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Winning The Day

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.


Paula Blanchard Stone and Patty McCarthy are partners in McCarthy  Blanchard, an executive training firm specializing , an executive training firm specializing in presentation skills and executive presence. Visit mccarthyblanchard.com or call (517) 339-7447 or (313) 882-9200. | Website

October 11, 2012 · Filed under Winning The Day

30 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James Brazier // Oct 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I remember being bored by the debate and found the details to be very complex. I did notice that Romney had pulled off an “etch a sketch” moment; he went from being an extreme right-winger to being a bipartisan, centrist , bipartisan moderate. He went from being what he had to be to win the nomination to becoming what he thought was necessary to be to win the votes of voters in the middle of the political spectrum. Romney is using any means necessary to win. He was giving the undecideds, independents and people on the fence what they wanted to hear.

    While style may be the most salient feature of the debate, there was enough content to show that Obama was not effectively parrying the new Romney content. Obama did not stray from his attempts to pin Romney down on the specifics of what he plans to do as president. For Obama to succeed he needed the cooperation of the monitor who was being bullied by Romney.

    I was disappointed by Obama’s performance because he did not seem to be adapting well to Romney’s points. Instead of refuting Romeny, he kept attacking his prior positions from the GOP nomination campaign. There was plenty of missed opportunities for Obama and Romney skewered Obama by making points that went unchallenged.

  • 2 John Q. Public // Oct 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    This covers all the bases as to why debates are not just a poor method of choosing candidates, but are downright detrimental and should be banned.

    We get lousy government because “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.”

    We shouldn’t give voters the option to “give up on the substance and default to rating their styles.” That’s what keeps the major parties serving up men who are wide between the shoulders and narrow between the ears and passing them off as “leaders.”

    Just ban debates. Public speaking ability is a poor measure of those who are supposed to be public servants.

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