SASKATOON -- The first of three presidential debates takes place Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio, as President Donald Trump and Joe Biden will verbally spar on stage with an international audience.

University of Saskatchewan debate team members Abby Vadeboncoeur and Mueez Rafiquie say a few attributes can make someone a good debater.

“Just your ability to speak well, to articulate an idea, to not be put off if you get a question you weren’t expecting,” said Vadeboncoeur. “I think one of the most catastrophic things that can happen in a debate is if it comes across that you don’t have an answer for something or you’re stumped.”

“It’s very important as a debater, to not only just be able to articulate your own arguments well and not be flustered on the spot when asked a question, but to be able to listen really well to what your opponent is saying,” said Rafiquie. “So much of how you get marked as a debater is about how you can criticize your opponent’s arguments effectively, in a way that actually makes it convincing that what they said is not valid.”

But when it comes down to who wins or loses a debate, Vadeboncoeur says it’s not so cut and dry.

“I think anybody who watches the debate is going to have their own interpretation of what happened,” she said. “I also think that someone can win on one point and then fail on another, so it’s not necessarily conclusive as they won or they didn’t.”

However, perspectives can be altered in the age of social media and the internet, says Rafiquie.

“The best way, in my perspective, for a candidate to win a debate, is if afterwards there isn’t some sort of highlight reel or some sort of clip that people can find on YouTube to point out or attack some mistake that they made during the debate itself,” he said. “If you can get out of a presidential debate not having made a mistake like that, in my opinion, you’ve probably won.”

University of Saskatchewan political analyst Greg Poelzer says debates are valuable because they give the candidates a “direct, unfiltered way not only to express their vision, but to challenge their opponent one on one.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a debate in the traditional sense, I think there’s going to be two debates happening,” said Poelzer. “Donald Trump is having a debate with himself, and Joe Biden is having a debate with the rest of the American population.”

“We’re going to expect full-on Trump, because he’s been that way for four years, we don’t expect anything else,” he said. “With Joe Biden, I think the real strategy is ‘Don’t take the bait’. When you look at Joe Biden, where he is the most effective is in town halls. He exudes empathy, understanding, intellect, statesmanship. If I were advising him, almost ignore Donald Trump. Look at the camera, and speak to the American people.”

“I think he knows what his supporters and his voter base like, and the type of things they like to see,” Vadeboncoeur said of Trump. “I think there will be a lot of him kind of looking for opportunities to then use those tactics, he likes the nicknames, he likes catchy phrases, and just trying to debate ideas but in a way that is appealing to the base that he’s trying to appeal to.”

Poelzer says these three debates could have a large impact on the presidential election on Nov. 3.

“We’re in a COVID era, so the type of big campaigning, the big rallies, is not there,” he said. “So these are one of the few moments that the general public is going to have an opportunity to assess, examine, and consider each of the candidates.”

“We’ve got about 38 to 40 percent that will go Trump, we’ll have that kind of locked in number likely for Biden and the democrats. But it’s that 20 percent of undecided, they will determine who’s going to win in states like Iowa.”