How to Watch the Democratic Debate

Posted on October 11, 2019
Joy Washington

The latest in a series of Democratic Party debates is scheduled for Oct. 15. With a dozen candidates on stage, it can be difficult to know what to focus on during the televised debates. These days, political debates are conducted using various formats and it is often a warped “double-edged” sword for those watching.

According to University of South Alabama senior communication instructor Genevieve Dardeau, “We hope for something exciting while simultaneously knowing the time can be, well, rather staid. By the time of the debate, you should do a little research on each candidate and put your phone away so you can observe and listen intently.” So, get a notepad and use these helpful suggestions:

  1. Remember, the candidates have a platform. Actively listen for key elements of the opening statements and jot those down.
  2. The candidates are of the same party but have different experiences and perspectives. Ask yourself… is this what you think or feel or could see the direction of the entire nation going?
  3. Avoid listening with personal bias and shouting at the candidates. You may experience cognitive dissonance in that you agree with someone you did not expect. It’s perfectly fine. Hear them out.
  4. Watch the nonverbal cues of each candidate, especially as they interact with the moderators and one another. Nonverbal is the strongest form of communication and can give you a sense of a person in times of stress.
  5. Does the candidate sound knowledgeable and credible? Do they use credible sources and have sound reasoning in discussing key issues?
  6. Try to learn one or two items from each candidate and rank those items later. When the next debate happens, your list will be a starting point.
  7. And finally, pay closer attention to “break out” moments. If the camera gets the group of candidates, you’ll often see a nonverbal cue or two…then the interaction occurs. It’s the moment everyone will be talking about, so don’t miss it!

Genevieve “Gigi” Dardeau is a senior instructor in the department of communication at the University of South Alabama. She is a recipient of the Beth and Don Davis National Alumni Association Excellence in Advising Award. Her courses have included Writing for Communication Media, Argumentation, Public Relations Communication Methods, Human Communication and Public Speaking.

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