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How Do You Listen?

03 Oct 08
Michelle Cubas
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Coach Cubas’ Debate Post-Mortem—What Can We Learn?

The vice-presidential program ended with a huge sign of relief for the Republicans and Democrats. My comments will reflect tactics and technique rather than my personal comments about the candidates.

This program didn’t resemble typical debate format:
“Debate topics are worded so that one team must succeed and one team must fail or in a draw. They must meet the requirements of the proposition.”

Violation of Rule 10—Any gains made outside of the established procedure are disallowed.
What does it say about a participant who denies the rules. Just to declare that one will answer in her own way was defiant, a tone that later led to Palin’s inability to “hear” what was going on around her as she was fed to the “lions” of blame for a failed campaign.


  • Good use of direct into the camera focus by Palin
  • Biden changed his vocal tone throughout
  • Histrionics—Overstatement, overacting, exaggerated responses like inflections
  • Clichés—sound bites ad nauseum, finger pointing
  • “Over speak”—reminds me of students who learn “big” words to sound smart.
  • Inappropriate word choices like, “You betcha . . .”, to sound folksy instead of connecting on a genuine level
  • Insulting references—defining population segments like Joe 6 Pack and Hockey Moms. These sounded like caricatures out of South Park.
  • Opportunistic moves
  • Spelling bee stature (Chris Matthews’ reference)
  • Staged interview rather than a lively discussion of issues. Waiting to speak rather than an authentic response.

To assist you in planning your next speech or presentation, consider these sample references:

  1. Remember, if you’re listener-centric, you’ll always hit your target.
  2. Give the listener time to process what is being said.
  3. Visual references and metaphors are useful tools to paint mental pictures (memory anchors)
  4. Write the end of your presentation first and work it back. That’s what you want the audience to take away.
  5. Speak in a conversational tone—your listener will appreciate your reaching out to make a connection.

Any questions? Please send me an email if you’re building an idea for a speech or presentation.

Your coach,
Michelle Cubas
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