Ramble and you lose the audience

Romney and Obama debate

Americans can continue to argue about the substance of the presidential candidates’ ideas, but when it comes to style, Mitt Romney was the clear winner last night. While observers called the Republican nominee’s performance in the first debate crisp and aggressive, they criticized President Obama for appearing weary and rambling.

An effective speaker serves as a guide to the audience members, taking them on a clear path to a destination. You must answer questions with a compelling point, not a disorganized laundry list.

In discussing how to have a balanced approach to reducing the federal deficit, the president meandered from talking about corporate taxes and Exxon to a Las Vegas teacher with 42 kids in her class to Medicaid. When it was his turn to speak, Romney replied “We’ve got a lot of topics there, and so it’s going to take a minute to go from Medicaid to schools to oil to tax breaks, then companies going overseas.”

Even when the president tried to personalize the policy debate about Medicare, he seemed to become lost. He started well by saying “I want to talk about the values behind Social Security and Medicare.” Then he began to go off course.

He said “You know, my grandmother—some of you know—helped to raise me. My grandparents did. My grandfather died a while back. My grandmother died three days before I was elected president. And she was fiercely independent. She worked her way up, only had a high school education, started as a secretary, ended up being the vice president of a local bank. And she ended up living alone by choice. And the reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare. She had worked all her life, put in this money, and understood that there was a basic guarantee, a floor under which she could not go.”

He could have delivered his point much more effectively by cutting the unnecessary detail, like this: “My grandmother, who helped to raise me, was fiercely independent. She worked her way up. With only a high school education, she started as a secretary and ended up being the vice president of a local bank. My grandfather died a while back, and she ended up living alone by choice. The reason she could remain independent was …”

When you are responding to a question, don’t throw in everything you could say. Home in on the compelling points and lead the audience through your logic. For example, “Here are the four things I would do about that. First, …”

Say less to have a greater impact.

What did you think of the first presidential debate? 

[Image Source: C-Span]

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