Coaching The Presidential Candidates

As of yesterday at 5:00PM, not one candidate has called me from any presidential campaign. Hmmm. Guess that’s not unusual. THEY NEVER DO!


But let’s pretend that one did call asking for help on debate prep, speech prep or just how to communicate better with the American people. I would lead with the three-headed problem to be followed by the 10-point fix:

The Problem

1. People are hungry for a candidate that people feel understands them. Most candidates are awful at establishing ‘remote rapport.’ (Rapport is easier when you’re face-to-face, but more difficult to establish at a distance, or in media). Reagan and Clinton were very good at this.

2. Your current message leaves people cold and uninterested. You lecture to people. You pander to people. You come across as someone who is desperate to be elected. Not a good strategy. It’s why your poll numbers aren’t moving. No one knows what you stand for, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

3. You are amusingly vague. I know…it’s politics. So you don’t want to get too narrow because you will lose key voting blocks. (Or, at least you think you will.) But you are so vague that no one knows where you stand. And I’ll fix that with the list below.

The Fix

Below I’ve listed 10 components to you becoming a more compelling communicator. Use these and your poll numbers will rise. Promise!

1. Never More Than 3. Never have more than three bullet points to any argument. Actually, come to think of it, that might overwhelm most people, but no more than three. If you’re talking “immigration”, then say “There are three issues that we must solve.” Use the number “3”. Then, go into more detail. Then, review the three at the end. Whether people agree with you or not, they are looking for someone who has intelligently thought through it. And with that approach, you will prove that you have.

2. No Laundry Lists of Reasons. I heard Carly Fiorina yesterday go into a 2-minute lecture using the same words at the beginning of each sentence, “Never mind that we’ve been talking about this for 20 years. Never mind that x, never mind that y, never mind that z.”

For decades politicians seem to get great satisfaction in the cadence of the laundry list. But it fails to help someone understand the issues. It turns into “blah, blah, blah” – not to votes.

3. Don’t Lecture Me On What Should Be Done. No one wants to be preached to. Great preachers tell stories that make their point. Politicians must learn that practice. And not the “I met a little old lady on the campaign trail yesterday and, with tears in her eyes, she pleaded with me to….” Too contrived. People know that’s a lie.

Try this: “I was sitting alone the other night with a piece of blank paper drawing out the real problems facing our country. And here’s what I drew.” Give people a look into your mindset and how you solve problems.

4. Use a Well-Placed Quote In Your Argument. What happened to this powerful technique? Shakespeare. Churchill. Reagan. Kennedy. Roosevelt. Anyone! Someone surely said something that you could use to drive home a point. But don’t do it as a ‘throw-away line.’ Do it with forethought. “When Churchill was battling for his life in WWII, he went into the studio one day and turned on the mic and out of his mouth came this wisdom….”

I’ll remember that. Plus, it tells me you’re channeling powerful people to get our problems solved.

5.  When You Get A Question, Begin With Your Vision.  Your vision is important. It’s where you want to take our country. “Before I answer that, let me begin with my vision for our country in this area.” Now, you can’t answer every question like that, but you can on the big ones.

6. Why Should Someone Vote For You?  If you can’t answer that question, then you haven’t worked it out for yourself. And you shouldn’t be elected. Think through that question. You will either get that question directly or you’ll be able to work it in in lots of places. But if it rambles on for minutes and makes no coherent sense, you get no mileage out of it. Even if you have a damn good reason for running. Make your promise. Be real.

NOTE: this is not the, “Why I’m running” question. That’s entirely different.

7. Why Someone Should NOT Vote For You? That’s right. List some reasons that people should not support you. Go negative. Be real. “If you’re looking for x, then I’m not your candidate and you should cast your vote for someone else.” People love that. It exhibits strength. Your handlers will NEVER allow you to say that. But you should. It displays strength and not desperation.

8. Be Logical. If you make an argument, here are the three elements: 1) The problem that exists now and the impact it has on people/institutions. 2) The frame of mind that created the problem and how we need to re-think our framing of it. 3) The Method to fix. How will you fix it. You don’t even have to give the policy you’d implement…just the process you will go through. That’s enough.

NOTE: If it’s a controversial topic, say, “This is a very controversial topic.” Let people know that you struggle with this, too. It makes you more human.

9.  Get Your Own Media. Are you as tired as I am of candidates moaning about their coverage on mainstream media? Get a channel and do your own broadcast! What’s stopping you? Don’t have a video camera? Don’t have a good mic? Can’t figure out how to do YouTube? Don’t know about podcasting? Come on. Everyone has a channel.  Want a long form interview and the media won’t give it to you? Easy. Do it yourself. And stop whining. It doesn’t become you as a candidate. No one respects someone who is always blaming…especially the media. They don’t hold the power they once did.

10. Smile Occasionally. Don’t be so sour. But smile authentically. Get yourself in the right frame of mind prior to interviews. Go work out. Go meditate. Go get clear. Be ready for anything so you look serene and un-disturbed. The world events are disturbing enough as they are. We want someone who has a calmness to them so they can think clearly in the heat of the battle. Demonstrate that.

Now, if it’s a topic that’s ultra-serious, then wipe that smile off your face and go serious. But even then, summon that calmness that we want in our leader.

If You’re Not A Presidential Candidate

I know, no candidates will read this. But this applies to all of us as we communicate with our constituents, regardless of the forum. Can you use these in your messaging and delivery of it? Let me know what you think…not politics, but style.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “Coaching The Presidential Candidates

  1. Wow. Great Piece. I know you are too smart to run for president, but you should at least hire on as a campaign manager for someone; maybe Condoleezza Rice, oh wait, she is too smart as well…

  2. Well done! Great list and I especially like #3. These “stories” may have some validity but they are beyond being overused.

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