bites is likely due to a lack of practice time. Overly confident candidates will come into the debates believing that their existing pithy statements will be enough to carry them. Often they are not, and this may be the reason why Perry has not fared as well as he expected in these debates.
Whoever wins the nomination will be well tested by participating in these debates. He or she will develop the skills necessary to run the race against prior debate champion President Obama.
Who ever loses, and for those who do not gain the nomination, there is always the next race. The command, pith, confidence and practice they have gained by contending are life skills that will make them stronger presenters for the future.