How not to screw up an introduction like the ABC moderators at the Republican Presidential Debate

The Republican Presidential Debate on 6 February 2016 began in appalling fashion. And I am not talking about the candidates. Take a look.

I would have expected better. Seriously, it looked like amateur hour.

Many people have been poking fun at Ben Carson and Donald Trump for missing their cues. But it wasn’t their fault. The traffic jam was caused by the moderators, ABC News journalists David Muir, the anchor of “ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” and Martha Raddatz, the co-anchor of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

DebateAfter Muir introduces Chris Christie, Raddatz doesn’t wait for the applause to die down before introducing Carson. Carson does not hear his name and so, understandably, does not walk on stage. Thus begins the traffic jam.

Ted Cruz is called to the stage and you can see the confusion on his face as he acknowledges Carson. Then, at 0:31, one of the stagehands starts waving to Carson to go on stage. But Carson—justifiably—stays put. I would have too. Every candidate deserves a proper introduction.

It looks like the stagehand blocks Donald Trump long enough for the latter not to hear his name and so Trump joins Carson in the wings. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush manage to make it on stage and then, at 1:04, if you listen carefully, you can hear Muir call John Kasich in an almost inaudible voice. Not surprisingly, Kasich doesn’t show.

So now, at 1:10 of the video, we have three out seven candidates (43%) off stage. At this point, things go from bad to worse as Muir tries to verbally shovel Ben Carson onto the stage. Raddatz—once again—calls Donald Trump while the applause is still too loud, and then they both forget John Kasich. Someone had to remind them.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy! Come on, people, you’re supposed to be professionals.

Embed from Getty Images

Part of the problem—and you can see it when the camera shows the entire stage—is that both moderators are standing centre stage, in front of their desk facing the audience (as in the image above). Their backs are turned to the candidates so they cannot see them come on stage.

Here’s a news flash for the moderators: You’re not the attraction. It’s not about you. Your job is to make the debate run as smoothly as possible. Get the candidates on stage, ask tough questions, keep people on time and, generally, stay out of the way. Moderators can have their moment in the sun when they are introduced at the very beginning and at the very end after the candidates have had their final word. The rest of the time, it is about the candidates.

If you have to moderate a debate, here are some basic tips when it comes to introductions:

1. Before the debate, go over the procedure to be followed with all of the speakers together. Review the order in which speakers will be introduced, the wording that will be used to introduce them, when they should walk on stage and where they should go. If necessary, confirm the pronunciation of names with the relevant speakers. Answer any questions.

2. At the start of the debate, walk on stage, introduce yourself if this has not already been done, and make your introductory welcome remarks. Briefly explain the rules of the debate and then move to a less conspicuous position from which you can see the speakers.

3. Introduce each speaker in a loud, clear voice.

4. Wait until Speaker A has reached his or her speaking place and the applause has died down before announcing Speaker B. Repeat, as necessary, for additional speakers.

5. Introduce each speaker exactly the same way. The only differences should be their names and, if used, their positions or job titles.

6. In special cases, such as an election, when all of the speakers are in place, I think it looks sharp to make one final group introduction. For example, “Ladies and Gentlemen, your candidates for the Republican Presidential Nomination”. (I would not have done it in this particular instance because there were other candidates who were not invited to the debate because of their low ratings in the polls.)

I will revisit the subject of moderating an event in a future post.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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2 Responses to How not to screw up an introduction like the ABC moderators at the Republican Presidential Debate

  1. Mike M. says:

    It is crazy how Professionals lose sight of the BASICS! I totally agree that all the fault and blame should be placed on the Moderators. They need to quarterback this situation so that all pieces are in place the way they should be. Your suggested approach is sound and well organized. Perhaps to add to Item #4, check to ensure Speaker A has made his/her way to the stage before proceeding to announce Speaker B. I know this is common sense, but looks like it is worth mentioning considering even the Professionals lose sight of basic common sense.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Mike. And that’s a good suggestion to make regarding Point No. 4. In fact, I will add it now. As you say, it is common sense, but as Voltaire once said, “Common sense isn’t so common.”

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