20 years

March 2012: Lessons from Political Debate Strategies

Monday, March 19, 2012 -

The CommCore Observer


Vol 12.3


Lessons from Political Debate Strategies 


 ‘Tis the season for national election primary debates, to be followed by the Presidential debates this fall.  Behind the scenes in the up-and-down Republican Party debates have been the coaches.  One of the leading strategists is Don Graham, current coach of Southern Illinois University. He has guided his Salukis to national debate titles.


Graham advocates the AARP (no, not that AARP) approach.  The acronym stands for Argue, Attack, Respond, and Presence.  It’s a great strategy for political debates, but not one we would advise – without qualifications -- for other communicators.  Here are points of agreement and modification:


Argue: Absolutely. Communicators need to be persuasive.  Strong arguments in politics and corporate, association and non-profit should be based on the Key Message approach, featuring strong statements, facts and data, and a story, anecdote or third party endorsement.


Attack: Good for politics; not for most other communications.  Attack, sometimes called going negative, has been proven to be effective in campaigns.  Rarely does it work in the business context.  It’s usually a waste of time to bash the opposition in a public forum.


Respond:  This works in both politics and commerce.  In debates, response must be immediate. Response in non-political settings means developing a strong defense, a thorough FAQ document, updating your website, anticipating the opposition’s arguments, and “bridging” to the appropriate positive points.


Presence:  Politicians know this is the X factor: “looking Presidential.”  A strong presence in a debate can be as important as any content answer, especially in a televised debate with the availability and longevity of video clips on the Internet.  Presence is too often given short-shrift in the “cool” world of business and associations. 


Our suggestions, whether you are supporting one candidate or another:

  • Watch the debates
  • Look for the AARP strategies
  • See if the debates' points are broad statements or key messages
  • Work on your own presence; presence can be a game changer



CommCore Consulting Group is a specialty communications firm.  For the past 25 years, CommCore has provided communications strategy, message development, communications training, and crisis planning to the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.  CommCore has prepared thousands of executives and spokespeople for media interviews, presentations, speeches, employee meetings, product launches, road shows, analyst meetings, Congressional and regulatory testimony, crisis response, citizen lobbying, and social media.

We welcome all commentary on The CommCore Observer.  Is there a specific skill area or practice you would like us to cover in future editions?  Just let us know.


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