Lectern Debates, Town Hall Debates, Chat Debates: Which Works Best for Whom?

Posted on October 8, 2016 in News

While we hate to take sales away from our lectern rental business, as we were preparing for delivery of risers for Sunday’s town hall meeting with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we got to thinking about the three debate formats (lectern, town hall, and chat) and which format favors which candidate’s style. After a little research, we came to the conclusion that this information is relevant in setting up staging for corporate events as well. What do you want your CEO to accomplish in his speech? Would a debate format with a lectern work best, or should he or she be leaning against a stool chatting in a town hall format? Food for thought, indeed.
The difference in format for Sunday’s debate—town hall rather than a lectern debate with a moderator—may change the tone of the confrontation, and possibly even affect its outcome. Clinton has been doing town hall meetings often over the past year and a half, and her team has acknowledged that they want to lighten her style and see if they can use that format to make her more relatable to voters. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has rarely done the town hall format, preferring the larger crowds to which his rambling lecture style is better suited.

There is also a third format to be considered, the chat format—used earlier this week in the vice presidential debates—in which the moderator sits at a table discussing the questions with the candidates. Different types of learning occur with different formats. Chat formats prompt viewers to focus less on candidates’ performance and image considerations and more on the issues. Moreover, while chat debates place an almost equal emphasis on issues and image, this year’s lectern and town-hall debates resulted in almost three times as many candidate-image observations as claims of issue learning. So, the format of a debate can have a marked effect on the candidate’s communication and on viewers’ learning.


Just a little trivia for you going into Sunday’s event. Sunday’s debate should be interesting, indeed. Good luck to both candidates!