If you’re like me, you’re already sick of the presidential campaign, and we have months left to go.
But this is a great time to study good and bad communication styles. In his article, “Presidential Points: Listen Up and Learn from the Candidates” (Portfolio, January 30, 2012), Bill Rosenthal analyzed how the Republican candidates are illustrating “how to connect with people as well as how to turn people off; how to send clear messages or how to confuse voters.”
Here are some lessons:
Don’t stonewall—Think Mitt Romney’s delay in releasing his tax returns. As Rosenthal says: “You can’t outrun a burning issue. Resolve it, and the sooner the better.”
Don’t go AWOL—Again, think Newt Gingrich going on a cruise of the Greek Islands shortly after announcing his candidacy. Almost stopped his campaign before it started.
Say it, then stop—Romney said that that health-care choice allows people to dismiss their providers and insurance companies. But then he added: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Not exactly a warm fuzzy statement. “The lesson here: If you’re talking about a sensitive issue, don’t stray from the script.” (Reminds me of Jimmy Carter’s famous “lusting in his heart” comment.)
Don’t be a frat boy—Early on at Bain Capital, Romney posed with dollar bills in his hands, pockets, teeth and shirt collar. This is now an embarrassment. Careful what you pose for. The picture might end up on Facebook (or worse).
Don’t be pompous—Gingrich likened himself to Winston Churchill. “Carly Fiorina had her picture placed between those of HP’s iconic founders at the company’s headquarters. Lloyd Blankfein described his role at Goldman Sachs as ‘doing God’s work.’ The lesson here: Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Don’t say anything you don’t want published—Candidate Barack Obama described the voters against him as “bitter, clinging to their guns, their religion, and antipathy toward people not like them. The lesson: Especially if you’re in the public eye, don’t say anything stupid.”
Do your homework—Romney should have expected to be called a job-killer. John McCain should have known how many homes he owned. John Kerry should have been ready for the Swift Boat Veterans. “You have to be ready to answer tough questions.”
Keep it honest—Newt Gingrich said he had more Twitter followers than his competitors. Trouble is, many of the accounts were inactive or dummies. Be honest or lose credibility.
As Rosenthal summarizes: “Keep your eyes on the candidates. You’ll learn about their positions. And, as a bonus, you’ll gain valuable lessons about