Twelve years ago, during the presidential election that pitted Vice President Al Gore against then Texas Governor George W. Bush, the candidates met in three debates, just as President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are doing this year. One dynamic from the 2000 campaign could carry forward to this year: dramatic reversals in presentation style. Just as Mr. Obama made a significant shift from his listless demeanor in the first debate to what Maureen Dowd called an “alpha tone” in his second, Al Gore made significant shifts in his style between his debates.
In the first contest, Mr. Gore, who was expected to dominate the notoriously language-challenged Mr. Bush, came out roaring like a lion. His statements and rebuttals were filled with aggressive and divisive words like “wrong,” “not,” “differences,” “mistake,” and “opposite.” His manner was also combative, continually punctuated by condescending sighs, derisive head-shaking, scornful frowns, and disdainful eye-rolling.
The arrogant behavior immediately boomeranged. Television broadcasters had a camera isolated on Mr. Gore for reaction shots. Their news directors took the output of this camera and edited his expressions into a rapid-cut sequence that they ran in their local and national broadcasts repeatedly. Public and media criticism rained down on the vice president.
In response, Mr. Gore made a sharp about face in the second debate and came out like a lamb. During the 90- minute event, he expressed agreement with his opponent seven times—earning him further public criticism. So Mr. Gore reversed field again and swung back to his aggressive ways in the third debate.
At one point, moderator, Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour, who also moderated the first Obama-Romney debate,asked Mr. Bush the same question he would later ask Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney:
I’d like to know how you see the differences between the two of you
Mr. Bush rose from his seat and began to address his answer to the town-hall audience
Well, the difference is that I can get it done. That I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That’s what the question in this campaign is about...
As he continued his answer, Al Gore stood up, and started to walk across the stage, directly toward his opponent, almost menacingly. Unaware of Mr. Gore’s move, Mr. Bush continued:
…It’s not only what’s your philosophy and what’s your position on issues, but can you get things done?
In the middle of his statement, Mr. Bush turned to see Mr. Gore approaching, paused for a beat, then nodded at Mr. Gore and smiled, evoking titters from the audience.
Then, Mr. Bush turned back to the audience and said:
And I believe I can.
The audience titters gave way to laughter.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll about the effects of the debate on public opinion gave George W. Bush a seven point advantage over Al Gore.
Mr. Gore compensated for his initial aggressive behavior by being passive, and then he overcompensated for being passive by being even more aggressive. Mr. Obama compensated for his initial passive behavior by being aggressive.
In yesterday’s post about the second presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, you read a quote about the importance of preparation from the great Roman orator,Marcus TulliusCicero, written in 55 BC.
The words are from Cicero’s essay, “On the Character of Orator,” in which he goes beyond preparation into all the essential skills required to be an effective presenter. As you read the passage below, please think about how it all applies to being presidential.
Eloquence, in fact, requires many things: a wide knowledge of very many subjects (verbal fluency without this being worthless and even ridiculous), a style, too, carefully formed not merely by selection, but by arrangement of words, and a thorough familiarity with all the feelings which nature has given to man, because the whole force and art of the orator must be put forth in allaying or exciting the emotions of his audience.
Further than this it requires a certain play of humour and wit, a liberal culture, a readiness and brevity in reply and attack, combined with a nice delicacy and refinement of manner. It requires also an acquaintance withal history, and a store of instances, nor can it dispense with a knowledge of the statute-books and all civil law.
I need hardly add, I presume, any remarks on mere delivery. This must be combined with appropriate movement of the body, gestures, looks, and modulation and variety of tone. How important this is in itself may be seen from the insignificant art of the actor and the procedure of the stage; for though all actors pay great attention to the due management of their features, voice, and gestures, it is a matter of common notoriety how few there are, or have been, whom we can watch without discomfort.
One word I must add on memory, the treasure-house of all knowledge. Unless the orator calls in the aid of memory to retain the matter and the words with which thought and study have furnished him, all his other merits, however brilliant, we know will lose their effect.
We may therefore well cease to wonder why it is that real orators are so few, seeing that eloquence depends on a combination of accomplishments, in each one of which it is no slight matter to achieve success.
