What Not to Do While Your Rival's Talking

Listen closely, minimize note-taking, and avoid tics: experts
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2012 8:58 AM CDT
What Not to Do While Your Rival's Talking
Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama, right, debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

To prep for debates, candidates have to work on more than just talking: They must perfect their listening, too. With split screens constantly in use, President Obama and Mitt Romney may want to give some serious thought to the AP's list of do's—and especially don'ts:

  • Don't take too many notes: Obama looked like he was writing a speech in the first debate. "It can be perceived as being rude, inattentive, not really listening," says a body-language coach.
  • Don't laugh or smile too much: Looking at you, Joe Biden. Candidates don't want to look "condescending," the body-language coach says. Maybe Biden partly got away with it because of his age, but "imagine if it wasn't the vice president but Paul Ryan who had been making those faces," says a debate coach.

  • Pay attention and be polite: Don't look at your watch as the elder Bush did, or roll your eyes like Al Gore. But "candidates should avoid nodding in agreement to anything but statements praising our soldiers, complimenting their spouses, and thanking the host school," says another expert.
  • Keep interruptions to a minimum: If you do step in, do it "with authority but not a tone which denigrates the speaker," says a political communications teacher.
  • Hands off the water: Ahem, Paul Ryan. In fact, says one coach, "I say to my students that people shouldn't notice you doing anything more than once. Because if they do, they will always find a negative."
(Read more President Obama stories.)

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