The Candidate Who Wins the Communication Wars
Congratulations to all of us! We made it through the longest Presidential
Primary season in history! Finally, after months of politics and pundits we have arrived at not only a New Year, we have arrived at the dawn of the Presidential Primary season.
Prior to the Bush-Gore race, the taller candidate had lost only twice in history.
The consequences of a media campaign have changed the dynamics of perceived advantage. Being the taller candidate is no longer the statistical advantage that it once was for the taller candidate.
Because I look at the world through a communication lens, I ask you to come with me as I look at the primary race through the lens of communication.
I believe that I can successfully make the argument that both Gore and Kerry lost NOT because of their political expertise, but rather because of their poor communication skills. In 2008, it’s not a matter of who the better candidate is, it’s a matter of which candidate presents themselves as the better candidate.
Ten Tips to watch in any debate, sound bite, or interview:
1. Who uses humor well
Humor is a ticking time bomb for any speaker. It is a special dilemma for a candidate. If the candidate uses no humor, he or she comes across as dour. If they use humor inappropriately, they can look like the bully or just insensitive. On the other hand, the rewards of using humor well are just too tempting to pass up. In an earlier debate this year, John Edwards tried to use humor about the color of Hillary’s jacket. It failed and he looked like a bully.
Rudy tried to add humor to his humorless persona by taking planned cell phone calls from his wife during speeches.
2. Who presents self as most knowledgeable but not brainy
No one liked the smartest kid in the class. The kid who knew everything and reminded everyone. We want and need our President to be intelligent, the smartest kid in the class. We just don’t want him or her to act like it.
3. Who presents self as most likable
One of the reasons why Ronald Reagan was so popular is that voters thought they would like to have a beer with him. A likable guy to spend time with. Although the vast majority of voters would never meet him, they thought they would like him if they ever did. Why do we like some people? Why do we like some more than we like others? The likeability factor can be fickle, but it is tried and true.
4. Who says more than the same repetitive mantras
5. Non verbal match the verbal, meaning their face and their words agree
During the last campaign, there was a joke that John Kerry’s words forgot to tell his face that they were funny. When the face does not match the words, the audience believes the face not the words. Look for the match between the two to find the believable candidate.
6. Who is comfortable using gestures
Al Gore’s own Secret Service detail named him sawhorse due to his use of wooden gestures. Look for the candidate that is comfortable using gestures, the candidate who is comfortable in his or her own skin. Another way to look at it is to look for the candidate whose gestures are not getting in the way of their message.
7. Don’t have to be as young as JFK, but they can’t look dead
due to high definition TV and plasma, we now see candidates closer than ever, closer than we want to see them. If Hollywood actors are concerned about these 21st century close-ups, imagine what they do to 60 year olds?
8. Candidates that actually say something
Voters want to hear substance.
9. Candidates who stay on message– if they spin, if they don’t answer the actual question that was asked and spin to another aspect or topic, they need to do so artfully or the audience won’t accept it. Look for candidates who actually answer questions asked.
10. Who can carry the weight
Although these are serious times, and the candidates are talking about serious topics, they need to be able to do so with a grace and ease. The presidency itself ages Presidents. We don’t want to see the burden too heavy even before they take office.
The primary season like a baseball season is long. While every win does not seem to count in 100 games, we never know which one will make the difference in the end of the season. So watch every debate, every sound bite, every interview. You never know which one will make the difference at the end of the season.