Lothery & Associates

Big Bird and the Replacement Ref

Did you watch the debates Wednesday night? What do you think? Who won? Who had the strongest performance?

Before we get to that, let’s address the title of this blog. Of all that was discussed during the debates, the two things trending on Twitter were Big Bird and the Replacement Refs. No, the NFL wasn’t running the debate, but the lack of force, control and ability to herd the cats that were the candidates, by moderator, Jim Lehrer was distracting to say the least. Viewers couldn’t help but liken his performance to that of the replacement refs for the first part of the NFL season.

Next, you’d think Governor Romney said he was going to send the country into darkness when he said he would get rid of PBS and Big Bird! Twitter was a flutter all night. There were several new “Big Bird” related handles created to keep the fire going. It’s unfortunate that those two things will be the lingering memories for the debate. ¬†Good for the President, not so great for Mitt, who had a breakout night.

Check your party hats at the door, and let’s talk about the candidates and their communication performance.

Rob Portman becomes the winner of the night. He did the best debate preparation for Mitt Romney. He unleashed a comfortable, conversational, seemingly compassionate candidate on viewers. Greatest speech techniques:

  • Preparation and practice
  • Use of examples of people he met on the trail
  • Great eye contact
  • High energy
  • Fluid and in the moment follow up

Romney Problems with the delivery:

  • Entirely new plans and proposals for policies if elected
  • Etch a Sketch image was more prominent here, with more flip flopping
  • Contradictions to previous campaign claims and stances
  • Not enough specifics about action plans
  • Interrupting, over talking, and dismissing the moderator

Now when you look at the President, he had a much harder night than the Presidential hopeful. His slow and deliberate speech up against Mitt’s rapid-fire energy appeared uncomfortable and disinterested. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of President Obama:

High Points:

  • He was thoughtful
  • Used a personal story of his grandmother and her healthcare struggle to make the problems real.
  • Used a good sales technique by verbally flagging the most important points or facts.
  • Found his stride at the middle and found a shred of energy to finish stronger

Communication Challenges:

  • He looked disinterested
  • Almost no eye contact for his opponent
  • Didn’t connect data to people outside of his own family. He needs some stories from the campaign trail.
  • He looked like he needed a teleprompter to find his words.

Comedian and political talk show host, Bill Maher tweeted:

I think that says it all. The President, who was expected to shine with his debate history, looked rusty and out of practice. Given the amount of hype that came from President Clinton’s convention speech, audiences were expecting a similar style, confidence and delivery from the President and just didn’t get it.

It will be interesting to see how the Fact Checkers shake out the actual politics and promises of the evening, but for delivery this fight goes to Governor Romney.

So what are YOUR takeaways about walking into a confrontational meeting, or otherwise hostile audience:

  • Practice and prepare for all counter points
  • Even if you’d rather be eating worms, look like you’re happy to be there
  • Give great eye contact to your audience and/or opponent
  • Know the facts inside and out
  • Know their facts inside and out
  • Don’t be afraid to go where the audience expects, if you have the grounds and the facts to go there

If I can end on a very light and humorous note, the final tip is, if you can get Bill Clinton and his fact checkers to show up and make a case for you, do it. He’s still the best in the game.

Get out there and communicate to connect!


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