The Third Presidential Debate 2012. Analysis and Commentary. And Who Won?

by Peter Watts and Gavin McMahon

Up till tonight, it was one round each.

Both candidates had proved themselves. Governor Romney had shown himself an admirable debater when the battleground was formed of facts. He had shown himself credible as the next CEO of United States of America Inc. President Obama meanwhile had delivered the debater who could stir the passions. His greatest challenge had been to overcome his alter-ego as Professor and deliver Presidential. He achieved it.

That’s not to say it’s all been bouquets. There have been brickbats too. We’ve had the snoozefest of President Obama’s comatose comments during the Domestic Affairs Debate, and were then entertained by the binders full of blunders that opened during the Town Hall Meeting.

Tonight was the final round……

So who flourished in Florida?
Did the Sunshine State shimmer on someone’s parade?
Who was….. the strongest debater?

Gavin:
I’ll start by saying this wasn’t a fair fight. There’s a big difference between knowing your subject and learning your subject. I’d imagine that this was the debate Governor Romney looked forward to the least, and President Obama the most. Talking about action and fact is a strong position when things are going well. Obama generally did this. Words like we did and we are, are stronger than we should. The subject of foreign policy is high ground for Obama, and he had it all night.  Romney frequently had to make his positions seem the same, but with woulda-coulda-shoulda differences. To which Obama could frequently respond, with variations like, “I am pleased that you are now endorsing our policy.”

Obama practiced debate ju-jitsu all night — which he did very well. In response to Romney opinion about increasing the size of the Navy, Obama responded with a clever and well positioned rejoinder, “You mentioned the Navy and that we have fewer ships than we had in 1916, well Gov we also have few horses and bayonets.” It was a nice rhetorical comparison that made Romney seem outdated and misinformed.

He did it again when he compared his first foreign trips to Romney’s (which have been documented as gaffe-prone) “I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, to remind myself of the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

These and other comparisons let Obama credibly claim the central question of the night. “The central question is who is going to be credible to our allies and enemies.” In debating, pitching, selling, if you can define the frame by which the decision will be made, you win.

Peter:
Tonight could have gone either way, and when Governor Romney won the coin toss to go first, a subtle part of the power balance moved into his favor. When the first question turned out to be on Libya, which is currently the weakest topic for the President, the balance moved decisively into his favor. This was a chance to get his opponent on the back foot from the word go.

So what went so very wrong for the Governor?

To understand why Mitt Romney found himself so frequently on the ropes tonight, it’s necessary to look back over the past 12 months. There has indeed been a degree of the etch-a-sketch to many of his pronouncements, which in fairness, has been thrust upon him due to the necessity of initially appealing to one electorate during the GOP primaries, and then having to broaden that appeal to a wider and more disparate national audience. The President seized upon that weakness and ripped it apart live on national television.

The first signs of trouble were concealed in the early Obama sound-bite that America needs “strong and steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership”. This would turn out to be Obama’s key message, returning to it frequently as he laid out examples of Mitt Romney’s changed positions on multiple issues.

Romney’s response was weak, but also underlies his debate strategy. Referring to himself, he stated: “Attacking me is not on the agenda.” It was an attempt to rise above the debate. It was an attempt to strike a tone of consensus. All it achieved was waving a rather large white flag into the face of an already charging bull.

Both candidates frequently pivoted away from the subject of Foreign Affairs and headed back into Domestic Affairs. One such pivot yielded what for me was one of the President’s finest lines: “You seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.” This line also set the President up well for the first of several pivots to the topic of women, a key demographic in the undecided electorate.

In past debates, we’ve noted that Mitt Romney favors four-point lists as a speaking tactic, where the fourth point on the list will normally be his key talking point, and during the first debate, that key talking point was Small Business.

Tonight he returned to that key talking point, but sadly the President’s team had seen it coming and the President was uncannily ready with a list of negatives about Governor Romney’s record on exactly that subject.

This was another strong element working in the President’s favor: Incredible preparation and planning concerning both his own strategy, and his opponent’s.

Governor Romney did attain the occasional moment of glory. In particular, I thought his response “America has not dictated to other nations. America has freed other nations from dictators” was both clever and stylish. Sadly though, it was his only such moment.