Cicero’s advice is just one of 75 lessons from many masters of communication—among them Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy—contained in mynew book, Winning Strategies for Power Presentations, due out in December from Pearson; butavailable for pre-order from Amazon now.
President Obama’s fiery performance in the second presidential debate on Tuesday left media pundits perplexed by the 180 degree turnabout from
his flat demeanor in the first debate: “Perhaps it was mere fatigue
that night in Denver. Or overconfidence. Or lack of preparation. Or the altitude,” mused Politico’s Roger Simon, or as the president himself said, “I was too polite.”
was preparation, no question. We have no way of knowing just how much
time and effort each candidate devoted to preparation, but we do know
that on the day before that first debate, Mr. Obama made a campaign stop
at Hoover Dam and, according to the Wall Street Journal:
complained Monday during a phone call with a campaign volunteer that
his aides are "keeping me indoors all the time…making me do my
homework." However, a brown tarp blocking the view of the resort's
basketball court suggests Mr. Obama has been shooting some baskets
In sharp contrast, in the run up to the second debate, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Obama spent
three days of prep sessions that began Saturday at a five-star resort
in Williamsburg….Outside the sessions, Mr. Obama has spent time walking
the grounds of the resort, which is set along the James River, and
working out at the gym
The difference was dramatic and,
because the media is abuzz with commentary about body language, eye
contact, succinctness, and assertiveness, I will confine my comments to
only one aspect of preparation: facts.
By far, the most dramatic moment in Tuesday's debate came when Governor Romney challenged Mr. Obama on his handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya:
There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a
spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist
attack. And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist
attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American
The president replied:
OBAMA: The day after
the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the
American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what
happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're
going to hunt down those who committed this crime.
And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State,
our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead
when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That's not what
we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as
Commander in Chief.
CNN’s Candy Crowley, the moderator of the debate, turned to Mr. Romney and said:
CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to...
ROMNEY: Yes, I -- I...
CROWLEY: ... quickly to this please.
I -- I think interesting the president just said something which --
which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden
and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That's what I said.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.
It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?
The governor glowered at the president. Mr. Obama stared back.
OBAMA: Please proceed governor.
I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the
president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror...
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He -- he did call it an act of terror.
as the CEO of a public company whose revenues have not met expectations
must prepare for a quarterly earnings call with investors, or the CSO
of a pharmaceutical company whose drug has failed clinical trials must
prepare for a Board of Directors meeting, or a product manager whose
product missed a shipping date must prepare for a meeting with a
customer, political candidates must prepare for the worst case scenario
against their opponents and have a strong response at the ready.
since the attack a month earlier, the Benghazi issue was roiling in the
media, and was sure to come up in the debate. Each candidate's party
was hurling charges and counter charges at the other in public, so each
candidate had to have a carefully delineated response and a
well-supported argument and to be fully prepared to deliver it under the
pressure of a live television debate.
Mr. Romney, in his drive to
prove that the president was "misleading," missed an important fact:
Mr. Obama in his drive to prepare for the issue, knew the fact cold.
The importance of thorough preparation was put forth in 55 BC by the great Roman orator, Cicero:
the orator calls in the aid of memory to retain the matter and the
words with which thought and study have furnished him, all his other
merits, however brilliant, we know will lose their effect.
Last month, in anticipation of last night’s first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, veteran journalist James Fallows did a lengthy piece in the Atlantic in which he wrote, “the easiest way to judge ‘victory’ in many debates is to watch with the sound turned off, so you can assess the candidates’ ease, tenseness, humor, and other traits signaled by their body language.”
With or without the sound, any viewer could see stark differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. During most of the ninety-minute debate, the image on the CNN broadcast was a split screen of the two candidates in close-up; so viewers could see both of them simultaneously. During most of Mr. Romney’s speaking turns, Mr. Obama was nodding in seeming agreement. The image was a déjà vu of the first presidential debate in 1960, when Richard Nixon, unaware of the camera, nodded while John F. Kennedy was speaking. As philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The nodding was only the first of six other tactical mistakes the president made:
He scowled while listening, looking angry and petulant
His kept his eyes cast down rather than looking at his opponent
His answers were filled with diverse statistics and subjects, rarely ending with a clear point
He often failed to counter Mr. Romney’s charges while Mr. Romney repeatedly countered his
He didn’t attack Mr. Romney’s previously-revealed vulnerable positions
He appeared ill-prepared and halting as evidenced by his repeated iterations of “um.”
