In The News: Las Vegas GOP Debate

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Analyzing impromptu speaking is something that fascinates me, and the most recent GOP debate, hosted by Anderson Cooper in Las Vegas, was a tremendous display of public speaking strengths and weaknesses.  As a passionate public speaking and presentation instructor, I analyze their verbal and nonverbal communication to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.  Let’s see how they fared:

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MITT ROMNEY

Strengths: Approximately 30 minutes into the debate, Romney put a steadying hand on Rick Perry’s shoulder to quiet him.  This could be seen a gesture of leadership and fatherly guidance (see below).  Romney used ethos well to place himself in a position of authority and Perry in a position of inferiority.  For example, at one point, Romney told Perry, “If you plan on becoming the President of the United States, you need to let people speak” (I’m paraphrasing, of course).  Romney always looked other candidates in the eye while they were speaking and positioned his body toward candidates as a sign of interest and respect.  While he was answering questions, he looked at Anderson Cooper in the eye.  Overall, his nonverbal communication was sincere and interested.  He speaking voice was even-keel and even-tempered as opposed to loud and brash.  He kept his cool on many personal questions such as his religion.

Weaknesses:  At one point, Romney put a hand on Rick Perry’s shoulder to quiet him.  This could be a patronizing gesture (see above).  His back-and-forth with Perry elicited boos from the audience and awkward comments from mediator Anderson Cooper.  Physically, his hair looked too slick and greasy as well as overdyed black.  This did make him look younger, but it also made him look as if he were a cast member on The Jersey Shore.  Romney did appear to stumble when addressing an issue directly to Herman Cain.  This made him appear afraid of hesitant to turn and face his fiercest opponent (well, according to the polls).

HERMAN CAIN

Strengths:  Cain did a tremendous job of hand gestures and facial expressions; these both matched his tone.  He displayed confidence and leadership with his professional attire and Hollywood good looks.  Cain does a lot of open-posture movements including hand gestures to punctuate his words.  He had very effective nonverbal communication.

Weaknesses:  Cain seemed the most shaken up when responding to Ron Paul.  Again, this can appear that Cain is intimidated by Paul.  While I have the least weaknesses to report on Cain, I also have only a few strengths.

RICK PERRY

Strengths:  Perry addressed opposing candidates by their first names, and this made him seem more friendly and conversational with his opponents (see below).  He had fierce nonverbal communication that was very strong and pronounced.  Perry talked more to Romney than the camera or audience, so this showed he was really ready for a debate in the truest sense of the word.

Weaknesses:  Perry received quite a lot of boos from the audience.  His outfit choice made him looked a little washed out, and his hair was slightly disheveled.  Perry’s ethos wasn’t well defined, as he only talked about his experience in Texas.  Again, he turned to profile too often, so we only saw half of his face and body instead of looking face onto the audience/camera with open posture.  Perry often uses one hand to gesture and uses the other hand to clamp onto the podium, so this steadying hand could be a sign of insecurity or weakness.  Perry was often TOO conversational with opponents.  He delivered this cringe-inducing line: “Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something…” (see above).

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RON PAUL

Strengths: Paul’s go-to word is “individual,” and he uses it enough that we know where he stands but not so much that it becomes bothersome or repetitive.  Paul’s answers were logical and grounded in history, so he had strong logos.  He received much applause and positive reinforcement from the audience.  He was extremely animated and excited when speaking.  After the debate, Paul remained at his podium, and the other candidates came over to shake his hand.  This shows, nonverbally, that other candidates respect and admire him.

Weaknesses:  Paul did appear old and diminutive standing next to other candidates.  His ill-fitted suit jacket was too large for him, which isn’t good when Paul is already physically shorter than all of the other GOP presidential candidates.  He often speaks too quickly and can work to slow down to emphasize his points more effectively.  Paul hunched over and grabbed the podium with both hands, and with his tired appearance, this was not a good nonverbal communication technique.

MICHELE BACHMAN

Strengths:  Bachman effectively used a lot of pathos and storytelling.  She spoke into the camera to all of the mothers and women of America and used emotion to convey her meaning.  Bachman’s storytelling examined what happened in the future and over the past week.  She used quite a few quotable phrases (see below).

Weaknesses:  Bachman repeatedly yelled “Anderson!” to the mediator while both Romney and Gingrich were speaking.  She was rarely seen on camera but was heard a lot.  Bachman’s slicked-back hair was wound tightly into a bun, and she wore a white, military-style outfit that was powerful but made her look rigid and uncomfortable.  Her fake nails were too long.  I much prefer Bachman with her hair down and wearing pearls and a darker suit jacket ensemble as seen in her Wikipedia photo.  Her quotable phrases were grating at times, as it seemed she was simply trying to deliver the next one-liner instead of delivering strong content.  These quotables included “the cake is baked” (see above).  Her quoteable moments, at times, appeared too gimmicky and insincere.  Lastly, Bachman stopped speaking for applause.  Her point was lost because she was more concerned with the audience’s reaction to her than with her message.

NEWT GINGRICH

Strengths:  Gingrich also used storytelling effectively to communicate the vision of the American dream, and he compared “The American Dream” to the Latino-American community at one point.  His storytelling unified as opposed to divided.  His pathos was great when combined with his storytelling, and his ethos was strong because of his “wise owl”-like advice.  Gingrich’s hand gestures were sweeping and wide as if they applied to all audience members and people watching at home.  He was the only GOP candidate to plug his brand with a website shout-out (see below).

Weaknesses:  He held the podium with both hands quite often, so his nonverbal communication was slightly closed off and too nervous and stiff.  He was very pale with his white skin, white hair, and white shirt, so he looked sickly at times.  His hand gestures did become repetitive, and those repeated motions seemed like boring overkill.  The self-promotion (asking the audience to visit his website) could be a strength or a weakness depending on how good the content is…  He was the only one to plug his own brand (see above).

RICK SANTORUM

Strengths:  Santorum smiled a lot and showed his white teeth, so this was positive because it appeared friendly and warm.  He displayed great ethos when answering why he is the best GOP candidate for the presidential bid.

Weaknesses:  Santorum was very shaky and jerky when answering questions.  His hair was in disarray, and this linked back to his twitchy movements.  He appeared unable to even brush his own hair without jerking.  He was constantly interrupted by most of his debate opponents, so this could signal that no one takes him seriously.  His blue suit and blue tie with the blue background did not work for the forum.  Many of his answers were similarly as jerky as his nonverbal communication, and he relied heavily on “uh” and “ah” throughout his replies to questions.

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Best Looking: Herman Cain

Worst Looking: Ron Paul, Rick Santorum

Best Nonverbal Communication: Herman Cain, Mitt Romney

Worst Nonverbal Communication: Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry

Best Pathos and Storytelling: Michele Bachman

Best Logos: Ron Paul

Best Ethos: Mitt Romney

Audience Darlings: Ron Paul, Mitt Romney

Winning on Social Media During Debate: Herman Cain

*During the debate, Herman Cain received the most Twitter followers as well as the most mentions for GOP 2012 presidential candidate.  For example, Cain gained nearly 500 followers to Ron Paul and Mitt Romney’s nearly 200.  Trailing were Perry and Gingrich who didn’t break 100 new followers (Source).

If you’re more interested in the content of the most recent GOP Debate, see NPR’s fact-checking article here.

What did you think about the GOP debate?

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