The Palin Debate – and the winner is…

Who won the debate? Actually, it wasn’t a contest really – it was Sarah Palin’s to win or lose.

And she won! Not perfect by any means, but she did what was essential to turn the tide of ridicule.

Oh, Joe Biden did fine, no gaffes and he talked as a man of experience. But Palin was at risk – it was hers to turn the tide.

Here’s what happened, and as we do in our training programs, I’ll do this with a 3×3 of Keepers and Improvements:

Palin – the communication experience of her performance in this debate:


  • She connected. She spoke to the people. She looked at the TV camera as if it was a person, and included Biden and Gwen Iffil in glances when appropriate. She even looks pleasant when she is attacking. She is likable and appears trustworthy. She smiles and is at ease – she is approachable. Her casual manner serves her well right now – even though not presidential. She looked like she was having fun – exhibiting the confidence of a leader.
  • Most importantly, Palin exceeded very low expectations. And she did it mightily. She did give some facts, figures and details – she did seem informed. There were no hesitations nor “ums” and “uhs.” And many people expected her to lose it under this pressure. She did far better. And when she talked about the need for “personal responsibility” both Democrats and Republicans responded at over the 90% level on the audience response meter.
  • In the past weeks’ interview clips that have been all over the media, Palin appeared vacant and lightweight. These were edited clips – and amplified by the very funny Tina Fey clips. In this unedited debate Sarah Palin held her own. She appeared smart and intelligent. She responded well to Gwen Iffil and Biden. She went a long way to wiping out the lightweight label.


  • She spins. In the parlance of politicians, the media and the speech experts – bridging is an essential quality of a good communicator. But as in any skill there are extremes. She is good at bridging, but is at the upper extreme as she avoided about a half dozen questions.
  • Palin is still too casual. It is a great communication quality as shown in ease, smile and informal language, but as she moves on she has to elevate. She has to lessen the contractions and increase multi-syllable words. She is no Margaret Thatcher, nor should she be, but she should watch a few of Thatcher’s tapes.
  • As great as her smile and likability, she still uses the ‘cute’ mode too much. She winked a couple of times and often has a ‘little girl’ nose scrinch-up (not sure how to describe it). She should outgrow it as she moves up in leadership.

Biden – the communication experience of his performance in this debate:


  • He was good. I hadn’t intended to analyze him in detail, but changed my mind. Most powerful was his detail and grasp of knowledge. You feel he could step right into the presidency.
  • Biden welled up. When he was talking about the tragedy in his family background he was very appropriate when his eyes teared up as he talked about his loss. This one moment alone hit a responsive chord in the audience and added to his likability.
  • He treated Sarah Palin just fine. A lot was made of his gruff manner, and what he might do to attack. Biden was very appropriate, civil and statesmanlike.


  • Biden talked in “senate speak” as one observer at my location observed. Too true – when he got into facts, figures, details and campaign cliches we glaze over.
  • He looked angry several times – not from expressing determined principles so much as getting on the edge of showing real emotional anger. Not good when compared to the unflappable Palin.
  • He looked at Gwen most of the time, and rarely looked at the TV camera as the audience. So those few times when he did address the camera, he looked like he was pitching us.

This debate was no game changer, but because of Sarah Palin’s performance, it keeps the McCain-Palin ticket in the game. And that’s going a long way from where it was before the debate.