5 Tips to Watch the First Presidential Debate

The final MASH episode drew 105.97 million total viewers, more than both Super Bowl XVII and the Roots miniseries. The Dallas episode that resolved the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger was watched by a quarter of a billion viewer’s world-wide.

This debate could surpass those numbers. Even if it does, what does that mean? Is anyone on this planet going to change their mind as a result of a debate, a line, a moment immortalized?

If you are one of the expected 100 million viewers, what are you looking for anyway? Let’s say you watch. What are you watching for?

As a Communication Coach and Speech writer, here are my suggestions for what to watch for in the first debate:

  1. Visual Always Beats Verbal

The rules of communication are the rules for everyone and every communication situation. From the Kennedy-Nixon debate when listeners thought Nixon won and viewers thought Kennedy won, the visual has always been hugely important. From H.W. Bush looking at his watch while debating Bill Clinton to the Dukakis’ reaction to rape, visual has had a front row seat in everyone’s home. Look for the role the visual will play in this debate.

  1. One Line to Last Forever

You can wish for it, pray for it, and prepare for it. But you can’t make it happen. Every candidate wants the line that will live forever. You just can’t make it happen. “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy”, “I won’t hold your youth and inexperience against you”, “binders full of women”, are examples of lines that went on to live forever. In some cases a positive line and in some cases a negative line that took on a life of its own. Every camp and candidate want a line to go viral, you just can’t make it happen. Listen to see if this debate gives the world that line.

  1. How Much Wonk

If this was a normal election, voters would want a candidate for president who knew as much as possible. BUT there has been nothing normal about this election. In 1976, Gerald Ford’s claim “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” stunned the moderator and the audience. Ford went on to lose to little known Governor Jimmy Carter. Hillary’s challenge is to not come off as the smartest kid in the class. We never like the smartest kid. Trump should need to communicate more than “believe me” as evidence that what he says is true. Look for how much of a grasp of the issues the voters actually want this year.

  1. Who Makes the Unlikable Likable

Most candidates that have been through the debate gauntlet say the same thing afterwards. They say they over-prepared. What they mean is that they practiced so much that any ounce of individualism or human-ness was pounded out of them. What we end up seeing and hearing is robotic.

Here’s the dilemma in this election. Polls say these are two of the most unlikable candidates ever. If either one or both succeed in being less robotic, being more human- we will see and hear more of a person that we don’t like. Look for practiced, polished but not over-prepared.

  1. The Unplanned

Regardless of how the candidates prepare for the debate, they have talked about ideas and issues for over a year. And yet, it is the unplanned that we hope for: a grimace, a look at one’s watch, a brain freeze, an odd word usage, something.

Look for the moment that was not planned.

On one hand this is reality TV and on the other hand this is the real thing not a TV show. You decide, But remember, we all have to live with your decision.

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