The most accurate way to predict reaction to a debate is to watch it with the sound turned off.
James Fallows, When Donald Meets Hillary: Who will win the debates? Trump’s approach was an important part of his strength in the primaries. But will it work when he faces Clinton onstage?
For example, Nalini Ambady, a researcher at Tufts University, shows that when people watch 30-second soundless clips of real physician-patient interactions, their judgments of the physician’s niceness predict whether or not that physician will be sued.
Even more dramatic, Alex Todorov at Princeton has shown us that judgments of political candidates’ faces in just one second predict 70 percent of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial race outcomes
Amy Cuddy, from her TED Talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
We make such very quick evaluations. When I see a new reporter on our local news station, I pretty much decide if I will like his/her reporting in the very first seconds of the very first time I see them work. I suspect that I am not alone in this…
I teach my students to watch a speaker they like with the sound turned off. The operative word is “watch.” Watch their eyes, their facial expressions, their body language, their movements.
We can bemoan this reality – that people make snap evaluations — all we want, but it will not change anything. We have to acknowledge the reality that people make such snap evaluations, and they make them not just on what is spoken, but on all other aspects of the communication encounter.
And, among other things, this means that we have to watch ourselves. We need to record ourselves when we give presentations (just hand your SmartPhone to a friend to record you – that way it is on your phone). And then, get serious about looking evaluating yourself as a speaker/presenter. Watch it three times:
#1 – Watch yourself fully – watch and listen – in other words, watch yourself with the sound turned on. My recommendation – watch yourself on a bigger screen. And pay attention to much: do your words match your facial expressions and gestures? Are you speaking clearly? Have you avoided “filler words” (like “uhs & ums & …”)? Do you speak with effective vocal variety, verbal punch, and voice inflection? Do you avoid the dreaded monotone?
#2 – Now, watch yourself with the sound turned off. Think about: are you physically engaging? Are you making good eyeball-to-eyeball contact with audience members? Does your body look energetic – can you see your passion about your subject as you watch yourself speak?
#3 – Don’t watch yourself; just listen to yourself. Listen without watching. Just listen for the words – are you clear; is your message easy to grasp, easy to understand? Are you good at explaining things?
You might even want to ask a friend (or, hire an expert) to watch your presentation and make recommendations. They will likely see what you missed, and the best will know what to look for, and can make tangible “this will make you a better speaker/presenter” recommendations.
Speaking well is a skill to work on, and work on, and work on. You can’t possibly get as good as you want to or need to without recording yourself, and doing some serious after-speaking reviews and improvements – over and over again!