It was an Obama victory tonight. And a victory that pointed up the importance of not just passion, but planning and preparation.

 

Message for today, objective for tomorrow

by Peter Watts

“Tonight, I can report to the American people, and to the world…..”

To understand the mechanics of any successful speech, you must always read it. By reviewing the printed page, you see the ingenious word workings that give the speech its power.

“Tonight, I can report to the American people….”

These opening words announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. They initially slip past you until you read the script.

President Obama deliberately chose to approach his audience with the simplest humility; when we “report to” someone, we work for them. When we “report for duty”, we present our service. Contrast this opening to a flight-suit clad George W. Bush astride a battle-cruiser with a banner screaming “Mission Accomplished”, and the full style difference will become all the more apparent.

Your opening words in any speech or presentation will set the tone for everything that is to follow. They will provide the springboard for your key message, and in Obama’s presentation, that key message was not “victory over terror” as might have been expected, but “unity in the face of terror”.

In the first two minutes of the speech, the word unity, or synonyms for unity were mentioned 20 times. In the final two minutes, again, there were a further 20 repetitions.

Unity synonyms are used for pathos: “3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

Unity synonyms are used for society and community: “In our time of grief…. we offered  our neighbors a hand, we offered the wounded our blood, we reaffirmed our ties for each other”

And the word unity itself is used as a vital pivot-point to turn the speech from the retrospective trauma of 9/11, to the 10 year hunt for Bin Laden: “We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.”

Within every great speech, there is a key message, and that key message must be carefully chosen with the audience in mind. For Obama’s audiences, both domestic and global, in the defining moment of Sunday May 1st, 2011, no finer message could have been chosen than that of “unity”.

The Roman orator Quintilian, once wrote that great speeches place a “hidden dart” into the mind of the audience, and that the message encoded in that dart will remain long after the speech itself may have been forgotten.

In his speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, President Barack Obama sought to use the power of oratory to not only announce the death of a terrorist, but to use that power to further advance the death of the terrorist’s cause.

Always ask “Why should my audience care?”

by Peter Watts

“Why should my listener care about this idea?” is a challenge that Carmine Gallo asks us to consider in his new book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”.

All audiences, even the most apparently attentive, will observe a presenter and silently puzzle “What does this message have to do with me?” The more rapidly we answer that question as presenters, the more rapidly we seize the attention of the audience.

Gallo demonstrates how Steve Jobs consistently sells his products in terms of benefits. For example:

“Just one year after launching the iPhone, we’re launching the new iPhone 3G. It’s twice as fast at half the price.”

Audiences are like horses. If they are at all unsure of the person holding the reins, they become skittish and restless, refusing to settle into attentive compliance. By clearly stating audience benefits, we not only exercise that firm hand of control, but slip the horse a favor winning sugar-cube in the process.

The secret lies in identifying the utility of your message. It is a trap we fall into as presenters that we formulate an excellent presentation, with a clear benefit statement, and then repeatedly trot that same statement out time after time. Not every audience is the same, and therefore the same benefit statements won’t work for every audience.

Always ask yourself what the gain is going to be for this unique group of people. The more specific you are, the more compelling your presentation will be.

Gallo goes on to make the point that we must constantly hammer that benefit home, reminding listeners of it throughout the presentation.

A piece of advise that I often give to presenters is “Never under-estimate the ability of an audience to completely miss the point!”, and for that reason, repetition of the benefit statement will help those listening to maintain focus. To us as the presenter, it can sometimes even feel like we are excessively laboring the point, but this is the only sure-fire way to make sure your key message comes across cleanly and precisely. It’s also another reason why we should always strive to keep our presentations short. The more information we pack into them, the greater the chance of our key message becoming buried beneath the excess.

A successful, Steve Jobs-style presentation will directly impress on the audience exactly why it is that your idea is right for them. Next week, we’ll look at the next stage of Carmine Gallo’s advice: “Create Twitter-style headlines”.

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”

by Peter Watts

What would you do if you could “hold the internet in your hand”?”

This was the question posed by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs at the San Francisco launch of the Apple iPhone. Within hours, the catchphrase “the internet in your hand” had telegraphed around the globe. I heard it that same evening, on the radio of a London taxi, prompting my driver to comment: “You couldn’t pay for publicity like that could you?”

