If you are looking for a discourse on views or who “won” politically, this is not the place. I don’t wish to discuss the issues at all. I simply offer some observations as learning points for my readers who are looking to become GREAT speakers/communicators.
First, I tuned in late — I missed the opening remarks due to familial responsibilities. But I watched over an hour. I heard a speech coach in an airport today outline what each needed to do to “win”. It’s impressions — which are driven by delivery — that matter.
- Eye contact: Romney had significantly more direct eye contact, both with the moderator and with Obama. Obama did a much better job looking at the camera when he talked “with the American people”. I would have coached Obama to look at Romney when he talked — he rarely did. This was noticeable by the camera angles — I only saw one from behind Romney, and even then Obama wasn’t looking at him. Romney was shown a lot from behind Obama talking directly to him. Obama looked down on almost all his transitions (where most of his non-words appeared as well). Obama rarely held eye contact with anything for any period of time, a major weakness and a source of a lot of bad impressions.
- Facial expressions: Romney had a poker face most of the night. My son (age 11) asked at one point, “Is he crying?” Both candidates employed what can only be called a “smirk” when the other was talking. In the split view, this hardly was endearing to either. Obama had several instances of humor, mostly in debate with moderator Jim Lehrer, that he uncorked a tremendous grin. The only real smile I saw Romney use was at the end hugging his family.
- Gestures: both candidates employed a lot of repetitive, low gestures. This is especially problematic in tight camera angles. Romney did a nice job on his “lowering taxes” point of using gestures. They were few overall, though.
- Voice: Obama has shown tremendous improvement in his voice over the last 18 months in changing inflections and showing emotion. He fell back tonight — to me he seemed “tight”. When pressures mount, we resort to old habits. Romney excels at changing his rate, but his gravely voice doesn’t do him many favors in the area of inflection. Both could improve here with better gestures (which will change the voice).
- Posture: we only got a view from the rear a couple of times. Obama frequently had one leg up — unbalanced. That translates into shoulders that are not usually square. Romney was in perfect foot position every time I saw him. But he would turn his body to Obama and with the camera angle, it would appear to put his shoulders unbalanced. Obama did a great job staying square with the primary camera angle.
- Non-words: both could use a speech coach 🙂 Obama has a bad habit of using aaaaaaaannnnndddd to connect points and thoughts that would best be left alone. Romney had much more succinct delivery points.
- Mistakes: Romney did a nice job moving on when he fumbled a word — easy-going smile. He should have left the word “poor” alone — by correcting it to “lower-income” he only highlighted the mistake and is a major issue he’s come under fire for (since he is distinctly not lower-income). Obama got the biggest laugh of the night calling out the moderator for cutting him off when he had five seconds left, but then gave a response than ran over thirty. Both candidates did a miserable job of sticking to time and ignoring the moderator.
- Content structure: virtually every answer Romney gave had a list. It sounded very structured. Obama rarely used lists and usually spent 20 seconds before he got to his point. He would do well to make mental or written talking points and stick with them. Both candidates cited studies out the wazoo and virtually no listener had any connection to them. Numbers were all over the place. We were treated to $250,000 and told it was a lot, but also quoted $5.2 trillion and told it was a lot. It’s tough to get a handle when numbers are batted around with little context and they are 20 million TIMES apart.
- Both candidates did a nice job owning their beliefs (“I think”) but also slipped into first-person (“my plan”) when I thought they should go with the collective we.
- Romney used the only prop of the night by invoking the Constitution on the wall behind him, but then didn’t do a great job quoting from it and had to resort to “historical documents” to close it.
- Obama uses a pet phrase, “The fact of the matter…” way too much, and rarely does his next statement reflect fact.
- Obama seemed to be much more off-the-cuff in his closing remarks. His eye contact wavered. Romney’s remarks were much more rehearsed, and this was the only time he really looked at the camera, which he did so with no wandering.
- Humor: Obama clearly had an edge here, with two big laughs from the audience.
Great speakers study other speakers, and learn from them