Kids back in school, temperatures starting to cool and weird attack ads on TV – all signs of the changing of the season and the oncoming fall! The great thing about the election side of this time of year is all the lessons to be learned from the political give-and-take. If you are ever in front of an audience or the media this is a prime time to watch how people handle life in the public eye and – too often – what NOT to do. Here are some fun things to watch for:
Who is comfortable in their own skin? From Richard Nixon’s sweating upper lip to Al Gore’s wooden gestures to Mitt Romney’s awkwardness, public figures have been hurt by their lack of comfort. They just seem ill at ease. And often, they make it worse by SAYING things that are the opposite of what their body language is telling you. Whenever you work with someone in public life or find yourself in the spotlight, try to do everything you can to GET COMFORTABLE. What clothes work? What setting fits best? Reagan loved to cut wood. Kennedy loved to sail. It’s no surprise some of the most iconic pictures of both men captured them in those settings. They were “at home.” Get practiced in the message you need to deliver and then try to get as comfortable as you can to deliver it. Your audience will be judging you far beyond just the words you use!
How does someone handle an attack? These days (and often in the past) election season seems like non-stop hand-to-hand combat! One attack followed by another. Knowing that (or knowing you could face tough questions from an audience or a reporter) it’s all about how you respond. First, think through what you might face – including the worst stuff you can think of – and then practice your answers. When we think of a candidate going down in flames it is often accompanied by that stunned look when they don’t know what to say, but they know they are caught! They are watching their career pass before their eyes. Also, remember who you are communicating with. The candidate who responds with a calm, common sense commercial in the middle of the fray can often come across as sensible and mature to the average voter. The strong partisan audience’s love all the craziness, where the less involved are looking for a sane voice. Who do you need to appeal to in your situation?
What about the candidate’s spouse? Fair or unfair, we often judge a person by those around them. The candidate may say one thing, but what does their relationship with those closest to them seem like? For you, what about the people who surround your spokesperson? If you are communicating strength, knowledge and credibility your whole team should support that message.
Finally, who smiles more? It is an age-old political rule. Voters often support the candidate who smiles more. You can scoff if you like, but here is the lesson for me: The confidence and calm that comes with a genuine smile is hard to beat, so no matter whom you might be in front of, keep that simple rule in mind.
I hope you have a great fall season – much success – and watch for those lessons you can learn all around you this time of year!
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Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected].