Washington, Sept.26 : With anywhere between 60 million and 100 million people expected to watch the first presidential debate on Friday, all will depend on which of the two candidates - Barack Obama or John McCain - has better presentation skills and ability to maintain poise in the heat of the interaction, says an academic.
"Keeping cool under fire will be the key. A lot of this is about presentation and poise. They have to stay calm, remain collected, in possession of their thoughts, not allow themselves to get flustered," said Andrew Polsky, a political science professor and acting chairman of Hunter College at City University of New York.
Democratic strategist Bob Beckel, who has coached several presidential and lower level candidates, said: "If there's a rule of debate, it's to keep it as simple as you possibly can. And if you're going to make it lively, make it lively in a good way. And whenever you can do it, and it's appropriate, laugh or smile."
According to Fox News, the Presidential Debate Commission has scheduled three debates for the two presidential candidates and one for vice presidential contenders Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.
The first debate is in doubt because McCain has suspended his campaign to work with Congress on the Wall Street bailout. But it and the third debate are planned to be traditional, with the candidates being asked a question by a moderator and given two minutes to answer, and the opponent then allowed a rebuttal period.
The second debate will be conducted as a town-hall style meeting, with audience members asking questions.
With the election so tightly contested and so many people watching, both candidates need to make the biggest splash they can while on stage, analysts say. They need to exploit their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
"McCain wants to demonstrate that he remains energetic, that he, too, is on top of information, because if he makes factual mistakes and misstatements it raises the age question in people's minds, fairly or unfairly," Polsky told FOX News.
"There are some questions about his temperament. Does he remain cool and poised under questioning? Does his temper flare up? That's unlikely [to occur]," Polsky said.
"Neither candidate wants to play to the negative stereotype. So if Obama has an opportunity to demonstrate he's down-to-earth, that he shares experiences with ordinary people, that is something he should do," he added.
Republican strategist Kevin Madden said that Obama would have to guard against coming across as arrogant and condescending.
"The one thing he has to guard against is sounding like the smartest professor in the room. The students may be wowed, but everyone in the faculty room hates that professor," he said.