Election Day 2010 is next Tuesday, November 2. There’s been a proliferation of debates and campaign ads in recent weeks, and they’re picking up speed (and urgency) all over the country.
While many people have already made up their minds about who they are voting for next week, what the candidates are saying is still critical. Why? Because people are listening with an ear to reinforce what they already believe to be true. So, political candidates still need to pay attention to their communication delivery and presentation style.
There are four main reasons that most politicians fail or otherwise falter when it comes to debates or during other presentations on the campaign trail – which then can impact on whether they will win or lose come Election Day.
All of these scenarios can be eliminated with careful attention to detail and practice.
- Visual message outweighs the verbal. The bottom line is that first impressions count – so before they even utter a word, politicians need to do a quick “mirror check” and ensure that their professional packages are beyond reproach. Outward physical appearance and wardrobe are often more a topic of conversation than the message he or she is delivering. Think about it … how many times does a candidate’s hair, outfit and/or other accessories get mentioned, critiqued and/or analyzed? Unfortunately, female candidates especially have to be careful when it comes to their wardrobe choice. They are usually subject to much greater scrutiny than their male counterparts in the traditional suit and power tie.
- Body language blunders. “Stiff” is an adjective that is often used to describe many politicians. It’s not hard to see why, after watching a random sampling of recent debates. The candidates’ bodies seem very tense when they speak, and their smiles often look forced. Political speakers shouldn’t discount the benefits of advance body warm-up exercises and stretching before they speak. As a professional speaker and executive coach, I do this myself and recommend clients do, too, before they deliver their big corporate presentations. Another bad body language tendency of political speakers is arm crossing and finger pointing. Such gestures can be perceived as hostile and antagonistic by audience members, not open-minded and all-inclusive/welcoming. Make no doubt about it, body language-related visual signals are a critical component to success on election day.
- Vocal delivery mistakes – The voice of some female candidates can sound shrill. This vocal tendency, while innate, can be better controlled -- with practice -- by better breathing from the diaphragm. Another vocal misstep relates to politicians who don’t allow for audience members’ reactions. I am referring to those political speakers (and I bet you know who are you) that jump on their own laugh lines or applause -- not allowing the audience reaction to finish before moving on. This can prevent candidates from making a better connection with live and TV audiences.
- Female candidates don’t always “own” their power. Former Governor Palin aside, most female political candidates have a tough time of owning their current (and future) positions of authority. All professional women in positions of authority are constantly aware of the need to strike a delicate balance – excelling at their chosen fields, yet not appearing aggressive in interactions with male peers or subordinates. The reality is, and it’s not often voiced, that the “b**ch” label is something never far behind when it comes to outgoing and assertive female candidates. Women shouldn’t be afraid to “own” the right to sit at the table and contribute their thoughts/issues and disagree with their male counterparts – and that message is a key one to learn for ALL professional females, in all industries.
As I watched many of the debates, heard the commentary, and read the news stories, I kept thinking how remarkably similar it all sounds to what goes on in the world of business.
If you can’t communicate your message with courage, conviction, and clarity, it will not be received as intended by the recipients -- and you will not be perceived (or elected as) a leader.