A Lesson or Two From the Presidential Debate

Over at Huffington Post today I blogged about the first Presidential debate of 2012.  There’s a general sense that Governor Romney won.  And if you’re looking for a winner, that may be the case.  He surely did on style and passion — two important ingredients.

From President Obama’s performance comes a reminder that it’s important to consider the ordering of your best arguments and timing of your passion in any persuasive encounter.  Do I put my best stuff first or last?  Do I dazzle them at the outset and hope to hold them throughout or work up to the best and leave them wanting more?  The answer is rarely an easy one.  And it appeared last night that the president decided to hold back — stay calm — provide good arguments but refrain from ruffling any feathers or going for home runs.  Was it a good decision?  Only time will tell.  It may have lost him some early voters.  But at least he didn’t deliver his best only to go downhill during the next two debates.  I suppose it could happen, but he is more likely to get better.

Had I been advising, and now especially with hindsight as an advantage, I would have preferred some especially strong moments.  When an opponent or even a colleague goes after you and much is on the line, as we write about it Comebacks at Work, you have to level the playing field with responses that make him/her think twice about doing that next time.  The president was, well, presidential.  That’s admirable and taking the debate in the opposite direction wouldn’t have been good.  He could have, however, said in no uncertain terms that the governor was wrong when he was wrong and why being so is damaging to the American people.  He could have said, “Now, I’m not going to let you get away with that one” or “I let x and y pass, but what you just said is going too far.”

The president had a couple of those moments.  When he asked whether Romney is keeping all his plans secret “because they’re too good,” because “somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them,” he was giving us some of his best.  A few more of those comebacks and the results would have been quite different.

Standing up for yourself and the people you represent is rarely easy.  But there are ways to say “That’s enough” and even “Did I hear you right?”  The president could use a few of those next time around.

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