There was overwhelming response to last week’s column analyzing the communication and presentation of both candidates in the first Presidential debate. Here we go.
“Although I agree with the majority of your article, there is one aspect to your discussion of eye contact in the debate I think you’ve overlooked…Several times, most noticeably during the second half of the debate, Governor Romney made a series of rapid glances to his left while President Obama spoke. In the CNN pre-debate show, Mrs. Romney had described a habit of her husband where he looks for her in the audience for support after answering a question. Based on this scant knowledge of the situation, I surmise that Governor Romney’s series of rapid glances while the president was speaking was to find Mrs. Romney. However, since these glances happened in the middle of the President’s response, it detracted from his otherwise solid personal presentation.”
We will never know why Governor Romney was looking where he was looking, but to some viewers, the governor seemed distracted. In the communication game, very often perception is all that matters. We don’t get to explain why we seem distracted or why our non-verbal communication manifests itself in a particular way. That is why, whether it is a presidential candidate or a business executive in an important meeting, it is essential to carry oneself with consistent executive presence.
“I agree we could all learn from the body language and communication exhibited from the candidates. However, did we watch the same debate, Steve? If you re-watch the debate, you’ll see Obama appear to be intently listening—confirming with repeated head-nodding—all the while looking at Romney, pausing occasionally to script notes. During Obama’s answers, Romney could have been a cardboard cut-out with the only confirmation of life being an incessant eye-blink. We agree, neither was concise nor succinct…One take-away we should learn from is the etiquette exhibited by Mr. Romney- there was little – at least when addressing Mr. Lehrer. I felt Romney came off a little boorish towards Mr. Lehrer.”
As I said, perception is pretty much all that matters in the communication game. What “came off a little boorish” in terms of Governor Romney’s communication toward the moderator was seen by many as assertive and strong. In fact, it was Romney’s energetic and yes, aggressive, style that was juxtaposed to what many perceived to be the President’s somewhat disengaged communication during the debate that has impacted people’s perception of both gentlemen.
“Steve, I think President Obama was doing what most people don’t even think of, and that is listening. Instead of getting into a back and forth barrage of disputing what was being said. Obama’s obvious approach to the first debate was to listen and take notes…Obama knows exactly what he’s doing and by using this first debate as a study of his opponent will be much more beneficial than just exchanging barbs for 90 minutes.”
There is only one problem with this argument. We only get so many chances to make an important and powerful impression. And while the reader says the President was listening and taking notes, I argued in my column that most often he chose not to look at Governor Romney and was busy writing or taking notes to the point of distraction. Further, public forums such as these are not college lectures where participants are students sitting passively. They must be engaged, participating and doing it in a passionate and strong fashion. Their communication must be crisp and concise. We will see how both candidates present themselves in the next presidential debate in just a few days.