Seven points for powerful debating


The Presidential Debates 2012 have valuable pointers for sales presenters

by Peter Watts

If you cross chess with WWF wrestling, throw in battle strategy and forensics, then mix in the disciplines of public speaking, you get debate.

Based on what we’ve just seen during the 2012 Presidential Debates, here is The Presenters’ Blog list of the top seven things to be aware of in order to raise your debating game:

Answer the question on your own terms

During the debates we saw enough framing to raise an Amish barn. Time after time, both candidates pivoted debate questions around to their own talking points. For example, when President Obama was asked about Libya during the Foreign Policy Debate, he replied that the solution was all about “nation building”. Under this heading he included education, health, and a stable economy, and from there he pivoted neatly to how that was exactly what he was delivering to America. It might seem transparent when you see it written down, but on the debate floor it works. It’s time honored and essential.

You are NEVER above the fray

Trying to keep a lofty distance above all this messy debating is a strategy that never works, as President Obama so heftily discovered during the first 2012 debate. If you are on the stage, prepare to engage. You can show a profusion of emotional responses, as Joe Biden so fabulously did during the VP’s debate, but you can never show nose-in-the-air aloof.

Don’t whine

There may be debate rules in place, but if you think your opponent is overstepping them, then tell that straight to your opponent, straight to their face. The moderator will then step in to support you. Mitt Romney however made the mistake of taking his complaints direct to the debate moderator instead. The effect was of a small child running to Mom or Dad and whining that the other kid wasn’t playing nice.

Have a key message

Always have a key message and return to it as frequently as possible by as many routes as possible. Governor Romney showed us a masterclass in key messaging during Debate One, when somehow, almost all lines of discussion seemed to lead directly to “small business”.

Techniques work well when only used once

During Debate Two, we commented on the use of rhetorical techniques. The Romans called them the “hidden darts”; fabulously powerful, but only effective when kept, as the name suggests, hidden.

If you use a technique of rhetoric once only, then it will sit in your speech as an elegant jewel. If you use the same technique twice, the audience will recognize the repetition. Use it a third time, and not only will the audience recognize it, but your opponent will be ready with a kill shot.

During the first debate, Governor Romney used the technique of listing-off the points he would discuss during his answer. There would always four points in his list, and the fourth would be the pivot-point back to Small Business. By Debate Three, President Obama was ready for him. As Romney finished the list, predictably landing on “small business”, the President fired-back with a list of his own, detailing everything the Governor had ever done that had harmed small business, and then neatly pivoting back around to the President’s own talking points. Aim, fire, dead.

Planning and preparation are everything

More than anything else, the debate pointed up the importance of not only planning your own strategy, but also mapping out the likely strategy of your opponent. If we take the example of the President’s Debate Three kill shot to Governor Romney’s pivot on small-business, that kill-shot was the result of close observation of the Governor’s techniques, and where he would most likely attempt to go with them.

Keep it current

Under that same prep and planning heading, we see the importance of being up to date, not just on your own press releases, but  on your opponent’s. On the day of Debate Three, the Romney camp started making noise about increased spending on the navy. The Obama camp anticipated the topic would be dropped into the debate by Romney, and what was the planned response?

It was the brilliant “horses and bayonets” retort that went on to become the night’s most tweeted comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: