Leaders’ debate

Seventy million people tuned into the first ever televised political leaders’ debate in 1960, and saw Kennedy perform in a way that outshone his opponent Nixon. I found a short documentary online, telling viewers how efficient Kennedy’s preparation was, making decisions about suits and camera angles, to convey the image and message of an assured leader. These televised debates are now a vital part of the build up to General Election’s, the next is on 12thDecember (don’t forget to register to vote https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote) and 6.7million of us chose to tune into the leaders’ debate between Corbyn and Johnson on ITV last week.


I tuned into the programme hoping to learn something, and perhaps I did, but I was mainly overwhelmed with frustration. Watching the two men read their opening statements either from notes or on autocue was not impressive. We, as human beings, don’t connect with someone visibly reading notes or staring hard to read autocue. What we need here is the chance to connect emotionally with our potential future leaders so we begin to trust them, and feel spoken to not recited at.


The clear lack of respect they had for their host Julie Etchingham– regularly ignoring her pleas to keep to the allocated time – was the most irritating thing of the entire debate for me. Effective preparation would ensure they know how to answer sufficiently whilst keeping to time. It was a really good example to remind us that once you have been interrupted by a host calling time, an audience no longer listens clearly to what is being said so it is wasted anyway. Prepping for Q&A’s is vital, obviously, especially in this circumstance where the whole exercise was about persuading voters.


Looking back to the Nixon/Kennedy debate, and their individual ‘looks’ was telling too. Nixon in his slightly baggy grey suit, which on screen made him look washed out, in comparison to the sharp navy suit from Kennedy. You want an outfit to enhance your message, not distract. Viewers of the ITV debate couldn’t help but comment on Corbyn’s wonky glasses. We may want to believe this stuff doesn’t matter, and content is what does, but it all paints a bigger picture.


My various Whatsapp groups went into overdrive during viewing, and the comment that stood out was that the whole thing felt like a sixth form debating contest. Not good enough.

The Communication Collective work throughout the UK and internationally.

To get in touch with one of the team, please email, phone, or use the form below.

Charlotte: 07966 538 159 / Celia: 07793 560 649

13 + 7 =