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Passion Plays – A MarComm Look at the Presidential Debate

October 3, 2012

President Obama and Governor Romney faced each other tonight in the first of three presidential debates. While everyone was watching the candidates, my communications colleagues and I were watching to see how well their PR teams had prepared them for this moment. Back in February I wrote about Romney’s performance in a CNN hosted debate amongst the Republican challengers for the nomination. In that post I faulted Romney for not following one of the most basic tenants of media training when asked a question: Acknowledge, Bridge, Control. This time around Romney minded his ABCs while the President made some remarkable rookie mistakes of his own.

Governor Romney was articulate and on-message and showed passion in delivering his message. He had clearly rehearsed his talking points to the point where they didn’t sound rehearsed at all. While he didn’t necessarily answer some of the questions directly, there were no jarring segues as he maneuvered to get to his point. In substance, the two candidates may have battled to a draw, but in style, Romney was the clear winner. He presented his points with enthusiasm and energy without coming across like a bully. Some might say that he sounded almost presidential.

Body language tells the story of the first Presidential debate in this CBS split screen.

I was surprised to sometimes see President Obama stumbling over his thoughts. It was as if he hadn’t taken the time to read his briefing book. He often came across as lackluster and mildly defensive, only occasionally showing sparks of passion, conviction, or confidence. For me, these were the predominant images from the debate: while Obama was speaking, Romney looked at his opponent with a confident grin. While Romney was speaking, Obama looked down at his notes. I could almost hear Obama’s PR team screaming from the greenroom, “Look up Mr. President, look up!”

Just as Romney forgot his ABC’s back in February, Obama appears to have forgotten the basic lessons of delivering one’s message with confidence and passion. Body language is an important part of presenting, as it subliminally contributes so much to how we evaluate people. This is the lesson we can take from tonight’s debate and use in our everyday lives. Passion and energy in your presentation can often win out over substance. Ideally you should be prepared to deliver both.

From → MarComm/PR 101

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