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Friday, September 21, 2012

Massachusetts Senatorial Debate 2012: Evaluation

Image: Brown/Warren Senate Debate Courtesy WBZ TV CBS Boston

I got this very interesting Massachusetts Brown/Warren Senatorial Debate analysis from The Speech Improvement Company via email this morning.

It linked to their website and an audio analysis, but there was no blog post that I could link to and share.

I look at emails like this as an opportunity to help, so I dropped them a note and suggested that best thing to do would have the text from the email on the same page as the audio. That would help with SEO.

They replied right away and agreed.

They've let me select parts of the email and post them here.

Here you go:
Massachusetts Senatorial Debate 2012: Evaluation

Dr. Dennis Becker, Laurie Schloff, and Monica Murphy of Brookline, Massachusetts-based The Speech improvement Company evaluated the candidates after watching the Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren Senatorial Debate 2012. During their podcast, which is available here,, Dr. Becker, Schloff, and Murphy rated incumbent Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and his challenger, Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren. 

Dr. Becker gave Senator Brown credit for the way he used the camera. “For example,” Dr. Becker said, “Every time he said ‘Your tax dollars’ or ‘All you union guys,’ he looked right into the camera and pointed. That was an excellent technique, and he used it very well.” He was, however, critical of “the snarky smirking” Scott Brown was doing. Dr. Becker thought that was demeaning to Brown’s opponent and diminished his own credibility by failing to show the proper respect for Warren. 

Murphy awarded Scott Brown a score of 63 (on a scale of 1 to 100). She found Brown’s “smirk” distracting, and “it affected some of my connection level with that speaker during the delivery.”

Schloff, who gave Senator Brown a score of 64 points, concurred with Dr. Becker and Murphy and added, “I’m wondering: Is being snide a useful strategy when your audience is the general public? What’s the goal here? You’re trying to get the independent voter, the swing voter, to vote for you. So did Scott Brown win any points when he was talking about Elizabeth Warren’s looks and he said she doesn’t look like a Cherokee? That felt uncomfortable. That was a terrible way to begin the debate. Does that tone of being negative and accusing the other person of not being truthful something that works?”

Senator Brown’s challenger, Elizabeth Warren, fared slightly better in the panelists’ evaluations. Murphy awarded Warren a score of 75 out of 100, and she explained, “I felt that Warren’s facial expression was more relaxing than Brown’s, and it was easier for me to connect with. It wasn’t out of control and over the top, but it seemed to match the intensity of her message.” 

Schloff gave Warren a score of 70, noticing a particular point about Elizabeth Warren: “I think she could use better skills when listening to bad things about herself. I found she had an open mouth, she looked wide-eyed, and sometimes, you could see her gulp.” Dr. Becker agreed, and added, “It seems to me that the best way to look if someone is saying bad things about you is straight at them with intensity, or maybe somewhat shaking your head no.”

All three panelists noticed that the candidates were nervous, particularly at the beginning of the debate, and sometimes appeared to forget that the camera was always on – even when the candidates were in the listening mode. Murphy explained, “Viewers are looking at the candidates to see how they’re taking a verbal attack. How are they thinking about their rebuttal yet staying engaged in the conversation? That factors into our positions as listeners.”

Schloff questioned what she perceived to be Senator Brown’s theme, or the one thing he wanted listeners to go away remembering. “Brown said ‘stop scaring women’ three times. That’s a curious phrase because what it implies is that women might need protection from being scared. Would you say stop scaring men?” she asked. She was more impressed with Elizabeth’s Warren’s theme which she heard as, “I’m not a politician. I’m working for the middle class.” 

Murphy, on the other hand, was somewhat distracted by the conflict between the candidates and wasn’t able to tune into the themes either candidate tried to convey. “The ways in which they were making their points felt uncomfortable. It didn’t seem consistent or concise. The language felt a little too aggressive, and I was so drawn by their tone of voice and the words they used that I couldn’t pull together what an exact theme was for either of them.” 

Dr. Becker summarized Elizabeth Warren’s theme in this way: “It would have to be that Scott Brown is running away from his voting record.” He also pointed out that Warren had an interesting debating technique. She said, “Well, let’s be clear” six times, and “Here’s how I see it” four times. Becker explained, “This is an attempt to say I’m easier to communicate with, and I will be clearer with you than the other guy.” Schloff called that strategy an attention getter. “As soon as the listener hears that, the listener tends to listen a little bit more closely to the next sentence,” she concluded.

The panelists agree that, because of her attitude and voice tone, Elizabeth Warren may have slightly won the debate as a deliverer. “But we’re not talking about politics,” Dr. Becker emphasized. “We are talking about the process by which these issues are debated.” 
Attribution: The podcast series produced by Brookline, Massachusetts-based The Speech Improvement Company

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