Clear Comm Consulting

The lessons to be learned from a Presidential debate

Sep 1, 2004

For the purposes of this exercise, look at the race for the White House as a laboratory for you to learn about communication and message strategy. The Presidential debates are some of the greatest forums to do just that and, despite all the stage managing and limits on these events, they still reveal a great deal…sometimes more than the candidates would like!

The first debate in Coral Gables, Florida said as much about non-verbal communication as it did about anything else. There are examples on both sides.

What did President Bush communicate not when he was speaking, but when he was listening to John Kerry speak? You may have picked up the President frowning, at times looking as if he were frustrated or angry about what Kerry was saying. While that may indeed have been the case, I’m sure his handlers didn’t want the President looking as if he was about to loose his cool. On the other hand John Kerry, who has had trouble connecting with people while stumping across the country, seemed to get this part of the debate right. While he listened to the President, his facial expression left very little hint of anger or frustration. At a few points he even nodded at the President as if agreeing or listening intently.

If you are evermore about your message with non-verbal communication than you are with what you say.

How you dress, how you react and how you listen are often as important as anything else you do. People make judgments about you the moment you come into the room…long before you walk to the podium or start that power point presentation.

Watch the debates and the remaining election season with a sharp eye to the skills of candidates. You’ll learn things from all sides which you can use to make yourself a better communicator.

ClearComm Note: Watch for observations from one of America’s premier business communicators next month. I’ll be talking with “Swim with the Sharks” author Harvey MacKay about his keys to reaching audiences and making sure your messages sticks!

(Editor’s note: Cary Pfeffer is no blogger. He spent more than 20 years covering politics, government and presidential elections and has met and interviewed both President Bush and Senator Kerry. As for his voting history, Cary is and always has been a registered independent.)

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected].

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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