The presidential debate is arguably the most high-profile job interview any person will ever engage in. And with it being the American political season, Donald Trump and Job Biden’s debate performances are expected to be watched by 74% of all registered voters. We’re just a few weeks out from the general election on November 3. As such, this first Trump vs. Biden debate may very well be the most prominent of the three scheduled presidential debates.
At its core, a presidential debate is similar to a senior executive job interview. Yes, it occurs in public and in front of millions, and there is that added component of having the competition in the same room at the same time. But the debate is still a job interview—albeit a high-stakes, high-profile and high-pressure one that most job candidates will never be subjected to.
Typical job applicants are subjected to more traditional job interviews, but many of the same factors that prompt a winner in those forums align with the same things that will determine the winner of tonight’s presidential debate.
Four factors that will likely determine the winner of the presidential debate.
Again, the presidential debate is simply a high-profile job interview. Regardless of whether you are interviewing for a job as a corporate executive, a senior manager or some other leadership or management role, some of the same skills that can help you win a presidential debate can also help you get that job offer. The most successful job candidates appreciate the value of debate skills and strive to demonstrate these skills during the interview and in the workplace.
1. The debate winner will display confidence.
The winner of tonight’s presidential debate, just as with a more traditional job interview, will exude confidence. We’ve learned a long time ago that the so-called “most qualified” person on paper doesn’t always get the job. It is the same with presidential debates. Once you make it to the presidential debate stage, it doesn’t matter one iota which candidate has the most leadership, management, executive or government experience. Confidence is a critical element of every interview, and it will be considered just as important as any other factor by which a candidate is evaluated.
Trump and Biden—just as you can during your interviews—have equal opportunities to shape the state of play. The candidate who displays the proper mix of body language, gestures, tone and style will win. The candidate who displays enough confidence to not let the surroundings, the competition or his own failings or mistakes get in his head will win.
The person who wins the presidential debate won’t get stuck on antics or distractions. He won’t get lost in his head worrying about whether or not the competition is better than him at something. He won’t be focused on whether or not he is worthy to be there or whether or not people like him. The one who wins this presidential debate between Trump and Biden will be the one who doesn’t let his insecurities and doubts get in the way of his focus.
The winner of the presidential debate won’t lose his cool, and he will focus on what he brings to the table. Tonight’s winner will demonstrate confidence in his ability to offer meaningful solutions for voters—the people he is asking to hire him for the job of president.
2. The debate winner will avoid answering yes or no questions with a simple yes or no.
The winner of tonight’s presidential debate, just as with a more traditional job interview, won’t fall into a trap of answering yes or no questions with a simple yes or no. Nothing (well at least very little) that either Trump or Biden will be asked during tonight’s presidential debate will be so simple. Even if it is, the winner will take every opportunity to expand upon a yes or no question, if only to add a sentence or two of additional context.
3. The debate winner will communicate facts and data with story and emotion.
The winner of tonight’s presidential debate will be the best storyteller. Trump and Biden—just as all job interviewers—need to connect with the audience (the person who will make the hiring decision). Yes facts matter, but emotional connection matters more.
In order to captivate an audience and connect at a heart level, it’s more important for all job candidates—including Trump and Biden—to weave a good story that’s factual than it is to focus on telling facts and data while neglecting to connect the audience to the story—the real heart of a message.
The person who will win the debate will be the one who takes each question and weaves it in with his intended message. The debate winner focuses on the message he comes to deliver rather than feeling some obligation to precisely answer each question that the moderator or his competitor puts forward.
The presidential debate winner will be the one who shows up with a value proposition for the message he needs to deliver and the communication areas he needs to move and persuade the audience on. The winner uses a strategic combination of facts, data, storytelling and emotion to deliver his intended message.
4. The debate winner won’t operate from a script.
The winner of tonight’s presidential debate will come off as authentic and connected to the moment, and he won’t be operating from a script. Trump and Biden need to be prepared to adjust on the fly and respond thoughtfully based on what’s actually happening in the room. They need to know the details of their topics, but they should avoid working from script.
The one who becomes so afraid to make a mistake that he attempts to follow a script will fail. The one who is too afraid to take a risk or steer away from what was practiced during debate prep will lose.
The one who overcomes distractions, fears and anxieties will win the debate because the winner must show that he understands the challenges that Americans are facing. He will show that he understands the pain that voters—the hiring managers—are experiencing. The one who wins tonight’s debate will come prepared to speak to the pain, challenges and struggles of the audience in a way that flows from the core of who he is and makes the audience feel it.