Monday, October 22nd, 2012
The Final Act: A Return to Civility
Do I even need to mention that it’s time to take your political hats off while we discuss the pros and cons of each candidate’s performance in the final Presidential Debate? I didn’t think so. Let’s jump right in.
Wow, what a return to civility for both candidates. No pointing, less yelling, more facts and more for an undecided voter to digest. They both managed to swing off topic at various points, but Bob Scheiffer managed to bring them back to the topic, and both managed to get the facts wrong a couple of times in the debates. On the President’s side, he came fully prepared, seemingly well rested, and well informed. Welcome back. Mr. Romney also came with soundbites in mind, he had a clear position that he wanted America to remember by repeating it seven times in appropriate places. Plus, he showed his best ability to pivot away from a loaded questions. Let’s begin there.
The most obvious communication skill that he utilized, that we teach all of our clients was to pivot away from a loaded question. Early in the debate, Mr. Romney was asked to comment on a speculative question. Reporters always want to you to pull out your crystal ball. It makes your quotes more interesting. His response was, “I don’t want to get into speculation on that. What I can tell you is…” That is a very artful skill for any communicator. It is so easy to jump in and play the “what if” game. It takes great control to stop, pause, and pick a different direction.
Other points of note:
- The governor still holds on great eye contact with both his opponent and the moderator.
- He used personal stories to emphasize his points
- He pointed out where the candidates were similar and how they were different, showing undecided voters the choice they have to make
- Given that he doesn’t have the job, a debate on foreign policy is not exactly in his wheelhouse. He elected to not overplay his hand, but rather sound more informed about the conditions and events that occurred to show that he could work into the job, if elected
On the other side:
- He took his ability to transition a bit far when the conversation was about what to do if Afghanistan forces weren’t ready to take over by 2014. He ignored the question until his last 10 seconds and diverted the conversation to Pakistan.
- He looked a bit like a deer in headlights when the President listed the number of times the governor flip flopped on issues between 2008 and today.
- The statement about “loving teachers” came off as insincere to the viewers, as some have said, “it felt forced.”
- His high blink rate on the more difficult questions does give the audience cause for pause in trying to figure out what he isn’t saying, or is struggling to say
- The little smile at the onset of the debate felt a bit uncomfortable and inappropriate, but it was minor, and probably didn’t influence many in the middle
Shifting focus to the President, this was his best debate so far. He came fully loaded with his own record and seemed to be more confident than in his previous two debate appearances. Additionally, he was more calm and measured in his delivery.
On the strengths:
- The line of the night was “the navy may not have as many ships since 1917 but we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Aside from being a zinger, the intent was to provide context to the viewer about the fact that data is just information without context.
- He finally found the personal stories about real voters, his trip to the holocaust museum, lives of the military and others that can showcase his position better than just reciting a position.
- He found his eye contact, with both the moderator and his opponent.
- This forum was clearly his favorite as his heavy blinking subsided in this debate, as opposed to the others before.
- He finally closed with a strong, prepared, and well thought out statement. Neither he, nor Bided did so in earlier debates. They were clearly winging it. Whereas Romney and Ryan each had prepared closing statements.
Where he fell short:
- Some viewers find his tone a little biting at times, but it was far less in this debate, than in prior cases
- Sarcasm, in general, is an acquired taste. He had a few moments of sarcasm that may or may not play well with viewers. Only the polls will tell.
So what are your takeaways as a communicator to learn from our candidates?
- Eye contact is always a marker of a strong leader, a confident communicator and a person worthy of attention
- Staying on message, and consistent with that message over time builds trust with your audience
- You can strengthen your image by being informed on issues, even when you don’t have first-hand experience
- Be careful with sarcasm and over-smiling, audiences accept each based on the mood they’re in, so best not to risk it, unless it’s a safe kind of sarcasm
- Repetition of core messages or concepts is a good way to strengthen your brand, and remember to use it appropriately
- Civility with an opponent can make you look more like a leader, and help you sway those in the middle to feel comfortable with you representing their interests.
Good luck in your next communication venue, and may you make the connection with your audience that helps you accomplish your own agenda.
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