5 Debate Tips for Obama, Romney from an Acting Teacher

With the first Presidential debate coming up on Wednesday night, acting teacher Anthony Meindl shares advice for President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney as they prepare to go head to head with the entire country watching.

1. Listen

Listen and react. Being an actor is being a “re-actor”. People can tell if you’re not listening. Your scene partner can tell. And the scene falls flat and feels untruthful. There’s no human connection… In Walter Murch’s (famous editor of "Apocalypse Now") book, "In the Blink of an Eye," he explains that if people are connected and listening, they blink subconsciously at certain points when they absorb information. We can see when someone isn’t listening to us – it’s in the eyes – glazed over, disconnected. (Sort of like what happens to you when someone goes on and on about what they did in Paris over their summer vacation!)

It’s essential for the candidates to listen during the debate. People at home will be able to instantly spot canned answers and dis-engaged reactions.

2. Commit

Commit to everything with passion and action. Do things fully. Be with people completely. Share totally. Give of yourself wholly to the truth of the moment. Commitment ushers in the discovery of creative things - insights, impulses, “ah-ha’s,” light bulb moments - we didn’t know existed. We don’t know they exist because in order to access them we have to step into the unknown, which is where they all reside. Commitment takes us there.

The best moments are often the un-scripted moments. When candidates are impassioned and committed to what they're talking about, the viewers at home will get caught up in the human emotion of the moment. If you don’t believe me, twelve years ago at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, one of the national commentators for the event said to the speakers, “Throw away the text and let us see you.” He could have been addressing an assembly room of actors with that credo.

3. Play

Give yourself permission to play, express, have fun, be bold, be weird, be you. Creating is not all serious work. In fact, the act of creating isn’t serious at all. It’s part of our natural DNA. Scenes often come alive when we see the actors having fun.

Tom Cruise has it. The candidates should have it too – that megawatt smile. It’s a simple human expression that indicates play and fun. It’s not a cheesy – let’s have a plastic smile through the debate – kind of thing. It’s just about being real. Not being stiff. Not being a puppet. People can sense it.

4. Relax

Things take time and patience is truly a virtue. Don’t push yourself too hard. The art of relaxing is like the art of surrender, or the art of allowing. Creative flow will come to you if you let it. Simply breathing keeps you connected to the flow. It allows you to stay in the present and trust that things unfold as they should. Remember, things always work out. And even if they don’t work out the way you “think” they should, they still unfold in a way that lead us to the higher realization about ourselves, our lives, and what we most need to get at that moment. Trust.

Public speaking can be nerve-wracking. A presidential debate with the entire world watching? Heart-stopping?! Lets just say it might rank above death as some people’s worst fear. If the candidates are relaxed, they are present, and we can relax along with them. (And also throw things at the TV in outrage at some of the preposterous things they will undoubtedly say.)

5. Be Good Enough

You have to come to the realization that you’re good enough to create and to be a successful actor. Declaring you are creative and talented is not egocentric; it’s simply alignment with the truth of who you are. We are all merely channels for something greater to flow through us. But in order to access that creativity, you have to stay plugged in. The ego part of us makes it hard to do that, and constantly wants our wiring to get crossed. Don’t let it do that.

It’s essential that Presidential candidates know they are good enough to lead the country. Doubt in them = doubt in us. We can sense conviction. And passion. And ultimately, if they are really a pure channel, the work they are intent upon doing is about uplifting and helping all people. Not marginalizing anyone. Not discriminating against certain groups, which forces separation. If you realize that you’re good enough, then there’s no need for you to put down or denigrate others to make yourself feel good. It comes from within and spreads outward. Now that’s truly a Presidential quality.

Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer, director, producer, and Artistic Director of Anthony Meindl's Actor Workshop (AMAW) in Los Angeles, where it was voted the Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles by Backstage in 2011 and 2012 (Best Scene Study and Best Cold Read). AMAW is also located in New York and Australia.

Meindl's first feature film, “Birds of a Feather,” won the Spirit of the Festival Award at the 2012 Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, and he won Best Director at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. He is a regular contributor to The Daily Love, Backstage, and various spirituality podcasts. He has been featured in ABC News, Daily Variety, LA Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter and the CW KTLA. He is also the author of the new best-selling book, “At Left Brain Turn Right,” which helps artists of all kinds unleash their creative genius within. Follow Meindl on Twitter @AnthonyMeindl.

Actors, what advice and insight can you share that might help the candidates? Share this story along with your advice!