If you are running for office, you will be expected to participate in candidate debates, forums or joint appearances with your opponent. The better prepared you are, the better you will perform. The more you know about what to expect when it begins, the better you will prepare. Today some tips on how to prepare and perform so that you shine on stage. You need to know the format, the rules, study your opponent, and develop a debate strategy.

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A little about each of those, beginning with the format for the debate.

Will you stand or sit? Who is the moderator? Will there be an audience? If so, will the audience be visible to the TV cameras during the debate or while the candidates are talking? Will the audience be allowed to ask questions? How many candidates are participating? How long will you have to answer the questions? You can’t properly prepare if you don’t the answers to these questions.

Every debate will have rules of engagement. Will the candidates be given the opportunity to give an opening or closing statement? If so, how long? What topics will be covered? Will the candidates be allowed to rebut or respond to what the others say? Will the candidates be allowed to ask one or more questions of the others? And will the television audience see how your opponent is reacting while you talk? Is the moderator allowed to interrupt?

 

For the same reason that football teams watch game films, you need to study your opponents, their biography, public statements and record in office so that you know their strengths and weaknesses. Anticipate the strategy of your opponent, and ways they may try to trip you. Make sure as you practice that you live by the rules that will be imposed on you during the debate.

Finally, make sure you have a strategy to get what you want out of the debate, the distinctions you want to draw, and the headline you want to see in the news the next day. If this debate is the first in a series, you will want to consider ways to draw your opponent out on a topic they may not want to discuss, or force them to clarify a position they would rather not have clarified, or use the first debate to set a trap that you’ll spring in a future debate.

In 1858, Lincoln used the debates to force Douglas to clearly state his position on slavery, which enabled Lincoln to use it against him in the campaign of 1860.

There are a few other items worth mentioning. How you look and sound is just as important as what you say. Voters will judge your body language and take a measure of your personality. While they like candidates with convictions, they are repulsed by those who snarl, act like jerks or hurl barnyard insults. Smile during the debate and act like you are having fun, for while it is important that you win on points, it is equally important that you look like a likable human being.

Well prepared, you will look and feel far more confident. Your confidence will show in the way you talk, your presence and command.

Have questions? Hit the comment button. I will answer them.

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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.

How to win an election:

Running for office and knowing how to win an election is a challenge, especially for first time political candidates just learning how to run for office. Discerning the fine points of how to campaign, raise political contributions, and execute a political campaign strategy often requires the help of someone who has served as a political strategist or who has experience as a political consultant.

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