Was it the product that had made the news, or was it the presentation abilities of Steve Jobs? A new book by Businessweek columnist, Carmine Gallo, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” has taken the famous Jobs style and laid it out as a how-to guide, promising the secrets of “How to be insanely great in front of any audience.”

The art of public speaking is governed by rules existing since the time of the ancient Greeks. It’s a challenge to find new things to say that haven’t, at some point in the past 2,000 years, been said before!

To be original, an author must either create a whole new lexicon on presenting (unlikely!) or stick to the proven formula. Repetition of the same ideas is a common blight. This is where Carmine Gallo’s book surprises. It re-visits the tried and tested rules of public speaking that every presenter needs to understand, while presenting those concepts by analyzing them through the style of a modern master.

The result is an example-packed guide with ideas taken from the Web 2.0 world. Gallo demonstrates how Steve Jobs crafts messages that spread from audience to audience; hence what Jobs says at 10 am in San Francisco, is repeated in the back of a cab by 7pm in London!

While many guides focus on what happens during the presentation, Gallo’s book has a focus on what we should be doing before the presentation. Four fifths of effective presenting lies not in the delivery, but in the preparation, and Carmine Gallo demonstrates this by showing how groundwork and rehearsal is a clear factor in Steve Jobs’ success.

During February, I’ll review three of the ideas demonstrated in “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”:

February 8th: “The one question that matters most”

February 15th: “Create Twitter-like headlines”

February 22nd: “Introduce the antagonist”

The book itself contains a great deal more.

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” by Carmine Gallo

Published by: McGraw Hill

Presentation words: Using the power of repetition

by Peter Watts

Repetition is a simple and highly effective public speaking technique. Take the time to listen to recordings of any accomplished speaker. You are bound to hear it.

For example, in this wartime speech of Sir Winston Churchill:

“We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall fight them in the fields and streets; we shall never surrender.”

Or in this more recent example from President Obama:

“For us, they packed their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.”

The technique being used here is called Anaphora and involves the repetition of the opening words of a clause to generate emphasis and power. It can be used in all presentations and doesn’t need the occasion of an attacking army or a Presidential Inauguration to be effective. For example, if you want to convince a customer of the simplicity of your product solution, you could try a sentence such as:

“Simplicity is a key advantage of our product. Simplicity for your staff, simplicity for your customers.”

Or, if presenting to your sales team about the importance of sales activity, you could try something like:

“Activity is the basis of success; Activity in prospecting, activity in sales follow-up, and activity in customer service.”

The repetition serves to drive your point firmly home. No-one can miss what you are talking about.

If as a speaker you are not used to using techniques such as anaphora, then start cautiously. Identify your key message and incorporate a repetition of it within the body of your presentation. Deliver it conversationally and without fanfare. Don’t pause for effect; just continue with the presentation. If done well, you should be able to detect a small ripple of response from the audience; anything greater and you over-cooked it!

As with all techniques of rhetoric, anaphora is at it’s most powerful when used subtly, with just one occurrence per presentation being the best strategy..

With practice, dare I say…”repetition”, you’ll find that the approach becomes more natural and you are able to deploy it to different parts of the presentation, incorporating it into your introduction for early emphasis, or even using repetition as part of your summary to generate a powerful ending that brings an audience to their feet.


Poetry as presentation preparation

by Peter Watts

There is a highly effective way in which you can easily improve your power as a presenter:

 

Learn a new poem every week!

 

Taking the time to memorize a poem a week has major pay-offs for presenters:

 

  • Vocabulary development
  • Improvements in speech patterns, rhythm, and diction
  • Improvements in memory function and the ability to concentrate

 

Contained within these three improvements are the critical ingredients of great speaking. When we think of a Martin Luther King, a John F. Kennedy, or a Winston Churchill, it isn’t the grainy, black and white TV pictures of them that we think of first; It is their words, and the power of those words. It is their ability to pack an almighty punch into a small verbal space. It is their poetry.

