Debate Do's and Don'ts

Past hits and misses could offer lessons to this year's candidates.
3:00 | 10/01/12

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Transcript for Debate Do's and Don'ts
And finally tonight, as you know, the pressure cooker, the first presidential debate, will take place in just two days. So, we looked back at some of the classic moments in debate history and, it turns out, some of the spontaneous quips were scripted. Abc's john donvan tells us about winning debate night. Reporter:28 times since 1960, plus vice presidential and primaries, with not a single moment of rhetorical greatness, but plenty of lessons on how to survive one of these things. Lesson one -- prescript your zingers carefully. Think this was spontaneous? Reagan to carter. There you go again. Reporter: Scripted. So was this. Bentsen to quae. I served with jake kennedy. I knew jack kennedy. Jack kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no jack kennedy. Reporter: Lesson two -- think spelling bee. Memorize every possible answer because mistakes will define you forever. Don't get the obvious stuff wrong. There is no soviet domination of eastern europe. Reporter: And have a plan to handle bizarro curveball questions. If kitty dukakis were raped and murdered -- Reporter: Mr. Dukakis there governor, answered that death penalty question with policy talk. I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. Reporter: -- Which did not go well for him. Which leads to lesson three -- appearances count, above all. Jfk. Nixon, just out of the hospital, pale and refusing professional makeup. Lighting counts, too. In 1984, reagan's people fussed more over his man mondale did over his and reagan always had a glass of wine just before going on to get the rosy cheeks. Lesson four. Real debating? So far, after 52 years, not actually required here, so, relax. Learn your lines and don't speak in a look at your wristwatch because that will definitely hurt you. Besides, 90 minutes and you're done. Possibly for good. John donvan, abc news, washington. We're so glad you were watching. You may have noticed some differences here in our studio. Let us hear from you at abcnews.Com.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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