Debate a Good Example
October 12, 2012
Q. Everyone is saying Romney won the first presidential debate hands down. If you read the critiques, however, it’s all about style not substance. That doesn’t seem to be a good way to determine the winner when the focus should be on issues, not eyebrows or gestures.
A. The debate is a great example of what we said in this space in August: body language is potent and can be more powerful than the words you use or your tone of voice. This bears repeating too: Research done at a leading university indicates that after a speech people in the audience remembered more about how the speaker looked than what he said. In fact, that was 55% of what the audience remembered. Voice was 38% and content was only 7%.
We aren’t saying this is the way it should be; we are pointing out that this is the way it is. In this case, the power of body language was compounded by the fact that the two debaters made it impossible to follow the content. A blizzard of contradicting numbers, fuzzy examples, long and complicated answers caused most viewers, reporters and pundits to give up on the substance and default to rating their styles.
Even seasoned journalists for the New York Times had a hard time. Michael D. Shear reported in that paper that there were “plenty of long-winding answers and mind-numbing statistics.”
Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama, conceded on CNN that Romney “scored points on style.”
For those of you who will not appear in a televised presidential debate, but might speak to a gathering of constituents or a board of directors or the local Rotary club, this debate is a reminder to use McCarthy ▪ Blanchard’s Three S® process: Simplify, Streamline and Shorten. In other words, use a few clear and concise key messages with examples and stories that are short and easy to follow. This will help you increase your chances that your audience will remember what you said more than how you looked.