The tradition of public candidate debates are now more risk than reward. There are too many avenues for a candidate to get his or her message out and so many things that can go wrong on stage with a motley crew of opponents.
But debates are too often unavoidable with many voters seeing efforts by candidates to avoid the oratory jousting as an attempt to circumvent the electoral process.
Still, through proper scheduling of time, delegating of assignments and staffing you can build a debate preparation regimen that will produce a successful effort. Here are five best-practices to incorporate as you plan for an upcoming debate:
1. Recognize debate preparation as a scheduling priority
Prep should be considered a priority when building out the candidate’s schedule. Too often, campaigns fail to schedule enough time to adequately prepare the candidate and a poor debate performance is the result. Candidate hours are a limited resource, but proper debate prep is worth the investment of time given the risk. Immediately after the debate schedule has been set, plan multiple evening or weekend prep sessions for the lead up to the encounter.
2. Make planning and preparation a team effort
Preparing for a debate shouldn’t be the owned responsibility of just one member on your team. Delegate the responsibility of developing talking points, counterpoints, opening and closing statements to members of the campaign consulting team.
It’s important to approach debate preparation for what it is: Not a single project – but several small projects being developed concurrently. Schedule multiple times to check in with the team and request status updates on the projects once they’ve been assigned.
3. Knowing your opponent is half the battle
Your competitive campaign has dedicated a portion of its limited resources to hiring a bright-eyed, 20- something tracker in an effort to capture your opponent’s policy positions. Debate prep is the time to cash in on that investment. Have a junior-level staffer transcribe the germane portions of the videos.
Once this has been done your team of senior campaign staff and consultants will be able to identify the frequent message frames your opponent will employ in the upcoming debate. Once you have this information in hand, you and your team will be better suited to develop your counterpoints. Moreover, be sure your retorts are on point and up to date.
4. Find a stand-in for your opponent in prep sessions
Identifying a debate partner that can serve as your opposition in peroration sessions is an important step to building a pre-debate regiment. Identify a former candidate or colleague who understands not only the colloquialism of the region, but also the intricate policies that’ll be discussed in the upcoming debate.
It’s important that this person understands the time commitment. They’ll be asked to review footage and issue briefings for not only the person they’ll be portraying, but also of the candidate they’re helping prepare. Be sure to assign a member of your staff to assist the stand-in during this process.
5. Meet with your opponent to agree upon a debate schedule, and stick to it
Too often campaigns fail to meet to discuss a debate schedule before local organizations begin promoting an event. Smart campaigns meet with their opponents early in the process to agree upon a set number of debates and locations in an effort to prevent their schedules being overwhelmed.
JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Kids Action, and a veteran campaign operative. Follow JR on twitter @JustinRyanS.