Robert Mueller: Anatomy of a Failed Performance

Rob Morhaim is President of Morhaim Media Consulting based in Chicago.    Email:

Rob Morhaim is President of Morhaim Media Consulting based in Chicago.


Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill this past week, is a case study on how NOT to perform in public. Whatever your position on his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a post-hearing analysis showed that people on both sides of the aisle did agree on one thing: Mueller’s performance was poor. 

In my work training executives, athletes and celebrities on how to effectively communicate their message to a mass audience, Mueller proved that failing to perform well in front of an audience, can quickly and forever change what people think of you. Prior to the hearings, Mueller’s public perception was that of a tough, buttoned-up, confident G-Man. But it only took a few minutes of watching his performance to realize the perception did not match the reality of the person we were watching.

Here are three “Performance Don'ts” taken from Mueller's appearance along with tips for your next speech or presentation.  

Voice Projection

On numerous occasions, Mueller was off-mic, meaning his answers were not audible to committee members. On numerous occasions, lawmakers were forced to ask him to repeat what he was saying. Nothing loses an audience more quickly than not being able to hear what the speaker is saying. Being off-mic is a cardinal sin when you are the center of attention. As the picture shows, Mueller’s mic was positioned so far below his chin that it wasn’t picking up his voice as it should. Any person who is speaking with the use of a microphone needs to be aware of the microphone’s position relative to their mouth and how to project and amplify their voice without over-modulating. 

Poor Posture

A Marine Corps veteran, Mueller was trained to stand up straight and tall. But sitting at the witness table before both committees, notice his slouched shoulders; another performance no-no. Poor posture for any speaker or guest, communicates a lack of confidence and an unease to an audience. Mueller’s hunched shoulders also prevented him from projecting his voice and thereby losing the audience’s desire to receive his message. Good posture leads to strong projection. The two always go hand-in-hand. Mueller lacked both.

Halting Speech

Because of the sensitive nature of his answers, it’s understandable that Mueller would be careful with the wording of his answers. But Mueller’s failure was that his answers were inarticulate and halting. Even though we know Mueller has more than a full understanding of the facts, that communicates to an audience a less-than-expert grasp of his material. There’s a difference between carefully choosing one’s words and delivering halting and disjointed speech. If your name is on the report of a 2-year investigation, no matter how long it is, knowing how to condense its key messages to digestible, bite-sized nuggets is crucial. In addition, there seemed to be a lack of preparation in rehearsing his answers. For any business executive who appears on a panel, at a Q and A session, or giving a staff presentation, anticipating the questions and practicing your answers in advance, will help you better sell your message to the audience.

If Robert Mueller had been more aware of just these three simple points to effectively perform before an audience, the post-hearing discussion would be less about how poorly he looked and sounded, and more about how effective his delivery matched his message and his public persona. Mueller’s performance is cautionary tale for anyone preparing to communicate an important message before any audience.