Learning from Marco Rubio's Disastrous Debate Performance
February 15, 2016 by Bill Rosenthal

If you saw the Republican debate that aired the Saturday before New Hampshire's primary, you know the meaning of "discomfort." Watching Governor Chris Christie eviscerate Senator Marco Rubio was anxiety-making, no matter who you support. According to the New York Times:

Mr. Christie had instructed the audience to listen for what he dismissively called the memorized 25-second speech,” adding, with a twist of the knife, that it was exactly what his advisers gave him.” 

When it was his turn to reply, Mr. Rubio — inexplicably — seemed to fulfill Mr. Christie’s prediction, repeating the main idea of that same memorized-sounding speech about Mr. Obama. Almost word for word.

Anybody can make a mistake, but the mistakes you make when you’re presenting yourself onstage can be difficult to recover from. This is not a political blog, and I don’t want to discuss the merits of Rubio’s policy positions. But Communispond’s Executive Presentation Skills® program helps individuals develop, refine, and deliver powerful presentations to groups of any size. I wanted to share some points from that program that may be too late to benefit Senator Rubio but could be helpful to you in your next high-stakes event.

  1. First, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your high-stakes moment is entirely about the message. You, as the presenter, are every bit as important as the message, maybe more so. You may fall in love with a particular phrasing and come to believe that the words themselves are persuasive. They aren’t. The audience doesn’t care if your bullet points are artful. What they want to know is whether they can trust you, whether you can deliver on your promise, what your promise means to them right now. They learn the answers by evaluating you as a person.
  2. Second, don’t memorize a script. Whether you write your own speeches or rely on a speech writer, don’t plan on delivering your message word for word. Memorizing a script is a great way to film a television commercial but a lousy way to prepare for a live, high-stakes presentation of yourself. Use your script to rehearse your posture and gestures. Read it to yourself in a mirror. Make an outline of it. But then reduce the outline to its major points, and deliver the presentation from those alone. In other words, you can read your script to yourself, your family, your friends, and your pets. Just don’t try to memorize it. Your audience wants to be persuaded of your competence, confidence, and trustworthiness, and they want to know what you can do for them. They don’t care how well you memorize.
  3. Third, focus on your audience rather than yourself. Your role as a persuader is that of a facilitator. The actual persuasion is performed by the people being persuaded. There’s no magic. Understanding that people aren’t persuaded by you so much as they persuade themselves is one of the keys to a successful presentation of your message.
  4. Finally, get the help of experts. Communispond’s Executive Communication Coaching program has advised thousands of executives on techniques for presenting themselves in high-stakes situations. If you have such a situation on your calendar, don’t try to prepare for it alone. Give us a call. We can schedule you for a complimentary 30-minute session that will introduce you to Communispond’s Coaching program.