The Incoherency of Donald Trump

NATOThe foreign policy world is abuzz today about the latest pronouncement from Donald Trump that casts doubt on his willingness to fulfill our NATO treaty commitments.

The policies Trump puts forward are wildly outside the mainstream of any Republican or Democratic administration in the last 60 years, but what really caught my eye in the transcript of the interview – which was put out because the campaign is now claiming Trump was misquoted – is the basic incoherence of his words. At almost every point, the words Donald Trump speaks literally make no sense.

To wit (emphasis added):

“If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?”

“In the meantime, what have we done? So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear, and you are really saying, “Well, how is that a good thing?” You understand? North Korea now is almost like a boiler. You say we’ve had peace, but that part of Korea, North Korea, is getting more and more crazy. And more and more nuclear. And they are testing missiles all the time.

“And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there watching missiles go up. And you say to yourself, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Now we’re protecting Japan because Japan is a natural location for North Korea. So we are protecting them, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, what are we getting out of this?'”

Just so you understand though, totally on the record, this is not 40 years ago. We are not the same country and the world is not the same world. Our country owes right now $19 trillion, going to $21 trillion very quickly because of the omnibus budget that was passed, which is incredible. We don’t have the luxury of doing what we used to do; we don’t have the luxury, and it is a luxury. We need other people to reimburse us much more substantially than they are giving right now because we are only paying for a fraction of the cost.

By the way, and I know what I’m talking about is massive. If we ever felt there was a reason to defend the United States, we can always deploy, and it would be a lot less expense.

“I don’t think so, but I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that.”

“Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.”

David, I have statisticians, and I know, like if I went to Pennsylvania, I say, “Give me the statistics on what is going on with respect to manufacturing.” Numbers — 45, 55, 65, I have states that are so bad. New England. Look at New England, what happened.

Cyber is absolutely a thing of the future and the present. Look, we’re under cyberattack, forget about them. And we don’t even know where it’s coming from.

Because we’re obsolete. Right now, Russia and China in particular and other places.

Yes. I am a fan of the future, and cyber is the future.

We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works. We have nuclear where the telephone systems are 40 years old and they have wire that’s so corroded that they can’t call from one station to the next.”

And I hope you say that I do know my subject. And I do know it. I know it better than, I know it better than the people that do it for ——

It’s possible to puzzle out of these comments what the reader THINKS Mr. Trump is saying but the reality of the words he speaks are incoherent and nonsensical. He does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. No one should level up his words. He deserves to be judged on the basis of what he actually says and the way he says it.

– Austin

 

“I Believe…”

4917998Parsing the various ways that “establishment” Republicans support their presumptive presidential candidate is a wonderful exercise in linguistics. You can tell that most of them are using talking points that have been honed to within a micron of their rhetorical content. Even the simple word “support” is subject to a range of definitions that have come into play only in the last several months. To some, it means voting for, endorsing, campaigning for. Some say their support means voting for only. Some have yet to tell us what their support means.

A regular feature, though, of all of these tortured pronouncements is a phrase along the lines of, “I believe that Donald Trump believes that…” I’ve seen it used to justify supporting him because of vacancies on the Supreme Court, on gun rights, on abortion, on supporting the family values and religious freedom concerns of the evangelical voters, on immigration, on trade, on foreign policy. Check out Tom Cotton’s use of the phrase in The Atlantic to explain how a classic conservative hawk – someone who believes in a muscular, robust, outward-looking foreign policy – could support a man who has advocated pulling out of NATO, reneging on bilateral treaty commitments in every corner of the world, supporting the spread of nuclear weapons and wants to turn our foreign policy into a series of one-time financial transactions.

These people are deluding themselves. No one, not even Donald Trump, knows what he believes. No one, especially not Donald Trump, considers the candidate bound by anything that comes out of his mouth. Like his approach to foreign policy, Mr. Trump treats every utterance as a one-time transaction in which he will say literally anything to close whatever deal he thinks is in front of him at that very instant.

Honest to God, I think if you could book Donald Trump into back-to-back conventions – say, for example, the White People’s Party annual convention and the National Black Republicans Association – he wouldn’t skip a beat:

“Thank you…thank you…what a great crowd…wow, it’s packed in here and I hear there is a huge line trying to get in. Thank you. What a great bunch of Americans, people who want to take their country back, who want to make America Great Again. And we are going to do that, don’t you worry. You’re going to get so tired of winning, you’ll beg me to stop. We’re going to win on trade, on the military, on our police – aren’t they great? – on immigration. And that includes winning on your issues. There will never be – I guarantee you – a president who’s going to more for your people and the issues you care about than Donald Trump. I will be so good to you. Because I’ll bring back the jobs. I’ve created so many great jobs – including hiring thousands of your people – and built such a great company with the best properties that it’ll be easy. So easy.”

Of course, I am – thankfully  – not in Donald Trump’s head so I can’t say for sure that his calcified brain is wired this way, but I would submit that his entire career and his entire candidacy is built on this mindset: Donald Trump will say whatever he needs to say to get the deal, the loan, the government approval, the wire transfer, the contract, the work done, the item placed on Page Six, the interview, the caucus win, the primary votes and then – when the deal is closed – he’ll do whatever he wants.

Repeat over and over and over for more than 40 years. End up as the Republicans’ nominee.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

Pre-Gaming the First Debate

I’m not sure if it’s actually possible to 1) have the media invest tonight’s debate with any more importance for the Romney campaign than has been done over the last two weeks; 2) come up with another way to lower expectations for both candidates without reducing all of us to fits of giggles; 3) be any more primed for disappointment than all of us – left, right, center – are right now as we are almost certain to see a debate that is probably not going to deliver a knockout blow to Governor Romney, put President Obama on the defensive and the race back into a dead heat or – for the 11 remaining undecided voters in a swing state – illuminate much about what either client plans to do over the next four years.

