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6 Communication Lessons from the Presidential Debate

communication lessons

Last night was the first of three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Millions watched as the candidates went head to head on issues affecting our country. But, for those of us in the audience who communicate for a living, we were probably watching as much for the lessons in what to do—and NOT to do—as we were for anything else.

Here are six communication lessons we can learn from watching:

  • Preparation matters: It was clear to most of the viewing audience that one candidate seemed very prepared—while the other less so. When it comes to important events in our careers—big meetings, presentations, negotiations, speaking engagements—we can’t just “wing it.” Taking the time to prepare appropriately pays off when you can confidently deliver your message and handle tough questions.
  • Sometimes, it’s better to say less: We watched several times as Clinton let Trump hang himself by not saying anything. She could’ve intervened, but she waited—and let him go on. This was a strategic move on her part. The more he talked, the more missteps he made. She simply stood by and let it happen. This can apply in a meeting or negotiation, as well—even in written communications. Sometimes, saying less really is
  • Moderators need to moderate: Trump continually interrupted Hilary last night—AND he interrupted moderator Lester Holt. Of course, this is bad manners, but if professionals do this, they need to be reigned in. The moderator’s job is to help control the amount of time each person speaks and not allow anyone to step on others’ time. Holt is taking heat for allowing it to go on and not stepping in more assertively. It works the same way when you’re part of a panel at an industry conference, for example. This should be a lesson to anyone moderating—maintain control of the event.
  • Keep your cool under pressure: If we’re under pressure, sometimes, we crack. We saw this last night, as Trump continually lost his cool, baited by Clinton multiple times. We must remember that, no matter what happens, we need to keep our composure. Don’t let anyone throw you off your game. When Trump stuck to his game plan, he was able to make some solid points. Unfortunately, that was overshadowed by his inability to remain calm to cool-headedly answer questions and stick to messages he knows resonate.
  • Don’t interrupt: Communication 101—try not to interrupt when others are speaking. Yes, sometimes someone will go on and on—and then we may feel the need to try to get a word in edgewise. But, interrupting continually should not be our default mode of operation. It’s rude. Children do it—but they’re children. Professionals shouldn’t operate this way. Keep interruptions to a minimum, if you feel you must interrupt at all.
  • Every once in a while, smile: If you noticed last night, the only time Trump smiled was at the end of the debate, while Clinton smiled throughout. Smiling makes you more likable, more relatable. According to The Definitive Book of Body Language, if you smile at your audience, they’re more likely to feel a connection with you (even if the smile is forced). Struggle with remembering to smile? Put a reminder in your notes.

What communication lessons did you learn from watching last night’s debate?

Dr. Roger Blackwell: Three Lessons in Presenting

blackwellThe other day, I had the distinct honor of hearing Dr. Roger Blackwell speak at our Columbus AMA luncheon. Dr. Blackwell is a marketing legend—I won’t go into all his accolades, but you can visit his site and read his bio here: http://www.rogerblackwellbusiness.com. Suffice it to say that he’s written 25 books, The New York Times has described him as one of America’s top business speakers and there’s a building named after him at The Ohio State University. (!)

I’d been looking forward to this event since I invited him to present and, thankfully, he said yes. He’s a long-time AMA member and a big supporter of the organization. I may be one of the few who’ve never had the pleasure of hearing him speak, so I was stoked for our meeting yesterday. And, Dr. Blackwell did not disappoint!

Here are three lessons to take away from his brilliant presentation:

Lesson One: Have a Thread That Ties It All Together

Dr. Blackwell has written a brand new book, “Saving America: How Garage Entrepreneurs Grow Small Firms into Large Fortunes,” that talks about how to bootstrap the economy and how small startups are our salvation. I must admit, I’m not the biggest follower of economics, but his talk fascinated me. “If you don’t know the cause, you won’t know the cure,” is one of his favorite expressions. So, he proceeded to explain his theory regarding the cause of our economic woes.  The way he explained how our upper head strength (= brain) has become more important than our upper body strength (=brawn)—meaning  it now takes fewer workers to do the same job because of technology—by using statistics and examples we can all relate to had the crowd enthralled.

Lesson Two: Your Presentation Style Matters

Add to that his dynamic presentation style—there’s no doubt that this is a guy who CARES about what he’s saying!—and it was a tremendous presentation. Dr. Blackwell came out into the audience—he didn’t stand up on the stage or at the podium. There was an energy in the room.  Although he ran over the allotted time, no one got up to leave…everyone stayed to hear his entire talk. I think he would’ve kept going, had we had more time—and I really wanted him to keep going!

Lesson Three: Leave Them Wanting More

This got me to thinking, if you’re a passionate presenter, perhaps it doesn’t matter if every member of your audience is into your topic. If you CARE about what you’re saying, then the audience will follow your lead and care, too! So, the next time you present, try to inject some passion into your presentation. I’m still thinking about Dr. Blackwell’s talk and am sure it will stay with me for days. He definitely left his audience wanting more.