The Presidential Debates – do they work?

(Post by Andrew Thorp)

I’ve been following the televised US presidential debates and I just can’t help thinking how bizarre the format is.

What’s your view on this form of debate? It’s seems to me that the speakers are trying to manage a relationship with 4 things simultaneously – each other, the audience, the mediator and the viewing public. It’s too much and it doesn’t work. In fact it reminds me of the problem business presenters have, managing the focus of their audience as they combine slides with speaking.

The 2 presidential candidates engage in an awkward dance, each moving about the stage with a hand-held microphone but not quite knowing where to stand or whom to address. When Romney speaks directly to the audience it makes Obama look like a spare part; the President isn’t quite sure whether to sit or stand and it seems rather unbefitting the ‘Leader of the Free World’.  And to have an audience that sits there mute seems odd in the extreme!

A Question Time-type panel with 2 speakers, 1 mediator and a participating audience would surely work better. It would be much easier to manage focus, both for the speakers and the audience. You’d also get a more conversational exchange, where the quality of their message is the focus rather than their stage-craft. But perhaps that’s a bit too transparent and risky? What a pity!

Just a little postscript…I’m a big champion of a more open, authentic form of communication and to observe the raw emotion of political jousting you don’t get much better than the Australian Parliament. Have a listen to Prime Minister Julia Gillard (looking uncannily like Jodie Foster) laying into Opposition Leader Tony Abbott – no holds barred Down Under mate!


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