It is, of course, possible that I’m wrong on any of these points, particularly #3, but statistics are on my side.  Why are nearly all of the most famous moments from Presidential debates from the 70s and 80s?  Because most of the time these events are not particularly memorable and don’t represent turning points in a campaign.

This reality is particularly true when the participants are Barack “No Drama” Obama and W. Mitt “the Robot” Romney.  While different in many ways, both men are generally very skilled at keeping their emotions in check and their talking points firmly in their forebrains.  Couple that with day…and days…and days…of debate camp and the throw down in Denver has all the suspense of two chessmasters replaying a game from the Fischer-Spassky era.  The image of an unscripted and freeflowing debate is just that; an image and not a reality.

None of this, of course, will prevent me from eagerly watching all 90 minutes and then listening to the post-debate analysis on as many channels as my wife will tolerate me surfing.  Here’s what I think we’ll be hearing after the debate: Continue reading “Pre-Gaming the First Debate”

You Don’t Even Have to Put Pants On

Kal Penn on Tuesday night gave the second-most-important speech of the Democratic convention. The actor and one-time youth liaison for the Obama White House gave a lively, hip speech that aimed at turning young people into voters again.

Because of so-far-successful voter suppression laws, college kids and kids who’ve moved recently will find it harder than ever to vote this fall. It is crucial to Obama’s reelection that young people jump through the suppression hoops and cast their votes.

Penn, 35, laid out what the Obama administration has already done — change that has already happened. Penn cited friends no longer fighting in Iraq, friends who have health care coverage, friends who can marry whomever they choose, friends who can afford college because Pell grants haven’t been entirely gutted — yet.

People vote their self-interests, by and large. As Democratic speakers in Charlotte lay out how RomneyRyan cuts to EVERYTHING would affect regular people, it becomes easier for people to vote for Obama. But are enough not-yet-committed people watching the Democratic convention? Are enough young people?

Nope.

Enter YouTube. Kal Penn’s speech should become a hit on YouTube — that’s where young people will hear his message. That’s where they’ll understand the stakes of this election. Twitter should rocket this thing around the world. Let it rock.

The speech, BTW, was damn good. Fluid, funny, short, punchy, engaging.

Let’s hope the speech has electronic legs.

–Bruce Benidt

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Well, that was different.

I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention.  Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair.  Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.

His performance makes two things abundantly clear:

1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks.  Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”

2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:

  • “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
  • “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
  • “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
  • “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
  • “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
  • “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
  • “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
  • “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
  • “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN

And on and on and on.  As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech.  Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.

Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:

Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.

Couple last  night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.

Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.

Oh well, there’s still the debates.  Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.

– Austin

 

Vikings’ Jerry Burns Reminds Us How Badly PR Has F-ed Up News Viewing

The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.

I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world.  After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots.  As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.

The Sunday news shows are living proof.   Virtually no intelligent life can be found there.  It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent.  It’s because the guests have all been trained.

About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications.  PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs.  That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.

Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world.  Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness.  “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.”  Blah, blah, blahtedy blah.  Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.

The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable.  For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized.  I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.

As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi.  I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted.  After all, they have been trained.

If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.

Warning:  Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of  the kiddies, clergy or your mother:

And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.

Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.”  Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen.  Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.

If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School.  And you know what?  F*#k me for doing it.

– Loveland

Programming note:  Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.

When Will Democrats Get Pissed Off Enough to Be Effective?

“Republicans are trying to keep you from voting. They’re trying to keep you from having any power. The people who have the most money and power in America want to keep it, and they want to keep you from screwing up the rigged game they’re running and winning.”

Where are the Democrats crying out to high heaven with words like this?

“Republicans are trying to take away your vote. There’s no big vote-fraud problem. The problem Republicans are trying to correct is that black people are voting, the problem is Hispanic people are voting, the problem is you are voting and they don’t want you to. The problem is there’s a black liberal in the White House and he got there with your legal votes. That’s the problem the people with power in this country are trying to correct. And don’t let them do it!”

Come on, spit it out, tell it like it is. Enough political round-about talk. Get angry, stand up and holler, wake people up!

In my benighted state of Florida, our corporate-criminal governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature are trying to suppress the vote three ways — by purging 50,000 and more names from existing voting rolls, by making it harder to register new voters, and by shortening the voting period. Thank God for federal courts and the Justice Department, which, from the Civil Rights movement to Watergate, have often been the only check on executive and legislative crooks.

A federal judge just struck down much of the Florida vote-restricting law, saying blocking that law would not “in any way” damage Florida. More directly, the judge wrote,”Before the adoption of the 2011 statute, the state was operating under provisions that, at least insofar as shown by this record, were working well.”

So what problem were the Republicans in Florida trying to correct? Not voter fraud, but voting.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker says those opposing him don’t like him standing up to the special interests.

Democrats should be standing on the rooftops hollering to the public — “The special interests are YOU! Walker is trying to screw YOU. Wake the hell up, Wisconsin. This isn’t just about unions, it’s about people who are well off trying to keep the people who have less in their place. It’s about keeping those with less power from getting more — through unions, through environmental and financial regulations that keep the powerful from doing whatever the hell they want. Don’t let them do it!”

The only Democrat I see who has fire on this issue is John Lewis of Georgia, who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge and who now says with righteous fire that people died for the right to vote, his friends died for the right to vote, and we can’t let people’s right to vote be taken away.

Where’s Willie Stark when we need him? Listen to this scene from All The Kings Men, when the candidate says the powerful are treating the voters like hicks. “Well I’m a hick just like you,” he yells, and we can’t let them keep us down.

— Bruce Benidt
(I was ranting to Lisa about this stuff so loudly that I scared the cat — so I thought I’d purge myself by writing it down.)

Oops

On paper, Rick Perry entered the race as arguably the strongest contender to get the GOP Presidential nomination.

• Governors do better than members of Congress in presidential politics, particularly in a year when Congress has record-low support. Perry was a long-serving Governor who had never worked in DC.

• Southerners tend do better than northerners in a Dixie–dominated GOP party. Perry was arguably the only southerner in the field. (I think Newt feels more DC to most.)

