Ten Keys to Winning a Political Debate

Ten Keys to Winning a Political Debate

A political campaign is a marathon not a sprint, which partially explains why candidates are always urinating on themselves on the trail. But one way for any hopeful to quickly and comfortably move ahead in the polls is to come through with an excellent showing in a debate. And to do so, you have to be prepared. While I've never engaged in any sort of formal debate myself, I do frequently argue with people, including those that can't even hear me in nearby cars, newspapers and television sets. That makes me the perfect person to coach those who want to make it their mission to frame everything they say for the rest of their lives in such a way as to be interpreted in whatever way is convenient for the listener.

Instill Fear: "Voters want facts. But more than that, they want a society free of big cats terrorizing their playgrounds. Apparently my opponent doesn't share your concern, as he's already said he'd cut police department funding if elected. We all know where this is leading. A reduction in police on the streets begets a reduction in the enforcement of leash laws, which begets an influx of emboldened, bloodthirsty jungle cats unleashed and roaming the streets in search of a meal. Don't waste time thinking about whether or not the cats would be leashed in the first place. That's time you'll need to get your children inside before the first pride of lions arrives."

An American Flag Pin: You don't have to wear one, just be prepared to fight the perception that you're a gas-huffing pederast.

Gesticulation: Sometimes, it's not what you say, but how many thumbs ups you give while saying it.

Be Vague: "My plan will put America back to work and reduce the burden on middle class families. It will do this by being good and doing good things for good people. Dare I say great things. Because in this great country of ours, good people deserve great things."

Stories About Local Elderly People: "Everyone knows that times are tough. But nobody understands that better than Winifred Horvath. Met her just last night at bingo. She's 124 years old and, if her calculations are correct, she hasn't missed the evening news since it was delivered weekly to her front yard by a rider on horseback. I'd just like to take a moment to say hello to her now. Hi, Winnie. We're going to get this fixed, young lady. I promise you. You see, Winifred takes 70 different kinds of medicine just to be able to take the 18 prescriptions she needs to control the side effects from her rheumatoid arthritis medicine. But that doesn't keep her from doing the things she loves, like wearing a rain bonnet on sunny days and taking pills. Let's make it easier for her by giving her easier access to the disorienting drugs she loves so much."

Smile: It's said that 90% of success is just showing up. The other 10% is broken down like this:

Preview of your graph

Find Common Ground With the Audience: "Hey gang, who thinks taxes stink? Me too! Looks like we're on the same page there. We're so alike. It's as though I grew up the same way as you with the same values, which I did. Just wanted to reiterate that. Hey, do you appreciate the value of hard work? Really have to agree with you on that one, too. You know, for me, much like all of you, I think it all started with my mommy and daddy. [emotional pause] As a youngster, my pappy would come home from the coal mines stinking of fish. Never understood why, never asked. I just assumed that's what coal smelled like. Wasn't until later that I realized what I was smelling was just a good old fashion honest day's work. That and fish. Definitely some kind of fish. We never did figure that one out."

Show Your Human Side: Save this one for a time when you feel momentum shifting toward your opponents. Just stand there politely listening to their answers and then, when the time is right, pull out the secret weapon. "Whoa, where did this baby come from? Well, might as well give him a big ol' smooch." Flashbulbs pop, an iconic image appears on the front page of every major newspaper and maybe, just maybe, you have yourself a running mate. If you can use a real baby for this, all the better.

Zingers and Catchphrases: Who doesn't love zingers and catchphrases? They're often the only thing people remember from debates, which means they are obviously important and substantive. A debater needs a few of these because attendees of public forums are often the most discerning of audiences, more sophisticated than even those of infomercial tapings. But all it takes is one good zinger and they'll be eating out of your hand like hungry jungle cats. Side note: Verify that your audience is not made up of jungle cats before placing your hand near their mouths.

Be Confident: Instead of "I think my plan will..." just say "My plan will...." So for instance, "My plan will solve all of your problems." See how that serves the dual purpose of being vague and sounding factual? The reality of that statement is of little consequence. That's really a matter for others to discuss at another time. We're not trying to get into a debate here.

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