Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I'll look for in tonight's presidential debates

Washingtonian magazine included my thoughts in its roundup of what Washington-based speaker coaches advise you look for in tonight's U.S. presidential debates.* My advice will sound familiar to loyal readers of The Eloquent Woman. Tonight, I'll be watching for:
  • The candidates' hands: We value highly fluent, smooth speakers who don't stumble, um, uh or commit verbal gaffes...and the key to that lies in gesturing. I'll be watching for any hands-in-pockets, nervous gripping of the lectern or other ways to immobilize the hands, since gesture helps your brain produce speech fluently. 
  • Concrete versus abstract words: Research shows that the closer we get to an election, the more people want to hear concrete, specific terms. Candidates can get away with inspiring abstract words early on, but when it's time to seal the deal, specifics and the "how I'll get this done" specifics are what win the day and persuade the voters.
  • How they manage a difficult format: Here's what I told Washingtonian: "It is a very difficult format. You are unscripted; you’re in front of a very large audience; you’re not in control of the questions. All of those things make it difficult. You can cram all you want, but you don’t know where it’s going to go, and you are having to answer to three different sets of people: your opponent, the questioner, and the audience." All that makes it compelling viewing--and that's why I'll be watching.
Read more about tonight's debates in terms of what the moderators face and how they prepare, and journalist Gwen Ifill's smart debunking of five myths about presidential debates. Politics aside, what will you be watching for?

*And let me correct that article which states that I was the deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, as you can see here, I was a deputy associate administrator, as my EPA colleagues surely know.