Communication lessons from the presidential debate


The 2020 presidential debate presented many lessons on successful and unsuccessful communication methods. Let’s take a look at some of the key communication takeaways from the debate.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. An otherwise compelling argument can be poorly received if you don’t present it well. If you fail in your speech, take too many missteps like interrupting, cursing, or not making good eye contact, your message will not be received well. Delivery matters as much, and sometimes even more, than the content itself.

You can’t talk to another person. It is almost impossible to focus on more than one voice at a time. When two or more people talk to each other, it becomes nothing but noise. People talking to each other degenerate a civil discussion into a nasty argument. No one wins in this situation.

Don’t interrupt. Interruptions interrupt the flow of the conversation and, as the debate has shown, tend to create chaos. No matter how badly you want to jump into a conversation, it’s important to wait until the other person has finished speaking before giving your rebuttal. In general, unless someone says something potentially damaging or dangerous, wait your turn to speak.

Be strategic with eye contact. Eye contact is incredibly powerful and helps you connect with your audience. It has an impact on how you are viewed and, when used to your advantage, can be the deciding factor in getting people to agree with your point of view. Looking someone in the eye projects confidence and authority. Looking down or shifting your gaze too often makes you appear less trustworthy, nervous, or lacking in authority.

Engage your audience. The best way to get people to listen and support your point of view is to talk to them directly. Talking to a collective “you” helps people identify with your argument and connect better with what you are saying. Avoid demagoguery at all costs.

Sometimes less is more. People are more likely to remember a short, powerful statement than a long, detailed statement. Make your point and state it clearly, then move on. Depending on the importance of the message, you may repeat it once or twice, but no more than this can end up diminishing its impact.

Take a break before reacting. Take a second to pause and take a deep breath before you answer a question or rebut. It is a common tendency to react first and think later, especially when discussing contentious issues. This can cause you to lose sight of your main message and not deliver your point clearly.

Stay in control of your emotions. Control your emotions, don’t let them control you. It’s easy to go into reactive mode when the voltages are high, but it doesn’t help you keep your cool. Losing your cool means people will focus on your reaction rather than your message, so keep your cool to make sure the attention stays where it belongs.

Avoid cheap blows and name calling. The old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all” rings so, very true. Throwing insults at another person doesn’t make you look good and certainly doesn’t add anything to a conversation. Don’t get caught up in the heat of the moment and insult someone just for insulting you. Sigh or laugh, but don’t overreact than that.

Don’t put words in someone else’s mouth. Talk about yourself, your point of view, and the hard facts to support your argument. Never say “the other person said xyz, and that’s why they’re wrong” – instead, just state why your point is the right one and let the other person speak for themselves.

Stay on topic. When you are asked a question, answer it. Don’t talk about it and don’t try to be creative with your response.

What were your lessons in communication from the debate?


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