Following the debate, I surfed the cable channels for post mortems and found a consensus—even from those inclined to favor Mr. Obama: the Huffington Post’s lead headline: “Romney wins the night,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews wrote, "Where was Obama tonight?" and this morning's New York Times leadstory:“Romney Wins Debate Praise as Obama Is Faulted as Flat.”
There are still two more debates to come. Will Mr. Obama take Mr.Santayana’s advice or will he allow Mr. Romney to overtake him?
As 50 million viewers prepare to watch the first of this year’s presidential debates tonight, the media is abuzz with discussions and opinions about the major issues: jobs, taxes, healthcare, Libya, Iran, Israel, abortion, immigration, and same sex marriage. For many voters, this is a single-issue election that drives them to favor one candidate or another, but all voters are driven by one factor more powerful than all the others: their gut feelings.
The feelings actually emanate high above the gut, from a group of brain cells called “mirror neurons.” As their name implies, these cells mirror feelings between people, creating an instinctive emotional bond between them. First discovered two decades ago in experiments with lab monkeys, the mirroring phenomenon became known as “monkey see, monkey do.” In humans, what people see, they feel; if we see another person wince in pain, we cringe, if we see another person giggle uncontrollably, we smile, if we see an anxious person, we feel ill at ease, if we see a confident person, we feel elated. These feelings are also called “empathy.”
Political pollsters call them “likeability,” a more sedate term than "gut" and less touchy-feely than "empathy", yet all of the terms describe the primal emotions that candidates generate in the electorate. After all, the president of a nation, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is very much like the chief of a tribe or the patriarch (and perhaps someday, the matriarch) of a clan. Followers of any leader want to feel—deep inside—that they are in good, strong hands. “Who’s your Daddy?”
Theodore H. White, the great political historian who chronicled the presidential elections of 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972, saw these primal forces at work in the seminal 1960 debate that pitted the patrician John F. Kennedy against the rumpled Richard M. Nixon. In his classic, The Making of the President 1960, Mr. White wrote thatdebates “give the voters of a great democracy a living portrait of two men under stress and let the voters decide, by instinct and emotion, which style and pattern of behavior under stress they preferred in their leader…[they] generalize this tribal sense of participation, this emotional judgment of the leader, from the few to the multitude.”
Half a century later, Mr. White’s words were echoed by Dante Chinni in a Wall Street Journalarticle anticipating tonight’s debate between President Obama and Governor Romney:
Of all the measures of a presidential candidate, the most useful may be the most basic: whether voters have “positive” feelings toward him. In every recent presidential race, the candidate with the higher positive numbers has won the White House.
Mr. Chinni’s article went on to list the likability figures for the month preceding the three most recent presidential elections and that of the most recent month this year:
Will the patrician Mr. Romney break the likability string or will the cool Mr. Obama keep it alive?
As the stock market surges to new highs not seen since before the fall of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns—Standard Poor's 500-stock index is up 25 percent over the past 12 months—the window for IPOs is beginning to open again. Yesterday, Trulia, a real estate information site, closed up 40 percent on its first day of trading, as the New York Timesstory described it, “defying the recent lackluster performance of newly public stocks.”
The surge was the subject of a panel discussion at last week’s high profile KPCB CEO Summit in Pebble Beach, California. One of the panelists was Ken Goldman, a respected Silicon Valley CFO, who has served in that role forCypress Semiconductor, Sybase, Excite@Home, Siebel Systems/Oracle Corporation, and Fortinet. Having led the IPOs for two of those companies, Mr. Goldman offered the 200+ CEOs at the conference 17 brief pieces of advice, five of which related to presentations. (He had a sixth, which was to utilize presentation coaching, but in the interest of selfless-interest, let’s stay with five).
