And the answer is BOTH — at least for Romney.
First, let me state that I observed the presidential debate from a non-partisan point of view. As a speaker coach, I was listening for clarity of thought as well as how each man expressed himself.
So, what exactly did Romney do that projected a presence that said, “confident, credible and congenial”? What happened to the dynamic and engaging persona that has contributed to Obama’s popularity?
As the two men greeted each other, Obama’s impeccable posture, determined stride, pleasant expression all said, “I am here to win”. Romney, on the other hand, had a slight hesitancy in his walk and his face had a flash of nervous tension, as if he was questioning what was about to happen and recalibrating his strategy.
But all that as quickly changed and here’s how. . .
The pace at which the two men spoke influenced each candidate’s credibility. First up, Obama maintained a vocal pattern of saying 7 or 8 words followed by a pause. He was missing his typical vocal inflections that conveys passion and adding insult to injury, he filled each pause with an “ah”. Bottom line, he didn’t have his usual rhythm that engages an audience and the “fillers” made him sound uncertain, struggling for words. Not good for credibility.
On the other hand, Romney was articulate, clear and concise he was able to connect with his message and his audience. Romney spoke at a good clip and appeared to be in the moment, thinking about what he was saying as he said it. His ability to “think-the-thought” kept me engaged and wanting to listen, to understand his position.
Two: Facial Expression
After the initial hand shake, Romney kept a pleasant expression on his face. One commentator referred to it as a “half-smile”. I am not sure what exactly he was doing but it worked — it made him look friendly, “familiar”, someone I’d have as an associate or friend. This personable style made his stories about the people he met along the campaign trail (job hunters, people worried about health insurance, etc.) believable.
Another facial expression that Romney mastered was eye contact. He looked at Obama when talking with him, at Jim Lehrer when talking to him and he looked directly at the American public when talking to us. Did you notice that how he stayed engaged with his opponent when Obama was speaking? Smart.
Obama’s strategy was quite different. When Romney was speaking, he typically looked down, rarely acknowledging his opponent. When it was his turn to speak, he directed his comments to Lehrer only looking at Romney when challenging him. But what was most surprising was he did not show that million dollar smile which can instantly put people at ease and provide an emotional connection with his audience. Instead he looked irritated and impatient. When he did smile it appeared to be forced rather than sincere.
Three: Physical Expression
The best presenters get everything working together — their words, body language and voice, are in-synch … aligned and supporting their message. Here again, Obama was off his game, even his gestures positioned him as the weaker candidate. Almost dismissive in his behavior, Obama kept is head down, gestures were small, tight to his torso — waist high and he would lean on one leg, causing his shoulder to slouch losing that winning posture.
Romney owned the room, he kept his strong stance and his gestures tended to be “larger”, more expressive with the movement coming from his shoulder. Controlled and purposeful, these behaviors along with his direct eye contact proclaimed, “I am in it to win it”.
Right from the get-go, Romney was clear, direct and concise when he spoke. His responses provided structure to the debate. For example, he described his 5-step plan, his rebuttals included a preview of what he was going to say and then he addressed each topic, saying first. . . second. . . etc. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you certainly knew where he was headed and what he was talking about. Obama, on the other hand, appeared to wonder. I kept waiting for him to take back control but it didn’t happen.
Round One Results
Last night Romney wasn’t asking to be our next president, he was letting us experience what it would be like for him to be the president. While Obama felt like the default candidate. The results: Romney 1 Vs. Obama: 0
That’s my assessment, what’s yours?