Last week, I wrote about what the first presidential debate can teach public speakers. This time around, I decided to switch gears a bit and consider the vice presidential debate with an eye toward those in Guns-land who are currently (or hoping to be) interviewing for gigs. Because I found myself traveling home via NJ Transit during the debate itself, I was forced to follow the whole thing on Twitter using a CNN hash tag. But being left to my devices gave me a great perspective on what TV audiences found most affecting, effective, distracting, and annoying – much of it focusing on Joe Biden and Paul Ryan’s presentational styles. When it was all said and done, I came away with four themes interviewees can learn from.
1. Laughter is Not Always the Best Medicine
Though some people found it a refreshing change of pace compared to last week’s dour presidential debate, most people — myself included — were put off by Biden’s constant smiling, smirking, and laughing. I don’t mind his interruptions so much, and some level of expressive dismay is to be expected, but laughing? It seemed forced and over the top. Worse yet, Biden was laughing and smiling during discussion of very serious and distressing topics. Someone clearly told the Vice President this tactic would diminish Senator Ryan’s points and stature, but it mostly made Biden seem pompous, dismissive and disrespectful, not just to Ryan, but to the issues.
Take this into your job interview: Don’t let tactics get in the way of your natural style. Read your audience (in this case, the hiring manager or recruiter) and don’t stray too far from their level of intensity, seriousness, or irreverence. Always be as serious as your topic is.
2. Don’t Drink to That
The Twitter-verse also had a field day with — of all things — Ryan’s thirst. They talked constantly about his many sips of water. What this demonstrates is that the water was a distraction, and, worse, it brought up associations to nervousness and anxiety. Generally, you want as few things between you and your audience as possible – whether it’s a lectern, a table, a microphone, or a glass of water.
Take this into your job interview: I’m not saying “don’t hydrate!”, but be careful about attempts to calm yourself that actually convey anxiety. For Ryan, it was sip after tiny sip of water. For you, it may be clasping your hands, fiddling with a pen, or putting your palms on a table.
3. Points Matter
In the re-tweeted quotes game, Biden beat Ryan hands down. As I looked at the RTs, a pattern was clear: precise, clear, pointed statements ruled the night. In class, I call these “passion points.” Leaving out the zingers, Biden had more moments of concise singular clarity when it came to leaving Afghanistan, reproductive rights, and taxes.
Take this into your job interview: Always know your points, and deliver them with strength, volume, and clarity. During an interview, you’ll never have to be thematically all over the map like debate candidates are, so focus on your thesis: what’s the big point you’re trying to make and how would you say it straight into a camera? Had Biden stammered his way through them, we wouldn’t be talking about them today. If you stammer your way through the interview, you can bet he or she won’t be talking about you the next day, either.
4. Real Beats Fake
Biden may have been condescending and downright bully-ish, but the tweeters gave him credit for being authentic, down to his “malarkey” and “gates of hell” comments. Ryan, on the other hand, sometimes came off to many tweeters as “over-rehearsed” and “artificial.” In a battle of real-but-flawed vs. flawless-but-soulless, the former is always preferable. Audiences crave a human connection to speakers, and will choose a human who stumbles over a robot who recites pre-recorded points every time.
Take this into your job interview: Be yourself — just your strong, confident self. Don’t try to imitate another speaker you admire, don’t try to give the answer you think the interviewer wants to hear, and don’t do anything that feels unnatural. It’ll show.
Joel Schwartzberg is our resident expert on presentations and public speaking. Visit The Hired Guns Academy to take his class or book him as a private coach.