Good debates take more than just facts or public speaking skills

Wednesday night’s presidential debate comes with months of preparation from both candidates.

With events like these, candidates don’t just walk on stage and start answering questions.

There are a couple different components that go into a good debate. It’s not just about knowing the facts, and it’s not just about being a good public speaker. Candidates are going to need both if they want to sway any voters.

Wednesday’s debate is the first chance for voters to see and hear both candidates go head to head in their arguments for the white house.

“It’s the most important part,” said Mike Tollefson, UW-La Crosse communications professor.

Tollefson teaches public speaking at UW-L. He said the key to swaying voters is in what each candidates say, and evidence is key.


“In terms of the arguments, I would say provide substantial evidence for the claims that they make, and provide a clear distinction from themselves and the other candidate,” said Tollefson.

Time will also be important. Tollefson said the less time candidates can spend on making their arguments while still getting their point across, and finding a memorable way to do it, the better.

“Particularly with the presidential debate, there’s been a lot of talk about having ‘zinger comments’ as they focus on the television format,” said Tollefson. “Having soundbites that translate, or carry on television or on Internet websites.”

But having a good factual argument is only half the battle. Candidates also have to look confident under the bright lights.

“There certainly is a lot of body language involved, and using the hands and trying to make a point,” said Greg Schams, Central High School’s debate coach.

He said a good factual argument can only get you so far. Candidates will also have to be able to connect with the audience.

“You can tell in the voice, you can tell in the facial expression, you can tell in the body language,” said Schams. “When a debater is more relaxed, you can tell, they read evidence more convincingly and they’re more believable as an argumentor.”

Schams said candidates should also try to avoid making something up if they don’t know the answer.

Tollefson said both presidential candidates should be well-prepared before Wednesday night’s debate that unexpected surprises shouldn’t happen.

The latest Marquette Law poll shows Romney closing the double-digit gap President Obama has.

Wednesday’s numbers show Obama leading Wisconsin voters with 53 percent of the likely voters surveyed to Romney’s 42.

Obama led by 14 percent mid-September.