While very few people get the opportunity to make a presentation that seeks to raise tens of millions of dollars as most IPO road shows do, in each of Mr. Goldman’s recommendations below, you’ll see aspects that resonate with all presentations, along withbasic best practices that you can employ for your presentations.
1)Don’t be bashful - In 1-on-1 meetings, ask your potential investors for their thoughts on the company and if they have any issues or concerns that should be addressed
Mr. Goldman is recommending that CEOs “Ask for the order,” or as sales people put, it “Go for the close.” Faint heart never won fair lady. Does this mean that a presenter should thrust a contract at the audience and ask them to sign on the dotted line? Of course not, but there is a wide gulf between hard sell and no sell.
A sales person can ask a customer for the order by saying, “We hope that you’ll see how well our product meets your requirements.” An IPO CEO can ask an investor for the order by saying, “We hope that you’ll join us in this attractive opportunity.” Mr. Goldman’s usual call to action for investors is simply, “So what do you think?”
Define your call to action.
2)NetRoadshow has changed the game – Meetings are primarily Q&A, not a regurgitation of the road show presentation
In 2005, following the stock market excesses that led to bursting of the Internet bubble, the Securities and Exchange Commission mandated, in the interest of full disclosure, that companies offering stock for the first time must make their road show presentation available to the public online. Since then, every company makes a video recording of the management team delivering the pitch and posts it on the NetRoadshow site and its public companion, retailroadshow.com, along with the slideshow that accompanies the narrative.
Despite this wide access, the company’s senior management team goes on the road for about two weeks, during which they visit potential investors in about dozen cities across the country, for about 30 or 40 meetings a week for a total of 80 or more iterations—just as they did before NetRoadshow.
The reason for this grueling tour is that no investor will make a decision to buy up to a 10% tranche of an offering based on a canned presentation alone. Investors want to meet the executives in person, press the flesh, look them in the eye, and interact with them directly. As a result, many of the meetings are not presentations, but intense Q&A sessions.
Prepare for the most challenging questions to your presentation.
3)You control the road show logistics – Despite the hectic schedule, there is enough time to conduct business, hold conference calls, workout and unwind.
Mr. Goldman is referring here to the tried and true concept of time—and personal—management. All too often, when business people have a major project (and there is no project more major than an IPO road show) they allow daily business tasks and physical exercise slip by the wayside. Not a good idea for business and not a good idea for your body.
Make the time. Take care of business. Exercise regularly.
4)Road show start critically important; Europe or otherwise.
Here Mr. Goldman is advocating a strong launch. Success in the first iterations can generate word-of-mouth within the investment community that creates momentum for the offering. Companies that develop road shows for product launches need the same impetus.
Run through your presentation multiple times in advance; to your team or to “friends of the court” to refine your pitch. Launch only when ready. Make the first iteration as polished as the last.
5)Six timing decision points: a) Soft start; b) Formal Bakeoff; 3) Organization meeting; 4) File S-1; 5) Start road show and 6) Price
While Mr. Goldman’s steps are IPO-specific, they represent a high level strategic roadmap with key milestones. Every presentation requires a strategic roadmap laid out in advance so that when D-Day arrives, you are ready for action.
Mr. Goldman knows whereof he speaks: Fortinet, his current company, has seen its stock price climb more than 50% in the past year alone. If adjusted for a 2:1 stock split last year, the adjusted price is $54, more than 4 X IPO price of $12.50
Barack Obama has endured expected criticism from Republican, Tea Party, and Libertarian naysayers who disagree with his politics; but he has also taken heat from his own supporters who have accused him of being distant and aloof. On the eve of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Maureen Dowd took him to task in herNew York Timescolumn:
Obama doesn’t like to share the stage with other politicians or even campaign for House Democrats. He thinks of himself as a singular force, a unique brand, and his narrative has always begun and ended with him. He thinks he did build it himself. But now — because of his own naïveté, insularity and arrogance — he needs Clinton
As if to drive the point home, just as Mr. Obama was about to deliver his speech yesterday, the Times published a lengthy article that analyzed transcripts of his campaign speeches and found that he used the words “I want…” 174 times in 41 speeches.