• Republicans are seemingly more obsessed than ever with the Reagan mystique. Perry’s swagger and look was arguably the most Reaganesque.

• The economy is the paramount issue in 2012. Perry had been running a state doing relatively well economically.

• Presidential campaigns require lots of money. The darling of the Texas corporate class and national political opportunists had more money than most in the field, both for his own campaign and for pro-Perry Super PACs.

• Republican activists are very intolerant of political compromise. Perry had governed in a state so conservative than he rarely had to compromise (unlike Romney and Pawlenty, for instance).

• Being a white male Protestant conservative is a key political asset in the Republican Party. Post-Pawlenty, Perry had that advantage to himself.

Because Perry was so strong on paper, I originally thought he would win the nomination, and had the best shot against Obama. He had the longest list of important political assets.

But at the end of the day, Presidents are not picked on paper. You have to execute, and Perry just was never able to execute on a communications level. Oops.

– Loveland

Expectations for Tonight’s Debate

Political junkies looking for an excuse to avoid organizing their sock drawers will be gathered ’round the tellies and laptops this evening to watch the latest GOP presidential debate.  You can watch it on MSNBC or streaming on  Politico.  Festivities kick off at 7:00 pm CST though there’s sure to be pre-game coverage beforehand.

Tonight’s debate will feature 8 candidates and because of the Crowd’s remarkable connections, we can give you access to the last-minute advice each one is receiving from their handlers and debate coaches about what needs to be achieved, what needs to be avoided and how to get there.  Let’s listen in:

Michele Bachmann: “…what we really need tonight, Congresswoman, is for you to show that you’re still relevant to this race.  Yes, we’ve lost all the momentum we had coming out of Ames.  Yes, we’ve lost our campaign manager and our #2 manager this weekend.  Yes, there’s a danger every time you open your mouth, but your job this evening is to own the stage like you did at the New Hampshire debate in June (boy, doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?).  We’re trying like hell to get the moderators to ask you a ‘gotcha’ question about Marcus or the counseling or the farm so you can do the moral outrage thing again, but we can’t count on it.  Ignore everyone except Romney and Perry and attack them whenever possible:  Romney’s a flipflopper, Perry’s governed Texas for 11 years by selling it off bit by bit to his buddies.  Steal Palin’s ‘crony capitalism’ line if you see the opening to use it.  Hit Obama as often as possible – it might be time to bring back ‘gangster government.’  And, please, please, please…try not to knock us off-message with a ‘freelance’ answer; if it isn’t in the briefing book, please don’t say it. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he’s from Iowa like you!”

Herman Cain: “Herman, just go out and enjoy yourself tonight.  Our best guess is that this might be the last debate you’re invited to; your polling numbers are down there with Gary Johnson.  Because of that, the moderators are probably not going to give you a lot of openings so you’re going to have to jump in whenever you have a chance.  You’re articulate, you’re good on your feet, so just roll with it.  Who knows, we might get a “this is my microphone Mr. Green” moment that will keep us alive another month or two. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  You were both on the radio!”

Newt Gingrich: “Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure what to tell you to do.  I mean, just a month ago I was a volunteer in your campaign’s New Hampshire office and now I’m your campaign manager so I’m a little over my head here.  I guess you could talk about your ideas…you always have really cool sounding ideas…and maybe quote some Greek philosopher… that always sounds good.  Does your wife have any advice? Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all,  he was out of office for as long as you before he won the presidency!”

Jon Huntsman: “Governor, we really see this as your first appearance on the national stage.  Our polling tells us that a good percentage of likely Republican voters have forgotten you’re running for president.  Even worse, among those who do they don’t like you much because you’re seen as too moderate or are out of the consideration set because you worked for the Great Satan (Obama).  Tonight, you’re going to have really show a little leg in the sense of showing the base you can hate Obama and what he’s done to our country as much as the craziest, most jingoistic candidate out there.  You know who we’re talking about.  We need you to be aggressive and energetic – here take a couple of these…no, they’re perfectly legal (somewhere) – and to work as many of these words – “failure,” “bankrupt,” “traitor,” “un-American,” “disaster” – into your responses as possible.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he was a governor just like you!

Ron Paul: “Congressman, we’ve seeded the audience with as many supporters as we could get into the building – our guys have been standing on line for two weeks to get seats in the hall – so you can count on applause every time you open your mouth.  Hell, they’ll cheer if you break wind!  Just keep doing what you’ve been doing at every debate – tell the truth that we’re bankrupt as a country, that drugs should be legalized, that we should pull every troop back to the U.S. border, that the Fed ought to be eliminated and the gold standard readopted – and it’ll be great.  You can’t count on the moderators giving you equal time – remember how they ignored us after Ames – but let’s all remember that we’re really setting you up for the 2020 race. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, for years people thought he was an extremist just like you!

Rick Perry: “Governor, I know you don’t like debate formats so I know you’re not looking forward to tonight.  And, you can expect that everyone will be gunning for you.  Even so, our goals for tonight are easy: no mistakes, no gaffes, no scary language.  Keep your answers short, serious and to the point.  We’re lapping the other candidates in the polls among likely GOP voters so this approach will also help us with another long-term goal; persuading moderates and independents you’re a viable choice.  Work the brush fires into a couple of responses – how brave the people of Texas are, how resilient they are, how much they represent the best of America, something like that – but remember – as hard as it is to believe – not everyone loves Texas.   We’re also trying to position you as the outsider who can go to Washington and fix what’s wrong there, but this is a fine line to walk; the more we talk about that, the more we remind people of George Bush.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he used to wear cowboy boots just like you!”

