Millions tuned in as presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went head to head on issues affecting the U.S. and the world.
PR and communications pros watched the political sparring through a slightly different lens.
Here are six communication lessons we can take away from the first presidential debate:
1. Preparation matters. One nominee seemed very prepared—while the other was not.
When it comes to important events in your career—including big meetings, presentations, negotiations and speaking engagements—you can’t just “wing it.” Taking the time to prepare appropriately pays off when you can confidently deliver your message and handle tough questions.
2. Sometimes, it’s better to say less. We watched several times as Clinton let Trump hang himself by not saying anything. This was a strategic move on her part. The more Trump talked, the more missteps he made. Clinton simply stood by and let it happen.
This can also apply in a meeting, negotiation or written communications. Sometimes, saying less really is more.
3. Moderators must moderate. Trump continually interrupted Clinton and moderator Lester Holt.
Not only is this bad manners—but politicians (as well as clients and executives) who do this must be reigned in.
The moderator’s job is to help control the amount of time each person speaks and not allow anyone to step on others’ time. Holt is taking heat for allowing the interruptions to go on instead of stepping in more assertively.
It works the same way when you’re part of a panel at an industry conference. This should stand as a lesson to anyone moderating: Maintain control of your event.
4. Keep your cool under pressure. It can be easy to crack under pressure. We saw this as Trump continually lost his cool after being baited by Clinton.
No matter what happens, remember to keep your composure. Don’t let anyone throw you off your game.
When Trump stuck to his game plan, he made several solid points. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by his inability to remain calm, answer questions and stick to messages that resonate with voters.
5. Don’t interrupt. A foundational principle of communications is not to interrupt when others are speaking. We might try to get a word in edgewise if someone goes on and on, but interrupting continually should not be our default mode of operation. Keep them to a minimum—if you feel you must interrupt at all.
6. Smile. The only time Trump smiled was at the end of the debate, but Clinton smiled throughout.
Smiling makes you more likable and relatable. “The Definitive Book of Body Language” states that if you smile at your audience, they’re more likely to feel a connection with you (even if the smile is forced).
If you struggle with remembering to smile, put a reminder in your notes.
What communication lessons did you learn from watching the first presidential debate, PR Daily readers?