Clear Comm Consulting

Avoid Talking Politics or Religion in Polite Company — With This Exception

Oct 29, 2008

Even in the heat of an election I hardly ever talk politics.

It’s not that I’m tired of it because I literally “talked politics” for 20 years on TV. It’s just that it seems there is little to gain because most people have decided, in the Presidential race for example, where they stand.

Second, a lot of what people say is based on “something I read on the Internet.” In other words, it’s wrong! (Okay, not everything on the Internet is wrong but one good rule of thumb — if people are sending you something in a mass mailing that slams a candidate or cause it’s probably partially or completely made up — so please don’t pass it on to anyone else for the good of the world!)

The way I prefer to look at elections is to see what we, as communicators, can LEARN from the process. As with many national elections, there is some great material this time around.

The Sarah Palin Effect: No matter what you think of Sarah Palin you have to admit she has had a huge impact on this election. People on both sides are intrigued by her. Here’s the lesson for all of us — she has communication skills well above the average and therefore she stands out. Her looks, confidence, speaking ability and connection with her audience have pushed her to the forefront. She has an easy smile, a relaxed approach and is at ease with humor. With all of that said, she has not been able to make up for her lack of experience and knowledge in certain areas. Bottom line, most people expect their great communicators to be able to support that skill with solid information.

The Obama Effect: Few political “experts” gave Barack Obama much of a chance when this all started, yet he now leads in the polls and seems likely to win this thing. Why? Again, you have to look at his ability to communicate. It has even been an issue in the campaign — is he too good of a communicator — is he just a celebrity, etc. While the economy and other issues certainly have made a difference, Obama would not have gotten this far without his ability to connect from the stage. He doesn’t sound like a usual politician — he’s not usually shouting (Joe Biden) and he speaks in terms most people can relate to as opposed to the endless discussion about government programs (Gore) and Senate actions (Kerry).

The McCain Effect: As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve known John McCain for more than 20 years and I can tell you even he would admit he is no great speaker. The lesson from McCain, in my opinion, is the power of a good story. McCain has a good, compelling story to tell about service and country and that story has gotten him past his shortcomings as a communicator. If it just came down to who was the better speaker we would see Mike Huckabee out there for the GOP right now.

So you’re no Palin or Obama? Well then, you better put some extra effort into the story you have to tell to make sure your audience is interested in what you have to say.

Next Month: Correctly Communicating to Customers in a Down Economy

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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