Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#Speakers: Get insider tips on debating, moderating

When a presidential campaign is on, voters learn much from televised political debates as the candidates slip, stumble and spar their way through these structured speaking situations. In the U.S., there have been 35 such debates since 1960, and newsman Jim Lehrer has moderated 11 of them, something of a record. Now past his debate moderating days, Lehrer has written a guide that debaters, moderators and speakers can use to learn more about the form: Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain. It's loaded with tips and insights about debating and moderating, and includes interviews with the candidates themselves as well as other journalists participating in the questioning.

Lehrer--who includes honest assessments of his own mistakes and how they impacted the debates in which the errors occurred--and the actual debaters all underscore the need for preparation, and the fact that a debate format demands the preparation that a good speaker might skip under other circumstances. You'll find plenty of recollections of famous presidential debate moments, and what happened behind the scenes, making this a timely read.

Lehrer did an hour-long interview on NPR's Diane Rehm Show recently; you can listen to it here or read the transcript here. But he's not the only journalist offering debating tips. NPR's David Folkenflik notes that many debaters get distracted by the theatrics of a presidential debate, but need to ignore that and focus.

Do you have a favorite presidential debate moment? Share it in the comments.

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