Presidential Debate #1: More Lessons for Communications Pros
By Gene Marbach
While most of those who tuned into the debates did so to learn more about the candidates’ views on the issues, we communications pros tend to look for other things. We look at how the candidates answer the questions — are their answers crisp and to the point or are they rambling? We look at body language and the kind of presence the candidates project. Of course, we look for factual mistakes or gaffes – the proverbial “gotcha moment,” if you will.
I’ll leave it to others to determine the winner of the debate – that’s really not the point here. In addition to the substance of the debate, I was interested in the style of the participants. Some observations:
- Substance. It appeared to me that the President was “playing it safe” basically doing nothing to jeopardize his lead. He challenged contender Mitt Romney to provide specifics to his economic plans, which has been a recurring theme during this political season. For his part, Mr. Romney did offer specifics (perhaps not enough for some). Mr. Romney came off as a CEO, very much in command of the details, facts and figures. I believe he presented himself as a credible alternative for the future.
- Staying on Point. I’d be interested to learn how many times Mr. Romney used the word “jobs” during the course of the evening. Clearly, employment is on the minds of the electorate and presidential hopeful Romney took every opportunity to make sure the American public knew that he “gets it” by repeatedly returning the theme of creating jobs. Often criticized for being out of touch with mainstream America, Mr. Romney used the term “middle class” at least 19 times by some accounts, again driving home a key point. I suspect that there is a lot of subliminal activity at play here as well.
- Body Language. Much has been made of the President’s body language during the debate. At times, he clearly looked uncomfortable, even unhappy. He was often seen looking down. In contrast, Mr. Romney looked engaged and was looking at the President as he spoke. He wore a bit of a smile – not a smirk – which, I believe, conveyed his enthusiasm for being there.
- Using the Props. When asked about the role of government, Mr. Romney made good use of the scenery by referencing the Constitution which was used as a backdrop on the stage and reciting lines from it to make his point.
For Round Two, I suspect that President Obama will up his game (cue the theme music from “Rocky”). I can’t wait…