3 Communication Tips Culled From Watching the Republican Candidates

Observing the presidential contenders in action (in debates and interviews) is an excellent opportunity to witness the impact of communication style.

You don’t need to be a political pundit to see that Republicans don’t like Mitt Romney. Just about every other Republican contender has, for at least a few weeks, challenged his front-runner status. Republican voters seem to want to find any alternative to this polished (too polished?) and articulate (as long as he’s debating and not responding to a media query) candidate. Voters are leery about his inconsistent positions on important issues. David Gergen, presidential advisor and CNN political analyst, observed in an article in Parade Magazine this past weekend, that Americans feel as if they don’t really know the candidate. He seems inauthentic and therefore not trustworthy.

Herman Cain suspended his candidacy yesterday after a non-stop series of women challenged his “holier than thou” image. Politicians’ personal lives shouldn’t sway our decisions about their competency to handle elected positions. But Americans don’t tolerate inconsistencies between what politicians say and do. A definite trust-buster. Frankly, Cain’s other mistakes were to 1) blame the media for taking him off-message (it’s not the media’s job to allow you to stay on-message); and 2) deny responsibility (haven’t politicians learned that their audience doesn’t want to be lied to?).  I am still waiting for voters to apply the same high standards that they do to personal values and actions, to political promises. When that happens, all candidates — whether Republican or Democrat — will truly do what’s best for all Americans.

Rick Perry brought us the “Perry moment.” Since that fateful Republican debate, Perry is no longer known for his positions or even the mistakes he makes (e.g. about the voting age…).  He’ll be forever associated with his mind going blank when under pressure. The problem wasn’t that his mind went blank (which happens to all of us), rather that he forgot the third of three messages that supposedly represented his core convictions. Made you wonder whether they were deeply held beliefs or just political rhetoric.  Not to mention that being President of the United States is a really high-pressure position, so we’re left wondering what he might say — or forget to say — if he were elected.

Newt Gingrich’s communication style seems intentionally provocative and unintentionally revealing about troubling beliefs. His delivery mocks and disrespects the people he hopes will elect him.  People are definitely talking about Newt Gingrich — and he’s taken the lead in the polls in Iowa — but the majority of the conversation is critical...as it should be!

I’ll save an exploration of President Obama’s communication style for another blog.

With the above observations in mind, the following are three lessons for business communicators:

  1. Authenticity absolutely drives trust.
  2. Our words and actions need to be aligned.
  3. Nail your three core messages. If you can’t remember them, why should anyone else?


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