While awaiting the bleating of the punditocracy on both sides of the political spectrum, here are a few quick points that any corporate leader (from start-up founder to multinational CEO) can take away from the recent U.S. Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. 1. Passion is priceless: Passion is a necessary pre-condition for any conversation in which one party must convince another of an idea. In the first debate President Obama came across as listless and disengaged. As I’ve said to countless execs over the years as we prepared for media meetings, if you don’t seem all that interested in what you’re saying, why should your audience devote any effort to listening to you? Passion, well-focused, is priceless and you must work hard to draw your audience (reporter, financial analyst, the American electorate) into your story and make them feel your energy and spirit. In the VP debate, both Biden and Ryan seemed to have a better grasp of this notion than Obama or Romney and projected engagement and enthusiasm for the event. 2. There is no substitute for preparation: Again, Biden and Ryan were well-equipped and well-prepared. The flow of the debate was smooth and each managed to assert his position in context (for the most part) which is a usually a sign of good preparation and the sort of mental relaxation and agility that solid preparation produces. In the presidential tilt, Obama was a shambling mess. He may have had his facts at hand but couldn’t call them up in an efficient or convincing manner. The received perception of the President as utterly unprepared for the event was the single great take-away of the evening and is demonstrated in his slipping poll numbers today. Romney started out well -- you knew he had worked hard on the whole “five point plan” approach -- but he grew shrill over time and began to force-feed his various positions into every question, regardless of context. Frankly, I’d chalk that up to Governor Romney getting a little too excited over his good fortune, as if he were a prize-fighter who, with each passing round, grows to realize that his opponent seems to have been training on a strict Twinkies-and-beer regimen.
3. Read the room early and often: It's vital for an exec or candidate to know precisely to whom he or she is speaking. One benefit of being able to "read the room" effectively is to quickly assess how much re-direction one can credibly deploy. In a debate the gating factor is the moderator. Jim Lehrer lost control early and Gov. Romney, especially, ran roughshod over him. Martha Raddatz was a far tougher customer and limited Ryan and Biden's attempts to take-over the debate agenda. This type of stylistic disparity is evident in most media and analyst meetings, too. It's incumbent upon execs to know the personality and professional demeanor of their "interrogator" in advance and work within that frame to get their point across effectively.