 

Mark Bauerlein, Professor of English at Emory University, and author of “The Dumbest Generation makes the point that while the internet offers us the greatest information resource mankind has ever known, we are also in danger of forgetting how to think critically as we are swamped by a deluge of information. Within his classes, students are required to regularly learn lengthy sections of poetry by heart which they recite back to the class. Why? Because not only does the exercise deliver the benefits mentioned above, it also teaches critical judgement, and the ability to think in depth rather than simply at surface level, both of which are valuable skills for presenters.

 

It’s also worth remembering that poetry is pleasurable. Dipping into a book, selecting a poem that appeals, and then learning it can be a source of relaxation. Recite that poem back to yourself immediately before your presentation, and immediately you will feel yourself transported back to that calmer, more relaxed frame of mind.

 

Taking time out to learn poetry as a preparation for presenting can sound like a self-indulgent activity, especially if poetry, or even reading, aren’t standard parts of your life. It might even sound like a waste of time, but as Marianne Moore tells us in her poem “Poetry”:

 

“I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond

all this fiddle.

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one

discovers in

it after all, a place for the genuine.”

 

Presenting convincingly is about being genuine, and absorbing poetry can help us with the mental discipline to formulate and express messages that are clear, distinct, and memorable.

 

Try visitingwww.poets.org and find out for yourself how poetry can be a valuable addition to presenting.


Presentation structure: Concluding your presentation

by Peter Watts

Congratulations! You’ve navigated the majority of your presentation. You’ve delivered a clear introduction, and guided your audience through the evidence that backs up your arguments. Now it’s time to wrap-up the show with your conclusion.

The conclusion of your presentation is the section that the audience will remember the most clearly, for the simple reason that it will have been the last thing they heard. It’s also most probably the last thing you will have planned and rehearsed, and for that reason conclusions can often be surprisingly weak. Presenters can often be observed to deliver strong presentations that suddenly come to an abrupt halt! This type of conclusion is known as an “Emergency Stop”, when the presenter, realizing that they have said all they intended to say, flounders for a moment before uttering a simple “Thank you for your time”, and awkwardly leaves the stage.

As an observer it can be amusing to watch the audience at such moments. Many literally jump in their seats, exactly as if they had indeed, been passengers in a plane that has just made a bone shaking landing after an otherwise smooth flight!

Think of the stages involved in an aircraft coming in to land. First of all the passengers are instructed to put on their seat belts and prepare for landing. The crew walks the aisles checking everyone is strapped in and all lose items secured before the captain guides the plane down to a, hopefully, smooth connection with the ground. Finally, as the passengers depart, the last thing they hear  is “Thank you for choosing this airline, and we hope to see you again soon.”

If you keep this model in mind, then you will have all the stages necessary for your conclusion:

Prepare for landing

As you start your conclusion, state firmly that this is what you are doing. The conclusion is a vital part of the presentation, so make sure everyone is primed, listening, and has their seat in the upright position.

Land the plane

You want to make sure that the wheels on which your argument rest will connect firmly with the ground. To ensure those wheels are down and locked into position, re-state the key points in your argument, summing them up in the sequence that they were delivered, and linking them back to your key message.

Thank the passengers

It’s essential to thank the audience for their time, and to tell them what you hope will happen next. What is your objective for this presentation? What realistic action do you want the audience to take next? Is it to book a follow-up meeting, or visit a web-site, or to start a business review process? Whatever your goal, state it as a call-to-action as your final words.

Before the audience does depart however, it is very possible that they may have questions for you. The subject of how to handle those questions will comprise our final installment on presentation structure, next week.

Presentation structure: Introductions that win you control

by Peter Watts

“Who is this person, what do they want from me, and how long have I got to sit here?”

Welcome to the internal dialogue of someone about to hear a presentation. The introduction’s goal is to answer those questions, creating an audience ready and willing to listen.

Who is this person?

Who you are and who you represent are foremost with any new audience. Even with groups already familiar to you, if there is just one new face at the table, include a personal introduction.

Briefly include what qualifies you to be speaking. Does your current sphere of responsibility or qualifications make you a specifically credible source on this subject? If so, include it within your introduction. State it succinctly, avoiding any appearance of self-importance.

What do they want from me?

Align your presentation to the objectives of the audience. Intrigue them with how your product / service / idea will help them. This audience is about to give you the investment of their time. State what their return will be on that investment.

