Palin or Biden? Who Was More Persuasive?
I just finished watching the vice presidential debate, using my lens of understanding into the art of persuasion. Here are my initial impressions.
Palin moved rapidly towards Biden when she entered the stage. As she shook his hand, she said ‘Mind if I call you Joe?’ Had she stuck to calling him Joe, she might have been able to cast herself as his equal, at least to some degree, by stripping away much of his authority in the way she referred to him. But his deference to the ‘Governor’ made this hard for her to do without seeming disrespectful. She did try several more times to diminish his authority and get on equal footing with him, by talking about ‘how they talk in the senate,’ and comparing it with ‘straight talk,’ but her rambling answers and slogans lacked the clarity of straight talk.
Ironically, Palin talked with very few stumbles, but her sentences rambled, her grammar was all over the place, and her clearly stated slogans grew tiresome for me. While Biden’s speech pattern was loaded with stumbles, he clearly knew what he was talking about while he was talking about it, and was clear in his intent if not his phrasing. So I give the authority point to Biden.
Palin opened on the first question by making eye contact with the television viewer. Biden came out of the gate on his first answer looking down or at the moderator. I think I know why. Many people find it far easier to be authentic when they are talking to an actual person than when they are talking to technology. I’m guessing that for Palin it was easier to stick to the script by looking at the camera rather than an actual person. And Palin did her best to stick to the script. I’m guessing her handlers taught her that the combination of looking at the camera and following her script would allow her to be in control of herself on that stage.
Which was more persuasive? Well, Biden seemed to notice this, and changed his approach, so that as the evening unfolded, he leveraged off of the authentic attempt to talk to Gwen Ifill and then turned to the camera to keep that authenticity going. When Palin looked at Biden before talking, she seemed to wander, until she got back to the camera, at which point the scripted lines became available. I give the connection with the audience point to Biden.
Biden and Palin were both incredibly polite in this debate. How different Palin seemed compared to the fire breathing she performed at the Republican convention and on the stump. Biden, too, seemed subdued. He asked “May I stay on the topic?” This was disarming, and eliminated the danger of him seeming too agressive with a female candidate, something for which the McCain camp and likely the press would have jumped all over him.
Palin used lots of colloquialisms. “Darn right!” and “You betcha!” She was enthusiastic for at least the first 2/3s of the debate, but seemed to wind down and become less homey after the Iraq and Afghanistan discussions, in which she seemed clearly out of her element and in which Biden demonstrated some mastery of the topic.
Zingers: I give it to Biden. When talking about McCain’s healthcare plan, he called it a real “Bridge to nowhere.” And towards the end, he did the one thing I’ve been waiting for in these debates, and challenged the claim of straight talk that McCain and Palin continue to claim they provide.
One thing missing for me in this debate, and in the last one as well. It seems that these debaters are more focused on NOT taking the bait than on shaping the debate when the bait is offered. If it were me standing there, I’d be asking relevancy questions of my opponent non-stop, in order to throw him or her off script and raises questions in the mind of viewers. But then, that’s just me.
Overall, it looked like a debate of style vs substance. Palin didn’t provide much in the substance department, but did it with style, so she did better than we were all led to expect. And Biden’s “I’m Joe, and I’m one of you!’ style was understated, but he used it to underline plenty of substance, so I think he did better than Palin. At least that’s my initial take on it.
I refuse to watch the pundits dissect it all tonite. I wanted to do it for myself first. I hope you have done this for yourself too. Now, instead of talking head time, I’m going to watch my favorite show and think about having the ability to fly above it all, see what’s really going on, and swoop to the rescue in the nick of time.
Can’t wait to hear YOUR comments. What did you think of the debate from a persuasion standpoint? Were you persuaded? What persuaded you?
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.