Mitt Romney: “OK, let’s all get on the same page here: the ‘running as the defacto nominee’ strategy is no longer working.  As page 17 of the Powerpoint clearly indicates, GOP voters are still ‘unenthused’ about the Governor as the Republican nominee.  Accordingly, if you’ll flip to page 27, we’ve set ought a 5-point plan for tonight’s debate: 1) be less scripted; 2) make more use of pre-screened one-liners to convey spontaneity; 3) include at least two key messages from focus group testing in each answer; 4) smile between 1.5 and 3 times per answer depending on content; 5) attack Governor Perry as unelectable, dangerous and clone of George W. Bush. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he ran for president twice just like you!”

Rick Santorum: “Honey, you know the kids and I are behind you 100 percent.  We love being with you in the RV, we love all the Motel 6s we’ve stayed at when we could afford them and – if it were up to us – you’d be the nominee in a walk.  After tonight, though, maybe we could take a couple of days off?  See Disneyland?  Take the tour here?  Then we can claim you’re just like Ronald Reagan.  You could get a pin from the gift shop.”

For those looking for something to do between the guffawing and sputtering, let’s do this:  let’s count how many times each candidate says “Reagan” and let’s put our bets down about how many minutes will pass before someone invokes Nancy Reagan as an American heroine.  I’m guessing 12 minutes in and it will be Perry.

– Austin

A Star That Shines Half as Bright…Jon Huntsman Enters Stage Center

I was driving around yesterday listening to POTUS (the single best thing on radio for the political junkie) during Jon Huntsman’s declaration announcement.  I had several thoughts:

  • This guy needs a new speechwriter
  • This guy needs speaker training
  • The crowd sounded like it was 20 people who wandered by
  • What a rational guy
  • The Obama team is right to worry about him in the general election
  • He’ll never make it out of the primaries

While the speech seemed awkwardly worded throughout and Governor Huntsman’s delivery verged on monotonic, I loved some of the sentiment and sensibility I heard. In particular:

Now let me say something about civility. For the sake of the younger generation, it concerns me that civility, humanity and respect are sometimes lost in our interactions as Americans.

Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country.

You know what I mean when I say that.

We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation in order to run for the Office of President.

Of course we’ll have our disagreements. That’s what campaigns are all about.

But I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates.

And I respect the President of the United States.

He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.

But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.

When I got home I watched the video and thought it was beautifully staged (something that is apparently a strength of Team Huntsman) but that the flaws I heard were not diminished with the addition of visuals. The crowd was small, the phrasing was goofy and the delivery was about as inspiring as a midlevel manager (I think I heard the words “manage”, “manager” and “management” about 10 times and all in a positive context) talking about the companywide cost-cutting program he was directing.  The weird “motorcycle in the desert” video was beautifully produced and way better than the usual campaign fare (not a waving flag anywhere that I remember), but didn’t add much.

There’s a backlash meme currently making the rounds that Huntsman’s candidacy is a creation of the media that wants Huntsman to be a viable candidate and of the GOP “elite” (that presumably means the “bidness” wing of the party) who does want a reprise of the Goldwater debacle. Maybe that’s right, but unless he steps up his game pretty quickly in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of delivering his message, he’ll quickly lose the attention of both.

About that message…

As I noted, Huntsman could be a viable candidate but I really, really can’t see it selling with the conservative wing of the party.  His record is impure (Cap and trade!  Climate change! Civil unions! Obama!) and his rhetoric of moderation and civility does not resonate with anyone who’s angry about the current administration and its “gangster” ways.  In relatively short order, I think the governor will have to make the hard choice of walking back his commitment to civility or accepting permanent status as a “margin of error” candidate.

I hope he picks the latter, but won’t be shocked if he picks Door #1.

– Austin

Ten Years After — The View Out My Screen Porch

“The longer I do this the less I know.”

small business help That was my wife, Lisa’s, former career-counseling partner, Colleen Convey, talking to people at a large Minneapolis company years ago about finding work that fits you, not fitting into work. Then Colleen gave them, humbly, what she’d learned in her decades of counseling, which her years and wisdom had shaped into something simple, clear and deep.

One of Colleen’s and Lisa’s measures of job fit is — when was the last occasion where you lost track of time because you were so engaged by what you were doing? If you can find work that connects with one of those experiences (no, Austin, you can’t make a living doing that) you’ll have work that fits and fulfills.

Ten years ago Colleen’s and Lisa’s advice and support helped me leave, with manageable fear and trembling, a global PR firm to start my own little business. April 1, 2001 I went on my own, an April fool. Ten years later, I still haven’t had to get a real job and I’m still losing track of time when engaged face-to-face with my clients. The longer I do this the less I know — but I’ve become pretty clear about what I do know.

Life is short, meetings are long, presentations are mostly dreadful, most interview subjects can’t spit out in plain English why anybody might care about or benefit from what they do — so anyone who can talk with clarity and passion and examples about stuff that matters to real people is an extraordinary and compelling communicator. After a dozen years as a journalist and a dozen in PR and decades of college teaching, I have focused on training people to be clear and compelling communicators. Not by giving them a formula, but by listening to them and watching them and dragging out, through all the layers of organizational and educational and professional detritus, their own personality and passion. I help people talk about stuff that excites them or moves them — and I get paid for it. For ten years now. Good gig

It’s scary, a little, being out on your own. Most independents I know, like me, worry that the phone will stop ringing. Colleen told me that the first year on your own you worry all the time about not getting work, the second year you think the first year was a fluke, and by the third year you think this might actually work. Ten years in, I’ve embraced worry as an old friend who just croaks in the corner. I miss a good health-care plan, I miss colleagues from the newspapers and colleges and Shandwick, but god I love making an independent living from something I’m good at, saying yes or no when I want to, and now in my dotage not pretending I know more than I do.

