As an image consultant who often works with professionals, I strongly believe in the coupling of image and branding as part and parcel of an effective ‘presence’. An important aspect of personal branding is one’s communication style. This includes areas like body language, gestures, demeanor, eye contact, poise, perceived level of command and more. A great example of how this can play out in a professional context is last week’s presidential debate between Governor Romney and President Obama.
I think this particular debate was particularly interesting in terms of the candidates’ respective styles and I think it played a more significant role accordingly. The President’s demeanor was cautious, safe and not as commanding as he is capable of. I had the privilege of appearing on a TV segment the day after the debate on WUSA 9 (clip to come!) to comment on the topic of Presidential debate style.
In my opinion, Romney won.
One of the points I made was that the President did not show a lot of ‘presence’. In fact he had a diminished presence. Governor Romney by contrast came on swinging hard: lots of energy, “spirited”, often facing the President with strong eye contact, making more deliberate hand gestures, and on the offensive with his arguments.
I did not care for Romney’s forced attempt at humor or the strange “smirk” he seemed to have on his face, but it’s hard to deny that he did convey strength, passion and command. His eye contact when countering the President’s arguments was aggressive but effective and served to highlight Obama’s lack of eye contact. In fact, the President looked down at his notes quite a bit which in effect broke eye contact with viewers and his opponent. This is not an effective use of body language in this format and only served to make him appear passive and/or nervous. To be frank, at times he looked plain tired.
In terms of attire, Governor Romney’s red diagonal striped tie worked really well for him and reinforced his persona that night. Obama’s mostly solid blue tie was a safe choice which actually reinforced his much lower energy that evening. I wish he had opted for some red in his tie.
The President is normally very engaging, commanding and well, Presidential. He did not effectively convey these traits last Wednesday.
For the next debate, if the President can bring his natural charm and wit, coupled with the passion, command and cool he typically has and his gift of gab, grounded in strong arguments, he will trump on style and substance as he is well capable of doing.
Read my posts last election on campaign style: Presidential Campaign 2008: First Lady Style, Style of Women on the Presidential Campaign Trail 2008, Our New President, Michelle Obama and her Red Victory Dress.