3 Lessons from Senator Marco Rubio's Awkward Water Break

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I heard Senator Rubio’s response to Obama’s State of the Union on the radio yesterday with a friend who’s an NPR fanatic. Apparently there’s a video clip of Rubio taking a sip of water during his speech that has ignited a flurry of social media activity.

But what exactly makes the common act of sipping water so awkward? I watched the video multiple times to analyze.

Here are a few things we can learn.

1. Know when to break eye contact.

One big factor in the awkwardness is Marco Rubio’s intense eye contact.

Rubio looks creepy looking right at you as he lifts the bottle to his mouth, drinks it, and puts it down – all with a lingering stare. 

Watching someone open a jar of peanut butter would be weird if the person all of a sudden stopped talking but kept staring directly at you while twisting the Jiffy cap off.

 So briefly breaking and re-engaging the eye contact would have fixed this problem.

 The sequence of events should have gone like this:

 Rubio: “And nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones laid out by the President tonight.”

Pause.  Break eye contact to look at the water.

Get the water. Take a quick sip.

Re-engage eye contact with the audience.

Continue speaking: "The choice isn’t just between big business and big government. What we need is an accountable….“

2. Stay calm about pauses – and make them seem intentional even if they’re not.

Rubio looks afraid that the audience will walk away before he’s done drinking water. If you’re a senator on national television, try to appear confident about your presence. Don’t look uncertain, overly-eager, and rushed.

Worst of all, the pause and water sip look unintentional. If a pause is intentional, it can be powerful and make you seem more in control – not less.

3. Bend the rules slightly if you have to.

Rubio was likely trying to stick to a time limit for his speech. But taking a moment to sip his water calmly would have been worth the 3 second delay.

Also, it looks like Rubio didn’t want to take walk over to reach the water – perhaps the camera crew told him not to move too much.

So he leaned way out of the camera’s frame to get the water, and made the camera man follow him. It would have been better to take a quick step to get the water bottle, then resume his position.

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As a public figure, Rubio is probably an experienced speaker, so it’s a shame that he looked awkward.

He’s good-natured about it and even tweeted a picture of the Poland Springs water bottle – but I’m sure he’d rather be known for other factors in his speech.

Takeaway: Make sure that body language – such as eye contact, pausing, and reaching for something – doesn’t distract from your message or ruin the flow of an otherwise smooth delivery.

Photo credit: AP/NPR.org.

UncategorizedWes Kao