Media Trainers Weigh In on Biden vs. Ryan

Politics aside, there were plenty of points of differentiation in presentation and messaging in the Oct. 11 debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.

For communications coach Karen Friedman of Karen Friedman Enterprises, Biden did what his boss should have done: He challenged and refuted his opponent’s points and spoke with passion and conviction. "Unlike the president, he came out swinging as opposed to backing into his answers," says Friedman. 

Andy Gilman, CEO of CommCore Consulting, says Joe Biden went beyond addressing President Obama's shortcomings in his Oct. 3 debate with Mitt Romney. "Biden did what he's always done well—he strongly defended the president," says Gilman. "Sometimes with surrogates, they do a better job of articulating their principal's convictions than the actual principals—and sometimes, that happens in the corporate world as well." 

Gilman says, however, that neither Biden nor Ryan was as successful in getting his points across as Romney had been. "It was a bit more of punch/counter-punch debate than the presidential debate," says Gilman. "It was harder for either candidate to do as Romney did because of their opponent's strong opposition—both candidates articulated their views and showed that there was a strong contrast between their positions. Biden, however, scored on some of the points that Obama decided not to." 

In the split-screen view on CNN, Biden was often seen rolling his eyes and smiling or laughing, as if Ryan's responses were outrageous and beyond belief—which was exactly his intent. Gilman says he once had a client who engaged in a debate with a consumer advocate on a morning talk show. Gilman instructed his client to, whenever he heard things that weren't true, shake his head to get the moderator to come back to him. "You have to do something to indicate to the public that those items aren't true," says Gilman

Ryan was also right on message and had no trouble challenging and contradicting Biden, says Friedman. "But he did not offer quite as many examples to humanize information and bring it home to the voter," says Friedman. "A number of his answers were also a little too long, which can dilute the message."

Friedman and Gilman agree that both candidates fared well, remaining composed and hitting their policy substance points, but Friedman says Biden was more animated, passionate and slightly better prepared. Overall, Biden controlled the debate, according to Friedman and Gilman. 

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg

Andy Gilman and Karen Friedman will share "Media Training Do’s and Don'ts" at PR News' November 30 Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C.  


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  • Danya Bushey

    I am shocked that both of these experts gave Biden a 3 (which I would assume to be “average” on a scale of 1-5) for body language, and that one scored him higher than Ryan in this category. Body language includes facial expressions and the VP’s continuous smirking, eye-rolling and laughing made him seem haughty, smug, disrespectful and contemptuous. Is this how he would treat an allied international leader, or better yet, one of our “frenemies” on the international front? Would it be appropriate for the CEO of a company to treat another CEO in that manner during a business meeting? You both missed the mark on this particular line item.

  • Nicole

    Ah, but that strategy landed Obama in the “loser” category for the previous debate. It’s playing out just as anyone could have predicted – Republicans think Biden was “smug,” and Democrats thought he came out swinging and delivered the performance (and it is, in all reality, a performance) that the President should have given the week prior.