What You Can Learn About Debating From Last Night’s Debate

Please note: If you are looking for yet another assessment of the content of last night’s debate, please look elsewhere. This focuses on tactic.

Here are the lessons we can learn from last night’s debate:

  1. Be confident. This carries into many of the points below, but is the most essential trait. It is hard for others to trust in you, if you do not trust in yourself.
  2. Have Passion. This is one of the strongest emotions. As put by Rochefoucauld (English translation) from his experience in the French court: “The simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without.”
  3. Always smile. You are a winner and should appear as such. Towards the end of the debate, it is very clear who is happy to be on stage and who is miserable. Do not appear defeated or the audience will consider you as such. Watch each candidate’s expressions as they listen to their opponent.
  4. Be concise. Although stories can be very effective in speeches, with their appropriate timing and punctuation, in debates only keep relative details. Any other detail detracts from your point. We do not need to know you grew up with your grandmother or when she died, we need to know how hard she worked, how independent she was, and how Medicare today would impact her. Having one story to continually reference, as Obama later does, can be useful and make an issue relatable, but that story needs to be tailored to its purpose. Mitt Romney effectively uses concise story telling to support his argument on the affordable care act: “It comes from my experience. I was in New Hampshire and a woman came to me and said, ‘Look I can’t afford  insurance for myself or my son. I met a couple in Appleton, Wisconsin and they said, ‘we’re thinking of dropping our insurance, we can’t afford it. And the number of small businesses that I have gone to that are saying they are dropping insurance because they can’t afford it. The cost of healthcare is just prohibitive.” Here he references only the relevant supporting details, showing that individuals and small businesses are impacted by healthcare costs.
  5. Follow the rules. If you do not follow the rules, you are seen as a cheater. Listen to the mediator. If the mediator says you are out of time, you are out of time. If it is not your turn to speak, do not speak. Acting as if you are above the rules shows neither humility nor respect.
  6. Vary eye contact. When you are at the punch line, look the camera right in the eye and say it with chutzpah. This was most effectively used in the closing speeches.
  7. Organize your points. Take a deep breath. Gather your thoughts instead of jumping in unprepared and unorganized. Just because you have talking points does not mean they fit in this moment of the debate or in the context anymore. For instance, Romney states he supports well thought-through regulation and that he wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and replace it. Obama misaddresses this comment and references pre-debate statements about repealing Dodd-Frank as a way to show Romney’s disinterest in any regulation. This talking point needed to be modified in order to become an effective response.
  8. Remain on message. In his discussion seven minutes into the debate, Obama addresses Medicaid, schools, oil, tax breaks, companies going overseas within his allotted two minutes. It is better to focus on one area and explain yourself fully than lose the audience in various topics. This leads to my next point on how to combat this tactic.
  9. Stay Engaged. When Obama spoke of various subjects, Romney was able to address each point because he took notes, which he referenced in his rebuttal. As your opponent runs out of time, jot down a primitive outline of key topics you will discuss so you have some structure before your clock starts ticking.
  10. Remember your audience. If you are going to talk about Bowles-Simpson, make sure you can briefly explain what it is and how it relates to your argument. How many people in the audience know the details of Bowles-Simpson? You want your audience to be able to follow your points. When Mitt Romney discusses his program for Medicare in which seniors can choose between public and private sector programs, he very simply lays out his views. Instead of bogging down the audience in technicalities, he holds their hand in understanding his philosophies. Make sure your audience can follow you.
  11. Make comparisons. Help people relate to facts and statistics. For example, Obama mentions oil companies receive $2.8 billion in tax cuts every year. Romney successfully takes this number and makes it relative. He points out that Obama gave $90 billion to companies in green energy; that is 50 years of oil tax cuts or 2 million new teachers.
  12. Use strong references to support your views. When discussing Medicare, Obama says he does not support Romney’s view, but strengthens his argument by saying AARP also disapproves of Romney’s plan. Furthermore, to show you are not buried in your party’s back pocket, referencing great ideas from the other side can be tactful, such as Ronald Reagan (by Obama) or Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff (by Romney). In addition, Romney also took the Cleveland Clinic, originally mentioned by Obama, to show his own point. If your opponent has already established the legitimacy of something, using it to describe your point is more effective.
  13. Practice and prepare. Go in front of the mirror, no matter how awkward that may seem, you need to feel comfortable working through the twists and turns of your arguments, finding where there might be dead ends or missteps to your point. This will build your confidence and trust in yourself. On healthcare, Romney had a list of points; his presentation is smooth, without linguistic slipups. You can tell he knew this would be a key topic, prepared an outline, and practiced his two-minute presentation on the issue.