But in his actual speech last night, Mr. Obama turned the tables and the pronouns:
So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens — you were the change.
You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that.
You’re the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he’d be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance. You made that possible.
You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home; why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love, why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely, welcome home. Welcome home. You did that. You did that. You did that.
If you turn away now — if you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void, the lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote, Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves.
Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Only you have the power to move us forward.
The shift impressed the Times’ David Brooks, who wrote:
I liked the emphasis he put not on himself but on the word “you” — the idea that change comes organically from the bottom up.
Power Presentations - Thursday, September 06, 2012
By Jerry Weissman
Last night, former President Bill Clinton returned to the scene of his original crime, the Democratic National Convention, exonerated and honored. Twenty-four years earlier, he gave a speech in the same venue—in nomination of Michael Dukakis—that ran so far over his allotted time, the audience cheered derisively when he said, “In closing…”
There was no derision last night as the seasoned warrior pulled out all the stops in a barn burner of a keynote, trashing the Republicans and making a powerful case for Barack Obama’s re-election. Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote an excellent analysis of the speech here.
In 2007, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for New Yorker magazine, wrote a comprehensive profile of Barack Obama when he was an up and coming Illinois state legislator, called “Can Barack Obama Catch Hillary Clinton?”
In 2008, Barack Obama caught Hillary Clinton and kept running—all the way to the Oval Office.
In the August 6, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, Mr. Lizza wrote a comprehensive profile of up and coming Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.
Five days later, on August 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, announced that Mr. Ryan was his choice for his vice-presidential candidate.
Has Mr. Lizza picked another winner? Only the Election Day will tell, but both of Mr. Lizza’s choices for in-depth profiling have parallel communication qualities:
Speechmaking: In 2004, Mr. Obama wrote and delivered a Cinderella speech that took him from obscurity to rock stardom. In 1993, Mr. Ryan did his political internship as a speechwriter for former football hero Jack Kemp who, three years later, went on to become Bob Dole’s vice-presidential candidate.
Positive messaging: In 2008, Mr. Obama’s famous campaign slogan was “Yes we can!” In 2012, Mr. Ryan told Mr. Lizza:
If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose…People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, “Just criticize and don’t do anything and let’s win by default.” That’s ridiculous…They don’t want to produce alternatives? That’s not going to stop me from producing an alternative.2
“Criticize and propose” represents an unusual positive strategy in a campaign that, until now, has been as negative as it gets; characterized by the New York Times as “sliding back down the banister.” Mr. Obama’s “Yes we can” has vanished—replaced with a welter of critical ads and speeches. Mr. Romney, who battled his way to the Republican candidacy by attacking and counterattacking his opponents in the primaries, has continued in the same antagonistic mode against his Democratic opponent.
Mr. Ryan’s positive strategy, if he can stay with it, in the face what looks like an unrelievedly contentious campaign, provides a lesson for any communicator.
Business people cannot make their own case at the expense of the competition because it not only casts a negative pall on the whole market; it also boomerangs back onto the naysayer. Bashing sounds defensive. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. It is far better to look at all the players in the competitive landscape and position them within that larger context.
One way to do that is with the classic comparison matrix, originated by the Boston Consulting Group, of four quadrants, charting values along the x- and y-axes. Here’s how the BCG website describes it: “This framework categorizes products within a company's portfolio as stars, cash cows, dogs, or question marks according to growth rate, market share, and positive or negative cash flow.”
Another comparison table shows all the players on one axis and how they compare in several key features along the other axis, and grades them with checks and crosses, or plusses and minuses, or what is known as Harvey Balls, in which filled circles represent full value, empty circles, no value, and partially-filled circles represent partial value:
Just imagine if, in the upcoming October debates that will pit Mr. Ryan against Mr. Biden, and Mr. Romney against Mr. Obama, the candidates were to compare and contrast each other along the lines of one of these charts. We might just have a campaign that focuses on issues rather than charges; alternatives rather than criticism.