Many of us will be voting in the presidential primaries over the next week, and the Democratic presidential candidates just completed their last debate before Super Tuesday. EMS watched the seven candidates on stage, and hereby offer our general impressions of the speaking and presentational styles of each. Here they are, in random order:
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Amy shows that she has worked VERY hard to succeed in these debates and in her media opportunities. She practices her lines exceedingly well, and her quips, jokes and other memorable lines have been consistently well-timed and on-target. Her voice is, frankly, challenging. She speaks at a consistently loud volume, almost in a monotone that doesn’t effectively punctuate her words. We saw her interviewed by Bill Maher on HBO, and he seemed frustrated that she sounded stuck to her campaign slogans and wouldn’t just have a conversation with him. Sen. Klobuchar’s voice projects easily; we’d suggest that she speak more quietly at times, so we get the impression that she’s speaking with us instead of campaigning.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete is a talented young politician. At age 37, he was born while we were still in college, which seems like last week. We think he is a rising star who speaks clearly, sounds authentic, and shows a high degree of self-confidence. His calm demeanor works well for him, though we’d like to see a bit more energy and bigger gestures. We’re not quite seeing his can-do attitude come through—people may be able to relate to him better if he didn’t seem so squeaky-clean.
Steyer, one of the two billionaires on stage, is an interesting candidate who has been around since the beginning even though no one gives him a serious chance. He’s hanging in there to make his points, which appear to be well-rehearsed. His challenge: he uses a repetitive speaking rhythm to emphasize words (de-DAH, de-DAH, de-de-DAH, de-DAH), all delivered at the same volume, that almost overpowers the words themselves. He’s also pretty stiff—he needs to loosen up and show a bit more personality.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
As the newcomer to this stage, you’d think Bloomberg would be ready to make a big impression on viewers. Unfortunately, he simply doesn’t bring any energy to his presentation. He looks stiff and scared during the debates, seeming to keep one hand clamped to the podium for safety. Given that the other candidates have not exactly welcomed him into their midst, he’s not able to generate a lot of enthusiasm, often sounding defensive and even a little confused. We also noticed he tried to tell a joke, but it didn’t land well. Be careful with those, folks! He did look and sound much more comfortable during CNN’s town hall, a format that he admitted works better for his style.
Vice President Joe Biden
Biden may be the best storyteller of the group, but that doesn’t always lend itself to the debate format, which is why he appears to struggle. His core message seems to be that Biden = Obama, and to communicate that he overuses the pronouns “I” and “we” in claiming credit for all of the accomplishments of their administration. Joe has clearly tried to raise his intensity and energy levels as this campaign has gone on, but unfortunately this means he frequently raises his volume to an 11. According to one pundit, “he turned his outrage meter way up.” But the town hall format brings out the Vice President’s best communication tools: his empathy, his likable personality, and his humor. We think that’s because he feels comfortable using his ‘indoor’ voice.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Bernie overcomes several fundamental issues—his hunched shoulders, his heavy New York accent that often obscures words, repetitive arm gestures, and generally poor eye contact—with a simplicity that endears him to many. Sen. Sanders has consistently shown an ability to bring all topics back to his core points. His ideas are big, usually stated in very simple terms that strike the right tone. He sticks closely to topics that can be summed up in a few thoughts, and avoids the more complex ones. Can you explain to us how you will pay for Medicare-for-All, Senator? Sanders’ answer: “How many hours do you have?”
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Warren does many things well as a presenter. She’s very smart, and skilled at explaining complex concepts. She has a great technique that she often uses for answering questions—she gives a quick short answer and then explains her reasoning afterwards. She sounds very passionate, and seems very comfortable expressing that passion in front of crowds. Something for her to work on: we notice her tendency to use a repetitive and almost-frantic tone that can be a turn-off. When she gets more conversational, as when she talks about her teaching career and her decision to get into politics, she becomes a better presenter.
Clearly, presenters can learn many things from this particular group of candidates. But you can also see that almost anyone can become even more effective by learning a few new techniques. Please let us know your thoughts on how presenting skills are affecting this campaign season.