Share up-front the objective of the presentation so the audience understand the destination you are heading for.

How long have I got to sit here?

Map the structure of your presentation onto a slide or flip-chart that shows what will be covered and when. Similar to horses that becomes jittery when they sense a rider is not secure with the reigns, audiences need to know you have a clear plan of action. 

Within your agenda include how long the presentation is to last, and how you would like to handle questions: as they arise or during a Q&A session at the end.

Earning control

For the duration of your time at the front of a room, you must be in control, and that control can only be exercised with the willing compliance of the audience. Keystone behaviors for the introduction are therefore humility, warmth, and confidence. Think about the qualities you like presenters to project. Reflect those qualities, answer the audience’s early unspoken questions, and you will have successfully launched your presentation with the strongest of possible starts.



Presentation structure: Your main message

sign

 

by Peter Watts

The most valuable asset a presenter can have is knowing exactly what their presentation is about.

Thinking about a forthcoming presentation, can you answer, in one short sentence, the following question:

What is the one thing you want everyone to be saying as they leave the room?

  • In a recruitment interview it might be “This person is the best choice for the job
  • In a sales situation it might be “That product is the most reliable
  • Bidding for a budget, it could be “This project delivers return on investment

Encapsulating your presentation down to one succinct message can be surprisingly difficult. The different pieces of information which you want to include can compete with each other for air-time in a noisy log-jam of presentation possibilities! Remember that if you find it difficult to identify that one main theme within your presentation, then your audience will find it impossible!

Simplicity is a priority. The simpler, stronger, and shorter your message, the better. Your goal is to deny the audience the opportunity to do anything other than get your meaning, loudly and clearly.

Imagine your message as the central pole of a huge canvas umbrella, the type you might sit under for an al-fresco meal on a hot day.  You want people to feel comfortable and secure under the umbrella of your presentation, and that pole, your message, is it’s central support.

See the message clearly written down the side of the pole. Every point you make in the presentation must stem directly from it. Just as the individual struts of the umbrella all connect to the pole and support the canvas, anything that isn’t firmly attached, is going to flap around, distracting the audience.

If you need convoluted connections to get points to stay in place, then they don’t belong in the presentation. Leave them out! Keep it simple! Don’t put in extraneous details that will only cause people to become confused.

In a later blog, we’ll discuss how to handle objections in presentations. For now it’s worth noting that many objections are caused by these lose flapping features that make the customer challenge “What’s with that bit, I don’t see where it fits”. Eliminating the extraneous, leads to less objections.

Having a clear and overt main message in your presentation makes things easier for both you and your audience.

Presentation body language: Hands and open posture

by Peter Watts

There are three things your hands should avoid touching during a presentation; your chest, your hips, and each other!

When we feel insecure, we use defensive body postures. Our hands might clutch before us, interlocked fingers flexing in angst, or alternately they might find a convenient object and start to fidget compulsively with it. All such gestures are unconscious and it’s only when we see ourselves on video that we discover what distracting gestures our hands get up to while we are speaking!

The optimal posture for presenters is to keep the upper body “open”; free from defensive body postures. This leaves the question of what to do with those flapping, fidgeting hands, and is why many presenters use props to anchor their hands, the two most popular being pens and notes:

Pens

Hold a pen with it’s right end in your right hand, and it’s left end in your left. Your hands are now occupied, while being physically prevented from meeting by the pen between them. If you need to gesture to something on the slide, the pen becomes a convenient pointer.

Make sure the pen you use isn’t the type with a clicker to extend and retract the nib, or you might subconsciously click your way through the presentation instead!

Notes

As with the pen, notes can also be an anchor. Hold them by their two bottom corners and, once again, you are securely in the open body position. If you want to gesture or point then you can do so, before returning your hand to it’s note-holding position.

Carry a minimum of ten sheets even if your notes only cover the top page. Ten pages have a rigidity that a single page does not. If you have the slightest hand-tremble, a single page will amplify it, whereas ten pages will absorb and mask it.

Over time you will become used to working in the open posture and can free your hands  to use as tools for adding emphasis and style. Initially though, it can feel more comfortable, as many presenters do, to use well chosen props to keep that posture open.

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