A huge thanks is due to the people who helped me develop the skills I’ve traded on for ten years — Dennis McGrath, Scott Meyer, Mary Jeffries, Dave Mona, Sara Gavin, Dave Kuhn, Betsy Buckley, Kari Bjorhus, Steve Conway, Mary Milla, Walt Parker and so many more from the Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin Shandwick years. And to Lisa, who encouraged me to jump with no net. And to mein guter freund Jorg Pierach, with whom I jumped in 2001 and who, like me, has withstood two economic collapses and who, unlike me, has built a gorgeous and successful agency of lively cool professionals — FastHorse. Jorg supported and supports me, with drinks and an office and unquenchable good spirit. And to Daniel Pitlik, who’s been at this for years longer than I have and is an example and mensch and sweet human being from whom I have stolen endless ideas and approaches. And to Tony Carideo, a careful and caring businessman/journalist with a philosopher’s heart and degree who’s held my hand the whole way — and whose basement is promised as Lisa’s and my retirement home.

And to my clients — who make me feel part of their teams — huge huge thanks. These are my colleagues and friends — good humans at Medtronic, Best Buy,Thomson Reuters, UPS, Amway, Cargill, Doug Kelley, GCI Atlanta the most frequent, but all of you people I light up when I see as I drag in my camera bag for another gig. The biographer Charles Neider had a formula for whom he chose as a subject for a book — could he take a cross-country train trip with that person and not want to jump the tracks mid-journey? All of my clients I’d climb on a train with — at the bar-car end of course. Some of my clients are former Shandwick colleagues who’ve moved on and kept my number, some former Shandwick clients, some former students, and all have referred me to others, which keeps me out of the bread lines.

In ten years my little business has moved its global headquarters from Eden Prairie to South Minneapolis and now to north of Tampa, where my office is a screen porch looking out on the egret fishing in the oyster bar pictured above. Huge thanks to my Minneapolis clients who keep calling on me even though I’m no longer just a half-hour away. Here near the Gulf of Mexico I’ve learned to distinguish the sharp beak-splash of a kingfisher diving into the tidal pond in our backyard from the flop-splash of fish jumping, and to recognize the twee-twee call of an osprey before I see its speckled wings and striped tail. These are important work skills, I think.

Technology has changed in my ten years. I travel now with three video cameras (plans A, B & C — you can’t waste executives’ time and look like a fool because of equipment failures or lost luggage), the most recent a flipcam. I used to drag to sessions a bag of VHS tapes of interview and speech examples until Sue Busch at Best Buy suggested with good humor that this was one step above cave paintings, so then I switched to examples on DVD. Now it’s YouTube and Ted.com — when a client at UPS a week or so ago said he liked a local preacher’s and Tom Friedman’s speaking styles, we instantly pulled them up on YouTube on my iPhone and analyzed what made them compelling. (Even more important — I’m about to watch the Twins opener on my iPad out on the porch — is this a great country or what?)

Have I changed in ten years? I’m more willing to say no to work I’m not good at, don’t like or don’t know enough to do. Journalism training and natural arrogance have always made me comfortable challenging people, but now I’m even more willing to look at an executive and say, with I hope a blend of compassion and two-by-four, that people will rush for the exits if you talk like that. And I’m more sure I can help the person be more engaging and compelling — partly because the bar is so low in most organizations. I worry a little about not staying current, and I never pretend to be a social media guru, leaving that to Jorg and blogbuddies Mike Keliher and Jon Austin. But the core of communication, I think, is still clarity and passion and zip, no matter the medium.

Personally I remain a manic blend of daily childish optimism and long-term black-hole pessimism, but here in Florida surrounded by birdmusic and the breathing tides and clouds of the Gulf I wallow less in the daily examples of entropy. Once you know the principle that trains crash, Thoreau wrote, you don’t need to know every instance of a train crashing. So I put down the paper or the hand-held and watch a heron alight with delicate wingbeats on the cedar tree across the channel.

Enough. Thanks to all who’ve been part of this journey. And please keep calling — I need the work. And the time face-to-face with clients still flies by.

— Bruce Benidt

Talk With Us Like a Human, Mr. President

Just watched President Obama give a short talk about the tragedy in Japan.

He was awful. Flat. Dull. Unbelievable. As interesting and engaging and compassionate as a piece of typed paper.

Because he read his talk. Looking down every few seconds.

He said we’re all heartbroken about the tragedy. Reading “heartbroken” off his script. He said it reminds us we all share a common humanity, reading “common humanity” off the script.

This from a man who is one of the most riveting, compelling, commanding speakers in our recent history. It’s sad to see him tamed and broken like a wild stallion– whether by his advisors or his own sense of the weight of each word a president speaks. He’s not dancing with the one who brung him to the White House — himself, Barack Obama.

I tell my speech-coaching clients to speak at least the first few sentences of a talk without looking at any notes or slides or prompters. Know what you want to say at the beginning well enough that you can look at the audience and talk straight to them and — just talk. You engage an audience — or not — in the first few seconds of a speech. If you’re looking down — you’ve lost connection, you’ve lost the audience.

I’ve said before on this blog — lose the TelePrompTer, Mr. President. And lose the speechwriters. Now I add — lose the script. Sure, bring notes to the lectern, and nothing wrong with looking down now and then. But if you’re going to say your heart goes out to the victims in Japan, no heart is moved when you’re reading that flat statement off a script. If you’re trying to reassure us that nuclear power is safe, look us in the eyes and tell us that — don’t read it off a script.

Talk like a human, Mr. President. That’s how you lead. Words themselves are mostly flat. It’s the lift your face and voice and passion give them that lets them soar, that connects with us. Scripts and prompters and slides stifle the passion, drain the personality, kill the humanity. Leaders don’t read scripts, Mr. President, especially not in times of crisis and disaster.

Come on, you know this. What’s happened?

–Bruce Benidt

“We Shouldn’t Have Allowed” the Cameras In.

I’m not surprised that the House Republican caucus’s takeaway from the floor-wiping they took at the hands of Barack Obama today in Baltimore is that they really need to avoid these kinds of transparent, unmediated interaction with an enemy they’ve painted as everything from a Marxian socialist to a Kenyan interloper. After all, look at the damned tape. They sounded worse than they looked, which is kind of an amazing statement considering John  Boehner’s year round Ohio tan.

