How Mitt Romney Won His First Presidential Debate

No matter what your political persuasion is, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Mitt Romney soundly defeated incumbent Barack Obama in the presidential candidates’ first debate meet-up on October 3rd, 2012.  In fact, according to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted immediately after the debate, “67% of debate watchers questioned said that Romney won.  One in four said Obama was victorious.”

That’s a pretty big margin for a candidate going up against a man known as one of the strongest orators of his generation!

Interestingly, Romney’s win can be largely attributed to his debate style.  His victory didn’t come as the result of a battle of wits (political organization ThinkProgress found that Romney told 27 myths in just 38 minutes) – and it certainly wasn’t the result of a detailed, well-articulated vision for advancing America (as nearly all political pundits agreed that Romney’s assertions and promises were pretty slim on actual substance).

Instead, Romney won by simply appearing more presidential than Obama – a fact that offers some interesting lessons for people who are trying to become more persuasive in their personal and professional lives.

Throughout the October 3rd debate, Romney aggressively attacked President Obama’s statements – even going so far as to interrupt moderator Jim Lehrer on several occasions in order to call for the time owed to his rebuttals.  While some viewers interpreted these behaviors as arrogant and condescending, most viewed Romney’s mannerisms as assertive and, well, presidential.

This came in sharp contrast to President Obama’s performance.  While Obama usually comports himself in a similarly eloquent, self-assured manner, his behaviors in this first debate were described by pundits as listless and lethargic.  Though some believe that Obama’s intention was to appear stately and dignified, the overall effect was of someone who’s been beaten down by the rigors of the country’s toughest job – certainly not as compelling a character as Romney presented.

So what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the candidates’ performance and applied to our personal lives?  Here are three lessons that I believe should be addressed:

Lesson #1 – Style matters

Surprisingly, the winner of the October 5th presidential debate wasn’t determined based on the number of falsehoods claimed by either candidate, nor the visions for America’s future as presented by Obama or Romney.  In fact, Romney was hailed as the winner largely because of the style of his performance.

Where Obama was lackluster, Romney was fiery.  Where Obama’s body language signaled defeat, Romney’s showcased a man ready to take on a leadership role.  Again, it doesn’t matter which political party you support – either way, that’s some powerful stuff!

Keeping in mind the performance by both candidates in the debate, think about how your body language, tone and posture all contribute to the impression that people hold of you.  Whether you want to be perceived as authoritative, educated, free-spirited or competent, take these elements into consideration to ensure that your outward appearance matches your inner desires.

Lesson #2 – Perfect practice leads to perfect performance

Entering this first presidential debate, Romney did hold one significant advantage.  Throughout the rigorous Republican primary season, he participated in nearly 20 separate debates – all of which gave him the opportunity to hone his oratory skills and his ability to fire back when challenged.

Obama, of course, hasn’t had to participate in a debate since his first election in 2008 – and it showed!

From this, you should take away the importance of preparing for the challenging situations you expect to encounter in the future.  If, for example, you plan to ask for a raise in the future, which do you think will produce better results?  Approaching your boss to make your request without any prior planning, or taking the time to rehearse your pitch with several friends and family members before asking for the salary you deserve?

By building experience in these challenging situations, you’ll be better able to execute your ideas in a way that’s easily understood, without all the nervous habits that might otherwise betray your confidence.

Lesson #3 – Sound bites are valuable

Finally, keep in mind how powerful sound bites can be in the political sphere and attempt to capture this benefit in your own life.  To see how to do this, take a look at the following statement made by Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate:

“[M]y number-one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that: no tax cut that adds to the deficit.”

This statement is so memorable and well-crafted that it’s virtually guaranteed to stick in the minds of debate viewers.  Whether or not it’s actually true doesn’t matter as much – the statement’s real value lies in how likely viewers are to retain the message.

The same principle can be applied to your own communications.  People love to listen to stories, and we respond well to short, powerful statements like those used by Romney in the recent debate.  While it can be tricky to do this well when speaking normally in everyday life, it’s worth practicing conveying your thoughts in simple, to-the-point messages that are likely to stick with your listeners and bring about the changes that you want.

Do you agree that Mitt Romney won the debate?  Share your viewpoint in the comments below, as well as any other lessons you feel can be drawn from the two candidates’ performance.  (Just be sure to keep it civil – this is a blog on becoming more persuasive, not a place for heated political discussion!)

Image: Austen Huffold

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