Last night, many witnessed the final Presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle. I was not among the many. As my twitter feed filled with 'expert' commentary about body language, fact checking, and victory declarations, I drove back to Dallas after an all day speech training with our newest client. So, I went old school- I listened on the radio. It allowed me to focus on the "45 percent" of communication (Albert Mehrabian, 1971) that has been forgotten among the experts- the voice and the message. This was a good reminder that what someone says and how they say it DOES actually play a role in who wins the debate. With that in mind, here are my conclusions:

  1. Obama has an incredible voice and he commands it well. In the past, he's been guilty of consistent 'verbal vomit' (um, uh, you know, I mean) when not in front of a teleprompter. This round, he eliminated it almost completely. The combination of his God given vocal resonance, volume, pacing, and fluency resulted in a uniquely confident presentation. Obama was at his best.
  2. Romney's voice has never carried the strength of Obama, but in the last debates his posture, gestures, expressions and God given facial structure (Odhorov) have created a persona of authenticity and authority. When focusing on the voice, however, he reveals a lack of confidence in his information and a has tendency to raise his pitch when he's struggling.
  3. The topic: It was clear that foreign policy was not seen by either party as the major voting issue. Both candidates sought ways to move back to domestic policy as often as possible. Romney's framing of the issues mimics the legendary Clinton strategy against Bush 41. "It's about the economy stupid." (Carville)
  4. Obama has the incumbent advantage on foreign policy, but his willingness to move away from the 'high position' tells me that his team feels he's losing in the most important battle- the economy- and he must address it.
  5. If there were major policy differences in foreign policy between the two candidates, it was difficult to discern. They found ways to disagree, but overall it seemed like the debate on foreign policy was centered around "you said this," "no I didn't." At the end of the day, foreign policy was revealed as a non-voting issue.
  6. Obama successfully employed a number of rhetorical tools that Romney lacked. He made a strong emotional connection with his story of "Payton" who lost her father at 4 years old on 9/11. Obama then contrasted her closure after Bin Laden was killed with Romney past opinion that Obama should have sought Pakistan's permission. My personal favorite, however, was when he said that Romney had a foreign policy from the '80's, a social policy from the '50's, and an economic policy from the '20's. Brilliant play.

These debates target a very small number of people. If you haven't decided, you aren't voting on real policy issues (you probably aren't anyway). You are voting on confidence, delivery, and presentation. While I hear the body language told a far different story, the verbal and messaging component of this debate was a clear victory for Obama.