The instant consensus is that the Republicans were sandbagged by Obama, who accepted their invitation to speak at their retreat and … negotiated that cameras be allowed to run throughout, from his prepared statements through the Q&A, which, in its back and forth of charge and summary refutation, is where the GOP caucus pretty well — okay, completely — choked on its own talking points and tripped over its lobbyist-tied wing tips.

I’m a big fan of Prime Minister’s Question Time, (the British version). Gordon Brown is a stiff, as we all know. A pale shadow of Tony Blair, who clearly loved the play of batting away every zinger the opposition threw his way. But good entertainment aside, the weekly event allows the public — you know, those pesky voters — a far, FAR more real and relevant assessment of opposing arguments than canned commercials and/or, god help us, 15 second sound bites fine sliced for commercial news. Everyone wins a few and everyone loses a few, and even a natural TV performer like Blair — currently tap-dancing his way through an official British inquiry into how they/we got into Iraq (something else we don’t do here) — couldn’t hide, in the end, his lack of diligence on the pre-war intelligence and skepticism at what the Bush-Cheney team was selling him.

The early reviews of today’s Obama v. GOP Baltimore event have been ecstatic — from the White House and liberals and some of the better media watchers — people critical of the bizarre isolation of dialogue on matters of enormous national relevance to competing cable channels and flying counter-charges in the “serious press”. This event today, whether wholly plotted by Team Obama, or accepted based on his supreme confidence in controlling any crowd at any time, is smacking some as a revelation. And it should.

There’s zero chance the Republicans — whose last President barnstormed around the country speaking to tightly controlled groups of fawning sycophants and even then frequently screened their questions for, you know, anything unpleasant — will consent to something like this Baltimore thing on a regular basis, and certainly not with live cameras. The reason? They know they have no game in a direct debate. They’re legislative “success” to date is based entirely on obstruction and outrageous-to-absurd fear-mongering, (death panels, 13 year-olds getting federally-funded abortions, wholesale socialism, an Obama-created deficit triple everything that’s come before  — points for chutzpah to Texas Cong. Jeb Hensarling for wading into that one).

Despite their incessant talk about “beliefs”, (like merely “believing” something is a virtue of any great value), little to none of that translates into an actual legislative agenda, with coherent, fiscally-responsible bills and such, designed to solve bona fide problems. And no, I don’t consider “the march toward socialism” a major, bona fide issue. Modern Republicans have an act that only really works when the opposition — Obama, mainly — in is isolated in the abstract, as the ghoulish “Joker” face sawing the legs out from under our our “freedoms”. (I.e. the “freedom” to “believe” whatever we damned well please, any evidence to the contrary.)

But one on one, face to face, live, and un-cut by any restless, fidgety editor/news director at FoxNews, MSNBC or WCCO, Obama not only sounds reasonable and in command of his facts — reminding Hensarling et al where all that debt came from and how much was built into the system he inherited —  the Republicans don’t. They sound like parrots in the echo chamber, struggling to re-phrase their standard town hall talking points into something just a wee bit more polite … in deference to the actual physical presence of the President. (Joe “You lie!” Wilson did not ask a question as far as I can tell.)

Frankly I was always disappointed that Bill Clinton didn’t try the live Question Time thing with Newt Gingrich and the, um, great legislative opposition of his era. But from what I’ve read, Clinton had far less patience with witless demagoguery … and loved to hear himself talk more than made for good dialogue. Obama has all of Clinton’s brain power — the control over and retrieval of facts and factoids — compounded with far more patience (too much, for some of our tastes) for such mano a mano repartee.

The associated complaint here, and Obama hit it, again, today in Baltimore, is that the modern media — and not just the circus shows on Fox and MSNBC — prefers conflict and the appearance of combat to assessing the truth of countering arguments, much less, god forbid!, a complete airing of the President responding to his most immediate critics, face to face. (Cable channels obviously carried the event today. But in a world where  “Two and a Half Men” is a hit, it’s very hard imagining a broadcast network blowing out an hour and a half a month for anything so … so … relevant.)

Given the instantaneous and all-but universal reaction to today’s Baltimore event, I fully expect the Republicans to politely decline any offer to expand the shtick to a monthly TV act, and for them to “instruct” their leadership to turn the damned cameras off the next time they’re caught in a room with Obama … or any countering argument.direct marketing nice

The Dishonorable Gentleman Blathers On and On

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s Argentine fling saved us from a presidential candidacy that would have flooded the country in blather.

Sanford is a poster boy for the politician’s disease — the inability to use one word when you can vomit out a dozen or more. This man is incapable of a short statement, a short sentence, a clear expression.

I’ve written on this blog before that I’m keeping my ear out to hear if Amy Klobuchar succumbs to the Washington way with words. So far she hasn’t. She still seems capable of using small clear words and short crisp sentences. Keep up your immunity, Senator.

I watched a House transportation hearing for a few minutes on C-SPAN a couple of nights ago. Our own Iron Ranger Jim Oberstar chairs the committee, and as he passed the microphone around to the few other committee members who showed up it was easy to spot the DC disease. Each representative, before he or she spoke, had to blather on and compliment Oberstar. “Before I begin, I want to thank the chairman for his leadership on this issue, he has certainly been blahblahblahblah…” They always heap praise on one another before they do anything — probably because nobody else will praise them. I can picture a politician with DC “Imustalwaysbetalking” disease saying to someone who opens the door to the bathroom for him, “Well first I want to say thank you for the courtesy you have always shown me in the past when I’ve come to this restroom and I want to extend to you my heartfelt and deepest thanks for the exceptional way you have opened this door in this particular and most-important instance for me, and then….” Normal humans would say “thanks” and get on to the peeing part.

If you want to see this disease at its most virulent and most stressed, here’s Sanford

last week goiing on and on and on and on about his affair and his wonderful children and his thought process and his everydamnthing. With beautiful irony, he several times calls himself “a bottom-line kinda guy” and about every five minutes, punctuating the nothingness of his wordstream, he says “bottom line” and then goes on to meander so far from any bottom line it’s clear he’s never actually gotten to one.

