Monday, September 17, 2012

The Debates: Coaching, Rehearsing and Practice


As the presidential candidates prepare for their three October debates, I am returning to the subjects of coaching, rehearsing and practice. In the past few weeks the debate preparation has been front and center on Mitt Romney’s agenda, and the White House has reported that President Obama has been using his time on Air Force One for debate coaching in between campaign stops.


Although the vice presidential candidates debate only once, the preparation is equally intensive. Last week in Oregon, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stepped off the campaign trail for rehearsing with attorney Ted Olson (who is impersonating Joe Biden). 

Olson, a skilled litigator and former solicitor general for President George W. Bush, has formidable presentation skills—making him the perfect person to represent Joe Biden who, although prone to gaffes, is a practiced debater and skilled politician, having been in politics for over 40 years.

Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen will be coaching Joe Biden on debating Paul Ryan. Van Hollen’s narrow qualifications are interesting; he sits next to Paul Ryan on the House Budget Committee and as a result has a unique understanding of how Ryan likes to frame his arguments.

Perhaps the coach who has received the most news coverage is a former front-runner for Romney’s vice presidential slot: Ohio Senator Rob Portman. His coaching and acting skills were first described back in 2000 when Rick Lazio hired Portman to prepare him to debate Hillary Clinton. Lazio calls Portman "the quintessential debate prep expert."

Portman was supremely good at the job, Lazio says, primarily because he took it so seriously: "He will spend countless hours listening and watching tapes of the person he is supposed to be playing. He is an incredibly dedicated preparer.”

And if Portman is successful in duplicating Obama’s speaking style and policy positions, Romney will feel he is actually debating Obama rather than in a dress rehearsal and thus will not be surprised or thrown off guard during the actual debates.

Knowing your opponent’s delivery style and anticipating his response is one part of the preparation three-legged stool. Equally important in becoming an effective debater is listening and interpreting in order to think and articulate quickly on your feet.

A good part of achieving that confidence is anticipating the questions, crafting short and concise answers, and lots of practice. Content delivery is all important! A quick, forceful, respectful response that may smack down an opponent is always music to the ears of an audience.

Without this type of debate training, answers tend to be overly long, uninspiring, and sometimes embarrassing!

Those who have worked with me know my mantra: You can’t make an effective presentation if you don’t know what you’re going to say. Constructing on the fly usually doesn’t work well, no matter how experienced a speaker may be. And, should the candidates run out of topics to rehearse, there is always the Huffington Post piece that came out Sept. 15 with a personalized checklist of areas the presidential and vice presidential candidates should work on!

Tune into at least one of the debates and watch with a critical eye. Topics will cover foreign and domestic policy; and given the current state of the Middle East and the US economy, the discussion should be lively!

No comments:

Post a Comment