Presidential Debate #2: Who Won?

The tension was palatable as the 2012 Presidential Town Hall meeting concluded. Following the debate, both men greeted their families and then continued campaigning — signing autographs and having their picture taken.  Neither candidate turned to greet the other, neither acknowledged the others family.  To me, this was a natural reaction to the animosity that was expressed during the debate.  And in fact, if they had greeted each other I would have questioned the authenticity of the gesture.   At the same time, last night’s debate made it crystal clear that Obama and Romney are very different when it comes to both their vision, policies and how they see their role as Commander and Chief.

The Score

So who won this debate?  It depends on who you ask.   Interpreting the behaviors of the candidates — ignoring each other and continuing to woo the American voter – suggests that each man believed he emerged as the winner.

Then again, some might say that since Obama raised his game in comparison to his first debate performance, he is the winner.

As a speaker coach, I was listening for clarity of thought as well as how each man expressed himself.  I relied on my Presidential Debate ScoreCard, (I hope you did as well) to guide the assessment of each candidate, focusing on his confidence and credibility in his communications. For me, while it was close, Romney won.

Body Language:  Appearance and Stance

Both men looked sharp with strong erect posture, even when sitting on the stool.   When they stood, they stood tall and proud, looking comfortable in their surroundings.

However, Obama didn’t come across as optimistic as he did four years ago. He looked tired, perhaps even a little “beaten up”, clearly not as refreshed and vital looking at Romney.

The assessment:  Romney 1


Both men stood immediately when it was their turn to answer a question.  In fact, Romney would stand when Obama’s time was up; alerting the moderator that it was “his turn”.   I had to laugh at one point when the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, asked both men a follow-up question on wages and job growth and they moved almost in unison — standing, taking six steps forward, stopping and assuming the same stance.  It couldn’t have been any better if they rehearsed it.

Approaching people asking questions — moving around freely and comfortably and void of any distracting mannerisms both men “owned the room”.

The assessment: Draw

Eye Contact

Eye contact is all about inclusion and the rule of thumb is a minimum of 90% direct, roving, continuous eye contact.  And while both men had direct eye contact, Obama made more of an effort to look at and include the entire audience when he spoke.

The assessment:  Obama 1


Both aligned what they were saying with how they expressed themselves — their words, and gestures in-synch.  In addition, their gestures were plentiful, varied and spontaneous.  Obama’s gestures were small, tight to his torso — waist high. Romney’s gestures tended to be “larger”, more expressive with the movement coming from his shoulder.  One wasn’t necessarily any more effective than the other, just different.

The assessment:  Draw

Vocal Delivery

If you recall, during the first debate, Obama said “ah” whenever he paused.  This made him sound uncertain, struggling for words. There were no fillers this time allowing the pauses to be less defined or used to punctuate what he was saying.

What got in the way this time was Obama’s tone of voice — in an effort to sound passionate and more assertive, he could come across as dogmatic.

While both men had a conversational tone most of the time, Romney did tend to have more fluidity to his talk (avoiding a repetitive vocal pattern) and varied his pace with more vocal inflection.

The assessment:  Romney 2


Romney’s messaging offered assurance to the American voter saying, “I know how to make it happen”.  However, something happened that threw Romney off his game responding to the question about the terrorist attack in Libya.  Following Obama’s response Romney looked as if he had been ambushed and wasn’t sure how to recover. For the first time in the debates, his response included “ah’s” — clearly a nervous reaction.

Obama’s messaging was more aggressive than in the first debate and he nailed the final question by “closing the sale” when he asked for another four years.

The assessment:  Draw

Round Two Results

Last night both men were in it to win it!  While it was close, my assessment was Romney won by a slim margin.  What was yours?

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3 Responses to Presidential Debate #2: Who Won?

  1. I appreciated having the scorecard as an objective tool. In my estimation Romney came out slightly ahead. It was interesting. Each man felt strongly about their direction for leading the country and that was plainly defined by their responses to the questions. What resonated with me was a truth noted by Romney…(I paraphrase) If you vote for Obama you will get four more years with the same results. I think it was pretty much a draw from the point of presentation skills. And then it’s up to each of us which man’s vision for the country is what we are looking for..

  2. Thank you Stephanie for providing a valuable tool that not only is educational for honing presentation skills but also makes watching these political debates less painful. Your scorecard provides us a way to get past the “political aggrandizing”, pay attention to the subtle (or not so subtle) nuances of their delivery that can help us understand their confidence level, and more importantly, their authenticity.

  3. eileenstrong says:



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