At his cabinet meeting Friday, Gov. Sanford apologized to his cabinet members and then said, according to the AP, “Every one of you all has specific duties to the people of South Carolina that you have to perform, and that is with or without me doing right on a given day or doing wrong at a given day, those responsibilities still exist.”

Forty-three words. I’ll give him the “you all” — he’s a Southerner, of course. But the “with or without” is grammatically superfluous and an example of the padding politicians use. So is the important-sounding but redundant phrase: “that you have to perform.” These yahoos seem to think that if they use big words, and a whole lot of words, they’ll sound smart. Precisely the opposite. “You all have duties to perform for the people of South Carolina, regardless of what I’ve done.” Seventeen words.

Sanford’s nether appendage has saved us from his oral one.

— Bruce Benidt

Obama Does It Daily

Barack Obama doesn’t need to hit homeruns in his major set speeches like tonight’s address before Congress. He’s already doing well as a communicator in his daily talks, his press conference, his meetings with people around the country and around the capital.

Obama’s strength as a communicator is that he’s genuine. At the meeting with congressional leaders Monday, he met John McCain’s complaints about cost overruns on the presidential helicopter with humor and honesty. The helicopter I’ve got is pretty good, he said — of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before. Maybe I’ve been deprived, he said. And everybody laughed. Obama said he’d look into the cost issue, and said it’s a good example of how costs spin out of control. But his genuine response — what he said wasn’t a calculated parry of McCain’s thrust, it was just Obama being who he is — showed people that he hasn’t, in his first month, become too big for his britches and that he isn’t designing an imperial presidency. And that he’ll listen — he called on McCain first for input about containing government and military spending.

And then he said that he’s going to keep talking to Eric Cantor, the minority whip in the House who helped shut Obama out on his stimulous plan, because, Obama said laughing, “One day Eric Cantor’s going to say that I had a pretty good idea about something.” And that’s the kind of persistence and gentle needling that shows people what kind of a human being Obama is. Not doctrinaire. Not pouting about the Republicans’ “just say no” strategy, but also not a naive kid bringing a Hostess Twinkie to a knife fight.

The latest New York Times poll shows the public is behind Obama, that most people think he’s trying to do the right thing for the country while most think the Republicans are trying to do what’s good for their party. Big difference. And people are optimistic about the country’s future in Obama’s hands, even while their confidence in the current economy spirals down, according to the latest consumer confidence survey. That’s a remarkable juxtaposition — the economy’s going to hell, but we feel okay because this guy in the driver’s seat seems to know what he’s doing and seems to have our best interests at heart.

So Obama the great orator is really winning the hearts and minds of the country not in big formal settings, but by letting people see who is is, what he thinks, how he works, what he cares about, what worries him and what he doesn’t sweat. And he’s doing this day by day, in his everyday communication.

It’s a good lesson about leadership. Communication is an essential part of leadership — strong leaders convey honesty, passion, vision, compassion in how and what they communicate. And they convey those things dozens of times every day. Not just in formal speeches. And you can’t fake this stuff. Real communication springs from one’s soul, one’s values, one’s heart, as well as from the brain that does all that analyzing and strategizing stuff.

How you convey who you are is the toughest and most important factor of communication. And Obama is keeping people’s trust — and earning it, with Republicans going from 20% approval to 44% since before the election — by conveying his vision and his heart many times a day.

And, oh yeah, he ain’t bad at the big formal speeches either.

— Bruce Benidt

Ask Not, You Know, What, You Know, Your Country Can, You Know, Do For, You Know, You…

Verbal crutches. We all use them. Many of us are susceptible to overuse of “ums.” Young people famously favor “likes.” Even great orators such as Barack Obama sprinkle their interview responses liberally with “ahs.” Obama is also among those prone to the use of “look,” to start answers, which can sometimes make him sound condescending and lecturey.

We don’t use these verbal crutches because we’re stupid, necessarily. We use them as a nervous habit, to calm ourselves. We use them to compose our thoughts. We use them to catch our breath.

But they can get out of control, and distract from what is being said. They also can make the speaker sound like a lightweight, which is something to avoid when you are the offspring of an oratorical legend auditioning for a spot in an institution often called “the greatest deliberative body in the world.”

In this 30-minute interview, Ms. Kennedy reportedly used her “you know” lifeline over 200 times. It’s tough to listen to.

The ever helpful New York Daily News suggests, “Caroline Kennedy, you know, might need, you know, a speech coach, um, if she, you know, wants, um, to be a senator.”

I was thinking a shock collar.

– Loveland

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How to Get A Job: Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I posted “How to Find a Job in Public Relations,” a piece that grew out of concern for graduating seniors at my university who are hitting the job market this month. Many of you kindly commented with great advice.

Tomorrow I’m going to be addressing a women’s leadership class through the Mankato YWCA around a slightly different topic: “How to Use Social Media to Get a Job.” Any job, really.

Now, I’m no expert at social media. The last time I posted an image of “the new social media prism,” Benidt quipped that it looked like a turkey on steroids. And it’s true: it does.

But it seems to me that one of the ways you can get through the loss of a position or even prepare yourself for the worst of times is to reach out now to others in your industry or profession, to long-lost colleagues and best friends, to new people who share your interests. Put together a safety net, so to speak, so if you fall you might have a softer landing spot.

Look. You already participate in the social media set. That’s why you’re reading this blog. (And we at the SRC thank you.) But if you actually comment on the posts, you become a public part of the social media landscape and we get to “know” you.

Actually, what we at the SRC don’t want to tell you is how easy it is to set up your own blog. Just go to http://www.blogspot.com or http://www.WordPress.com and if you can follow three steps, you’ll be blogging. Write about your field, your profession, your passion. (Let us know where you are and we’ll send you some “link love.”)