If anyone wants to improve their debate tactics, I would recommend reading “Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Please post any thoughts/comments for discussion below:

The ‘Coolness Factor’ & Social Media: Politicians Pump Up Their Image Through Viral Communication

With the growth of social media, the ‘coolness factor’ is gaining importance as a way to frame a politician’s image. When I say ‘coolness factor’ I mean trying to use one’s personality to create a deeper connection with one’s constituency. An example would be Hillary Clinton submitting her own ‘Texts from Hillary’.  Through the growth of social media, this has become an effective push communication strategy as followers want to share this content.

That being said, the “Coolness Factor” is not something new and has been effective in the past. This played a role in Kennedy’s success in the first Kennedy-Nixon debates where people who listened on the radio voted Nixon as the winner, but the 70 million television viewers, able to see Kennedy’s charisma and smooth delivery compared to Nixon’s sweaty make-up free face, viewed Kennedy as the winner. Post-losing against George W. Bush in 2000, Al Gore gained much publicity for going out and partying in New York City, shocking people with his sweaty armpits and dance moves that highly contradicted his prior boring, lock box-syndrome rhetoric. Meanwhile, George W. Bush seemed like a fun-loving guy with whom you would enjoy having a beer. Furthermore, in the past, Obama has used this technique successfully, dancing on Ellen, using the Shepard Fairey “Hope” image, and putting on the “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” (which I attended, luckily before security started turning people away).

In the current election, the “coolness factor” has hit many highs and lows, Herman Cain misquoting the “Pokémon: The Movie 2000”  fitting into the latter. As put by David A. Graham, “Cain repeatedly reached for snappy, glib, inspirational phrases—often, it seemed, without having thought them through. It was apparently the legacy of his years as a motivational speaker, a sector in which empty but punchy quotes are the coin of the realm and are seldom quarried for their original source.”

With the two current front-runners, both seem to be awkward. As put on the popular TV show Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough points out that, “we’ve got two possible major candidates who are awkward,” also stating that President Obama “doesn’t seem to genuinely like being around people.” However, Obama’s team has been very successful at amping his “coolness factor”.  Most recent examples include having the President submit a NCAA tournament bracket  on ESPN, releasing a campaign soundtrack, singing at the Apollo,  and pounding a janitor.  All help him appear down to earth and connected to the everyday American.

Mitt Romney has had difficulty channeling the “coolness factor,” appearing a bit socially awkward in many of his public appearances and thus some saying he needs a “swag transplant.”  An article by Frank Rich in The New York Times says, “When forced to interact with actual people, he tries hard, but his small talk famously takes the form of guessing a voter’s age or nationality (usually incorrectly) or offering a greeting of ‘Congratulations!’ for no particular reason. Richard Nixon was epically awkward too, but he could pass (in Tom Wicker’s phrase) as ‘one of us.”

Thus, is “coolness factor” more important today than ever before now that is so easy to share content online? How can it be channeled to the correct audience? An example might be Bully Pulpit Interactive’s Ed Lee “2 Legit” video which used Facebook zip code targeted advertising to drive young voters in the tech industry in San Francisco to watch the video, gaining 33,000 views. However, the video might not be as appreciated by other voter segments. Successfully targeted viral marketing may be the new secret weapon to win over hearts and minds. Still questions arise on how it can be targeted successfully, when is it going too far for the mainstream, how to correctly connect to key viewers, and when it crosses the line of unprofessional (such as the POTUS calling Kanye West a jackass).

Attracting Those That Kill It: One More Nail in the Coffin for Investment Banking’s Image

You know you are in trouble when it is fashionable for bankers to hate bankers. Today, Greg Smith, the head of Goldman Sachs’ equity derivatives business in the U.S., published an exposé on the moral culture at Goldman Sachs. He discusses the corporate culture focused on the competitive nature of investment banking that has turned employees into money-driven narcissists as opposed to pragmatic businessmen concerned with the long-term growth of their clients’ assets.

