Defining Moments

“The Chinese symbol for adversity contains a symbol for opportunity. Therefore, adversity brings opportunity.”

– Anonymous

How do you rebound after 10 straight losses? Is it possible? Theoretically, yes.  Is it easy? Of course not. How do you do it? Stay in the game long enough to find your opportunity – and then seize the moment!

No doubt about it – Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is on a losing streak. You can not “spin away” 10 consecutive losses. You can not discount the outcome of some state elections  as “not that important.” A caucus or a primary? It doesn’t matter. A loss is still a loss.

But there is always tomorrow. Another opportunity. A chance to gain a foot-hold. A chance to debate. A chance to turn her ship around. A chance to turn adversity into opportunity.

All eyes will be on Austin, TX – the scene of the next Democratic Party Debate.

More precisely, the eyes of the camera will be focused on the eyes, the hands, the posture of the candidates. It is my opinion that the outcome of tomorrow’s debate will be determined more by style than substance. And specifically, I predict that the outcome will be determined by how Senators Clinton and Obama master their body language during the debate.

The audience will be “listening with their eyes.”

We will not require a political analyst to tell us who won the debate. We can throw away the scorecard that tallies points scored on policy matters. The only points that matter will be how the candidates react to each other. Non-verbal reactions to each other.

We will “listen with our eyes.” We will determine the winner based upon what we “hear with our eyes.”

My advice to Senators Clinton and Obama: Spend more time preparing your non-verbal communications than in polishing your 9-point policy positions. The outcome of this debate will be determined by what the audience sees!

This has been the case – at least since the first televised Presidential Debate in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon. The outcome was determined by a “close shave.”Future President Kennedy came across as a tanned, vigorous, confident leader. Then Vice President Nixon appeared to be hiding behind his “5 o’clock Shadow.”

Who can forget these images? Moments when non-verbal communication decided the outcome of the debate:

  • “Only 10 more minutes of this crap.”—President George H. W. Bush on what he was thinking as he checked his wristwatch on camera in the midst of a 1992 presidential debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. (Click here to read more about this from U.S. News and World Report.)
  • Mr. Gore sighed with deep impatience throughout the debate in an attempt either to distract George W. Bush in his answers to debate questions or influence the audience. Yesterday Mr. Gore blamed his behavior on the TV cameras. “Under the debate rules, we were told there was going to be no coverage of our reactions when the other guy was talking.” (Click here to read more about this from The Wall Street Journal)

These were defining moments. Who remembers what was said during those debates? Who remembers the messages that the candidates communicated? Who remembers the non-shave, the watch and the sigh?

We “listen with our eyes.”

As I write this article, the nomination is Sen. Obama’s to lose. I think that his performance in the Austin debate tomorrow night will be a defining moment. Here is a short extract from a non-partisan article that analyzes Obama’s performance during a debate with a very weak (and quirky) opponent – Alan Keyes:

In terms of the debate, Sen. Obama has the most to lose and the least to gain. Obama’s rhetorical abilities are well established and many voters have their impression of his personality already. These existent impressions positive, so a stellar performance at the debate won’t enhance the perception of him, but simply reinforce it. However, if he conducts himself out of character (and expectations are already pretty high for him), he runs the risk of disillusioning his rapidly growing base. In my opinion, the Senator has weaknesses that if exploited could make the debate and the ensuing political consequences very interesting…

Sen. Obama does not like to be pressed. When pressure is applied to him, he becomes visibly agitated. His eyes serve as a billboard for the anger he feels…his hand gestures border on hostile…his responses curt. His debates with Alan Keyes are telling…

(Click here to read the entire article and to watch the video.)

I will be “all ears” during tomorrow’s debate. I will be “listening with my eyes.” Let me know what you “hear.” Feel free to add your comments below.

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  1. This is a great entry and gives me a lot to think about. It also reminds me that earlier in the political season, NPR held the first radio only debate in like 40 years. The reporters were joking at how “relaxed” the candidates were — and singled out Obama especially. He apparently was the first to take off his jacket, slouched, had bad postured, was visibly bored, etc.! Guess he knows what to do when people are “listening with their eyes.”

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