Do you twitter? Why not? In 140 characters or fewer, you can carry on mini-conversations with others around the world about industry openings, helpful articles, best practices in any profession (try #journchat on Monday evenings for great discussions among journalists, public relations people, students and nerdy professors.) WARNING: twitter may be addicting.

Are you on LinkedIn? Think of it as a grown-up version of MySpace. Or, how about MySpace or Facebook? Those are certainly ways to build contacts. Just remember: what you put on the Web lives forever.

What other ideas do you have for helping each other out during these uncertain economic times?

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Becoming a Better Speaker

I’ve just finished a nice – albeit challenging – run of speeches over the last couple of months.  Five altogether, including a university commencement address (easily the largest audience who’s ever been subjected to one of my speeches).  Just today, though, I found an article in November’s Harvard Business Review that I wish I could have sent to my clients as a way to put them in the right frame of mind for preparing and rehearsing.

hbr-page-1The article outlines a four-step process to help speakers be more “authentic,” a quality much in vogue among communicators these days (let’s hope it was never actually out of style).  To do so, the author – Nick Morgan – encourages four “intentions” in speakers – “to be open,” “to connect with the audience,” “to be passionate” and “to listen to their audiences.”  These intentions go way beyond the words a speaker utters to cover stage presence and the dangers of the wrong type of rehearsal and prep.

For those of you who write such things or for those who do a lot of public speaking, I highly recommend the article that should be accessible by clicking either the thumbnail image above or the link here.

– Austin small business management nice

“Let us Summon a New Spirit”

President-elect Obama (what a surprising sound that makes) summoned a new spirit in his speaking style last night after he won the election.

So much of the power of effective, moving speaking comes from tone, not content. And last night’s speech was not just wonderful words liltingly delivered, and not just sound ideas clearly expressed. This time his tone was soft and sober, confident and ready. His delivery combined the inspiring energy and rhetoric of his early speeches, including his 2004 “there are no red states, there are no blue states” convention speech, with the workmanlike pragmatism of the speeches he delivered after McCain nailed him for his “celebrity” and for his European tour.

But there was a growing third element. Most striking was how firm he was by being soft. In the past he’s hit the “yes we can” refrain powerfully, driving the call-and-response hard in an ascending run. This time, using the line seven times at the end of his speech, he lightly touched the riff. This time it was not an assertion made to rouse the crowd; it was a confident statement of fact. We can change, we can do better. Soft and sure.

Obama used volume and power when he needed to — when he said change is coming, when he said we’d defeat those who mean us harm. He had the steel. But most of the time he spoke softly. He doesn’t need to holler now. He has the big stick. He spoke in an intimate tone, about the challenges being the greatest in our lifetime, about the need for us to sacrifice and engage.

The yapping and braying of the campaign are over. Now we have a serious leader who can call us to our best, with a preacher’s peal or with a calm “c’mon, we can do this.” 

Obama is evolving as a speaker, becoming deeper while he still flies high. Ballast to hold the sails. And a quiet calm at the helm.

 “Let us summon a new spirit, of patriotism, of responsibiity, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.”

Obama is summoning a new spirit. New Deal, New Frontier, New Spirit. This speech, and those to come, are not just words. They’re calls. They’re how he leads. And the country heard.

— Bruce Benidt small business help nice

Herding Shorthairs — Just Damn Funny

In the spirit of today’s posts, mostly about fun at the end of a long week, here’s a video a client of mine showed me Wednesday. Maybe most of you have seen it — I hadn’t, and every time I watch it I see something else that makes me laugh. Out loud. And ain’t that worth a minute of your time?

On the serious side, my client is a senior exec who was giving a talk on what she knew was a dry subject, so when she got to a point about HR she thought of herding cats — and treated her audience. Mix it up, folks — break free of PowerPoint slides packed with dead numbers and charts and put something lively up. When you do, you’ll like your own talk better, and so will the audience. When my client gave the presentation, she couldn’t help laughing herself when she saw the video again — kind of like Obama last night, laughing a little, during his own talk, at the wonderful absurdity of palling around with John McCain at the Al Smith dinner.

Enjoy. Meow. — Benidt
invoicing fine

She’s Good. Palin Shines in Dull GOP Sky

Gov. Sarah Palin proved tonight she’s a good speaker. She looked very good in comparison to turgid speakers who preceded her like Fred Thompson last night and Rudy 9/11 tonight.

She’s lively. She’s bright, as in light. She can punch a line across. Her timing is good in delivery of key phrases most times, although she misses about a third of the targets she aims for in timing. She can work the crowd, continuing to talk over their applause sometimes to keep her momentum, stopping her talk and letting the crowd go nuts other times while she smiles and nods. She does a great job of moving her eyes and her attention around the room, of pulling the crowd in, of showing with bobs of her head and movement of her eyebrows and her smile what she cares about.

She smiles at what she’s saying, looks like she likes what she’s saying, sounds like she’s alive. She is doing a great job of firing up the conservatives, and by embracing her small-town experience and roots while scorning Obama’s community organizing in a big city, she’s reaching into the undecided middle. Chris Matthews on MSNBC called her a “torpedo” aimed at Barack and Michelle Obama in terms of families, a cultural shot right at the heart of Obama’s persona.

Democrats have come up against a force here. It’s the same force — absent substance — that worked for George Bush. But Palin is ten times the speaker Bush was and is.

Personal opinion — she’s competely unqualified to be president should something happen to the aged McCain, and McCain’s choice of her is reckless and rash and would endanger the country he claims to put first. And some of what she said was just a lie — Obama will raise taxes on a steelworker, for example.

But, she did a very good job tonight, she jabbed at Obama with zest and a smile, and in a dull field of dreadful GOP speakers, she is not just a breath of fresh air but wind and rain and sunshine all at once.

Palin stumbled when delivering a few sentences about foreign issues — the only time she was dull and clunky. When talking about family and state government and no new taxes and small town values, she was kickass.

She’s trouble for the Dems. A smart pick by McCain in terms of getting elected. A frightening choice for the country.

What do you think?

— Bruce Benidt marketing strategies fine