The current investment banking culture attracts the wrong type of employee. It demands two traits for success: at all costs commitment to the job and a single-minded money-driven vision. Unfortunately the latter drives hardworking, moral individuals out of the field. On a day-to-day basis, some of the most intelligent and interesting people I meet fringe investment banking, usually based on a couple of years of success in the industry followed by the realization that they are becoming someone they do not respect. An ex-banker now Brooklyn entrepreneur explained to me how banking was part of the family trade. He was a trader and although his firm would calculate the value he was creating, he realized he was not adding any value to the world and that his “mentor” was actually killing him, based on the fast life he was expected to live. I have been to many New York summer rooftop parties in which the investment banking crowd enters and the discussion immediately turns to salaries in order to evaluate the “worth” of everyone there.

Goldman Sachs has built its empire on the fact that it employs the best and the brightest, but few would accredit these values to the overall dogmatic image and dialogue associated with the bank today. There are countless online sites mocking the investment banking “dream team” and their distance from reality and nearsighted focus on overabundance.

What does this mean for the industry’s image? Based on the financial crisis, most governments and media outlets are looking for a scapegoat, as is evident with the Occupy Wall Street movement and much of today’s political leaders’ rhetoric, pushing blame (not to say it is not deserved) out of the public sector and into the banking sector’s hands. Unintentionally, the banking sector is welcoming it with open arms, flaunting their culture of disinterest in the 99% as a badge of pride. As more become unemployed and populist sentiment grows, the financial sector will take the blunt of political reform.The sector is no longer able to survive on its former short-term, money-driven priorities.

What can be done? The sector needs to develop a twofold strategy: in the short-term developing campaigns to prove the positive aspects of banking followed by actually becoming more socially concerned. Goldman Sachs has already taken on this strategy since the financial crisis, but time and time again is receiving press that hacks away at its credibility, exposing the lack of actual concern for its clients, the law, and the world today. Many growing banking sectors, such as sustainability and microfinance can produce high ROI while bettering the world we live in. Many government and global organizations inefficiently stumble to aid these global issues, while the smart, hardworking bankers of tomorrow could be frontrunners in pushing for highly profitable change. The true winners in the field will be the small players who find niches and develop focused messaging around these initiatives.

How to Address the Public After an Affair: Lessons Learned from Bill Clinton, Edward VIII, John Edwards, and Tiger Woods

In a recent documentary, “Clinton,” the director Barak Goodman revisits the Lewinsky scandal finding that Bill Clinton confided in Dick Morris, asking him for advice. Morris conducted a poll to assess how to best handle the situation. He found that Clinton could be forgiven for the sin, but not for the cover up, and thus should admit to the scandal. Unfortunately, Clinton did not take this advice and attempted to address the issue on his own terms.

Throughout history, time and time again, public figures have allowed their personal lives to impede on their duties as a figurehead and role model. After such digressions, the response is usually an apology speech with the opportunity to command the public’s attention, make a petition, and potentially recover from their mistakes. Unfortunately, the majority of these speeches fall short. To recover from a personal failing, a leader cannot expect immediate forgiveness but promise to show they have learned their lesson through action, accept that their status does not exclude them from the norms and standards of their time, admit that their criticism is warranted, and set a plan of action for their role and behavior going forward. As we can see from prominent examples of such speeches, these things prove remarkably hard to do. Still, no matter how hard one tries to cover the fact, she or he will discover that their unsuccessful attempt to address properly their failings will forever hinder their ability to lead.

A successful apology speech needs to acknowledge that the speech itself is not enough to merit forgiveness. It cannot order the audience to move on, but instead promise that a change has occurred, and that going forward, better behavior will prove the lesson has been learned. During his abdication speech on December 11, 1936, Edward VIII directs Parliament, the royal family, and the British people, to understand his decision: “But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve.” By starting with but I want you to understand, he is commanding the people to agree that his decision to leave office is the best for the country. The public’s opinion is not something he can control. John Edwards takes a similar approach in his statement regarding his affair with Rielle Hunter: “If you want to beat me up feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.” He insists the public does not have the right to comment on his decision, since he is addressing it himself.

President Clinton in his  “I Misled People” speech takes a similar approach insisting, “It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life. The country has been distracted by [the Lewinsky affair] for too long.” They argue that the public should move on, and not question their statements of defense. This is not a successful argument. You cannot command the public’s understanding. You have to prove you have learned your lesson. Tiger Woods make a stronger argument after his affairs became public. He acknowledges his apology is not enough, and that only his actions can lead to his forgiveness. This shows a change in character unlike the others. He is not insisting he is entitled to forgiveness, but requesting the opportunity to prove himself as changed.

