Lothery & Associates

Convention Conversation: Hits and Misses

It is the political season, and we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t follow the GOP Convention in Tampa and point out the communication hits and misses in the most prominent speeches. So, at this point, our regular readers know the drill. But for you newbies, here are the rules. We are not engaging in a political conversation, nor are we endorsing a particular candidate over another. Leave your red, blue, green and tea party hats at the door, and let’s look at the communication styles, messages, and delivery of the speeches.

The two most promoted speeches were that of Ann Romney and Chris Christie. There were some strong points to both, and some faux pas that you as a communicator should avoid whenever you make a presentation or speech.   Let’s take a look at each, separately.

Ann Romney:

In all of our presentation training sessions involving the use of a teleprompter we talk a lot about the importance of the rhythm of eye contact. That is moving between each prompter screen smoothly without having it appear that you’re reading. Ann did an ok job, there, but Chris really mastered it!Presentation Training

I was thrilled to see that she didn’t commit the single most common female-communication-mistake.  Yes, I played the gender card. Very rarely do men speak with an upward pitch (that’s the sing-song sound that makes younger girls and women sound like valley girls from the 80s).  She had a strong voice with authority and confidence. She smiled in all of the right places and softened her tone whenever speaking about her marriage and love for her husband.

Mrs. Romney carried the message that she and her husband came from humble beginnings and grew an empire, they’re proud parents and that she understands the struggle women face as they try to manage a career, a home, and a family.

Where she fell down a bit, was with the constant pointing and her message that may have been too harsh for male listeners.With her sharp tone, at times, she would point at the audience and at the cameras, leaving many viewers feeling like they were getting lectured or scolded. In any presentation, it is always recommended that an open hand or even the “Bill Clinton-esque” retracted finger is the better way to go. It looks less confrontational and still allows the speaker to appear confident and poised.

In her appeal to female voters, she all but disregarded men, and their contribution in the house. Clearly this was not her intent, but it is a possible impact. She said things like “women do it all,” “we have the hardest jobs” etc. Admittedly, most of the men in the room took those words and understood that was an effort to close the gender gap that currently exists in the polls. They know she was trying to identify with women, and build a relationship. But for less the aware, or voters who are still making up their minds, this may have sounded too harsh. She may have portrayed herself as the domineering woman who takes “girl power” to a new level.  Again, the allied and the members of the proverbial choir probably never noticed. But the so-called fence sitters might have tuned out.

Chris Christie:

Like him or hate him as a politician, the New Jersey Governor is a master of the microphone, the teleprompter and the audience pep rally! He walked up to the mic and took control. He was natural, conversational and clearly speaking from his point of view and not a speech handed to him to read for the convention. He used humor well, for the most part (there was one aside the fell flat, but I suspect, not many people noticed).  He told personal stories to set up the angle he was going to take for the speech and made Mitt Romney seem more like ” a normal guy.”

Media TrainingI happen to enjoy the Governor’s style because he always speaks from an authentic starting point. He doesn’t shift or waiver, so you know you’ll get the same answer on Monday from him, that you get from him on Friday, or next week, and next year. He even made that one of his talking points in the speech. He talked about how America needed more people who make the decisions that are needed not the ones that are likable. He emphasized the importance of having a candidate who takes a position and sticks with it.

And here’s the challenge. He says Mitt Romney is that candidate. However, Mitt’s reputation is that he is someone who waivers with what’s popular at the time and shifts position to stay away from conflict or resistant. Viewers who are the “fence sitters” undoubtedly made that connection in their minds as they listened to the energetic governor state his case. Less than a week ago, Romney issued a statement that abortion would be legal in the case of rape and incest in a Romney-Ryan administration, but both parties are on record repeatedly talking about how they oppose abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. The statement was released in relation to Rep. Akin’s comments that a woman’s body can prevent pregnancy in cases of legitimate rape. This inconsistency can pose a credibility challenge to the republican nominee with the swing voters. Christie’s big build up, simply put a big yellow highlighter around it.

All in all, both speakers were on point, polished, and engaging. A good first night, after being on hold for Hurricane Isaac.

The Speech Pairing and other Convention Notes

We’d be remiss if we didn’t look at the choice of speakers. Convention organizers might have wanted to discuss speech themes a little more with Mrs. Romney and Governor Christie to get them more in sync.  It was a little odd to hear the first lady hopeful talk about why she loves her husband, and why we should like and love her husband at the polls in the first speech, and then hear the Governor talk about how being liked isn’t important, the ability to make tough decisions is what matters.  She gentle contradiction was hardly a campaign buster, or mood killer, but it did require the audience to mentally separate the two messages and recognize on their own, that the two were trying to portray the best possible image for Romney and show all of his dimensions.

Interesting Subliminal Messages:

The GOP is currently competing (informally, of course) for coverage with Hurricane Isaac. Leaders were asked ad nauseum on Monday about whether they regretted canceling the first day because of the hurricane that never was…at least not in Tampa.  Despite all reporter attempts to bait convention attendees, organizers and speakers into saying something insensitive and inflammatory, they all politely and sincerely said no, and pointed to the importance of public safety.  To punctuate their point, there was a “Red Cross Relief” message and contact information to help the victims of the latest storm to slam the gulf. Nice touch.

On different note: In a race where there are fewer minorities standing with the GOP, it was interesting to note where the most prominent minority  was sitting. Condoleezza Rice was sitting next to Mitt Romney in the stands right in front of his sons. This ensured ample camera time for the former Secretary of State. The Secret Service agent positioned with the republican nominee was also a person of color and positioned right behind the sons. When looking at a glance one would assume this was another attendee. But in looking at the behavior and lanyards around his neck, he was clearly with the security team.

The running debt total at the top of the arena was another subtle way to keep the nation’s economic state in the minds of voters who were watching. It’s unlikely anyone will remember the actual number, but the constant ticking of the counter, and visual of seeing a number increase every second, is an effective way to use the power of suggestion.

Subtle pictures, positioning, and video are all things that convention and conference organizers should consider when trying to paint a picture. These were just a few noted last night. When you attend or organize an event, look around. See what subtle or subliminal messages are on display. What do they mean? Do they shift your opinion, or shape your thoughts?  Think about what you can build into your next presentation. Or, you may even try something with your background for your next media interview. There are hundreds of ways to get messages across.  What are you trying?


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