After a speech admits that it cannot grant forgiveness, it also has to admit that the speaker is not exempt from the standards set by society. In Edward VIII’s statement, he claims he has the right to define the standards to which he is held. He states: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” In his opinion, he alone can decide if it is impossible for him to fulfill the burden of being king, therefore putting his interests before those of his entire country. This is the crux of his argument, that he is a victim, being forced to choose between the woman he loves and the throne, and that only he can decide what is necessary for him to be a good king.

Tiger Woods addresses the same issue, but admits he was at fault for not following the norms set by society. Woods promises to solve his problems, staying within society’s standards by admitting he “ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by” and that “these are issues between a husband and a wife,” framing that his resolution should and will be private as set by society’s standards. Furthermore, he comments on his personal thought process saying, “I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply.  […] It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity. […] Character and decency are what really count.” Unlike Edward VIII, Woods shows that he is subject to the expected norms. He reflects on the teachings of his religion, commenting on Buddhism’s principle that cravings only lead to an “unhappy search for security.” Edward VIII argues the opposite, implying he cannot be happy without Mrs. Simpson, saying how his brother has a “matchless blessing” of a “happy home with his wife and children.” This weakens Edward VIII argument since he is saying the normal rules for the royal family are wrong and that the rules are at fault instead of him being at fault. Through Wood’s admittance that he has broken the rules, and that he must change his views, he strengthens his argument. Edward VIII attempts to frame himself as a victim, neither showing that he has changed nor that he respects the rules of the British system.

It is not a surprise when the press pries into all aspects of public figures’ lives. During an apology speech, a public figure does not have the right to claim to have become prey to the press. After committing an act that hurts those close to them, they cannot turn around and claim to be a victim. John Edwards’s weakens his argument by attempting to frame himself in this way, “I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need help.” He claims he has been stripped bare, indicating he is a victim now that the press has revealed his secrets. This implies he is angry with the press not only for exploiting his secrets, but also for uncovering them in the first place. Indicating he is angry that he was caught does not help his argument that he has learned his lesson. Edwards and Clinton feel the excessive criticism is unwarranted despite their behavior.

At first, in Clinton’s “I Misled People” speech, he uses a similar argument that he can command his treatment from the people, claiming that his affair is private, between him and his family, and that the public does not have the right to know what in the President’s personal life may be affecting his ability as a leader. Clinton mentions the press’s treatment again in his “I Have Sinned” speech, but then spins the argument: “bounds of privacy have been excessively and unwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case, it may be a blessing, because I have sinned.” This strengthens his speech since he admits he has done wrong and that he may deserve his criticism. After having an affair, it is hypocritical to criticize others for causing one’s family pain. In order to show this genuine effort, there needs to be an evident transfer in self-awareness, proving that the public figure no longer puts themselves before all others and their responsibilities as a figurehead.

A good apology speech establishes the public figure’s future role. The goal of Edward VIII’s statement is to provide a defense that will allow him to receive positive treatment as the first ex-king. No one has filled this role before, thus he must define his future role, and hope that the Parliament, royal family, and the British people will accept his decision and treat him with respect in the future. He attempts to receive their graces by complimenting the comfort provided by his family and the kind treatment from the Parliament and the British people. He blesses his brother as new king. However, he neither addresses his future role directly nor explains why he should be treated well.

Clinton gives a list of his actions going forward in “I Have Sinned:” instructing his lawyers to prepare a “vigorous” defense, continuing to change his behavior for the better, and increasing his focus on leading the country and fighting for worldwide peace and freedom. Although the first point is mainly self-driven and hurts his argument, he reasserts his devotion to the people’s goals.

Edward VIII undermines his commitment by saying, “I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden.” By using the word burden he implies he saw his opportunity to serve the people as an unwanted, negative obligation. A good speech needs to be explicit, providing an action plan of steps going forward that will be taken to make a change. The apology speech is only a promise, but proof comes from action. The speech needs to provide an action plan going forward that the figure must be held accountable to do to prove they are attempting to change their behavior.

The petitioner needs to be self-aware, show genuine understanding and regret from their mistakes to prove that the lesson has been learned, and that their behavior will change in the future. Overall, Tiger Woods had the best speech, addressing elements of an effective apology. He set the stage to continue his career; however, he must hold to his commitment through his actions. The others failed in that they did not prove they were aware of their egocentric nature and take responsibility for their behavior. A good apology speech includes an acknowledgement of past mistakes, ability to genuinely admit fault, and a plan of action going forward to solidify the future role of a political figure.