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Lance Armstrong, Manti T’eo crises prove value of your own story

I recently wrote this article for Read the full story here! Here's a sample preview:

Lance Armstrong and Manti T'eo have recently dominated headlines, but the lesson for your own business isn't in crisis management, it's in owning your own story.

Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong have had better months. After manufacturing stories that captured the hearts of the country, the world demanded the very thing that Ricky Ricardo exclaimed to Lucy on countless occasions, “You got some splainin’ to do.”

Because I provide messaging consultation and media training to a number of high profile athletes, I’ve been quizzed incessantly about how well each athlete performed. The truth is, though, the critical lessons people should glean from these events have nothing to do with crisis management. Very few of us will ever be forced to explain to an audience of 28 million people why they lied about taking drugs, or how the love of their life does not actually exist.

This whole mess is really about the power that story has on our lives. We are all beholden to it. Both Lance and Manti received exponential increases in fame, financial potential, and groupie count because of it. A great story engages our emotions, remains in our memory, and moves us to action....



Going Old School: A Debate Perspective from the Radio

Last night, many witnessed the final Presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle. I was not among the many. As my twitter feed filled with 'expert' commentary about body language, fact checking, and victory declarations, I drove back to Dallas after an all day speech training with our newest client. So, I went old school- I listened on the radio. It allowed me to focus on the "45 percent" of communication (Albert Mehrabian, 1971) that has been forgotten among the experts- the voice and the message. This was a good reminder that what someone says and how they say it DOES actually play a role in who wins the debate. With that in mind, here are my conclusions:

  1. Obama has an incredible voice and he commands it well. In the past, he's been guilty of consistent 'verbal vomit' (um, uh, you know, I mean) when not in front of a teleprompter. This round, he eliminated it almost completely. The combination of his God given vocal resonance, volume, pacing, and fluency resulted in a uniquely confident presentation. Obama was at his best.
  2. Romney's voice has never carried the strength of Obama, but in the last debates his posture, gestures, expressions and God given facial structure (Odhorov) have created a persona of authenticity and authority. When focusing on the voice, however, he reveals a lack of confidence in his information and a has tendency to raise his pitch when he's struggling.
  3. The topic: It was clear that foreign policy was not seen by either party as the major voting issue. Both candidates sought ways to move back to domestic policy as often as possible. Romney's framing of the issues mimics the legendary Clinton strategy against Bush 41. "It's about the economy stupid." (Carville)
  4. Obama has the incumbent advantage on foreign policy, but his willingness to move away from the 'high position' tells me that his team feels he's losing in the most important battle- the economy- and he must address it.
  5. If there were major policy differences in foreign policy between the two candidates, it was difficult to discern. They found ways to disagree, but overall it seemed like the debate on foreign policy was centered around "you said this," "no I didn't." At the end of the day, foreign policy was revealed as a non-voting issue.
  6. Obama successfully employed a number of rhetorical tools that Romney lacked. He made a strong emotional connection with his story of "Payton" who lost her father at 4 years old on 9/11. Obama then contrasted her closure after Bin Laden was killed with Romney past opinion that Obama should have sought Pakistan's permission. My personal favorite, however, was when he said that Romney had a foreign policy from the '80's, a social policy from the '50's, and an economic policy from the '20's. Brilliant play.

These debates target a very small number of people. If you haven't decided, you aren't voting on real policy issues (you probably aren't anyway). You are voting on confidence, delivery, and presentation. While I hear the body language told a far different story, the verbal and messaging component of this debate was a clear victory for Obama.



Debate lines we want to hear, or do we?

Kevin DeYoung of the Gospel Coalition offered an intriguing list of unlikely lines he'd like to hear from the candidates in tonight's VP debate. I have included the list below. You can read the original blog post here.

“I’m glad you brought that up, because I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was a mistake and here’s why.” “There’s a simple explanation for the inconsistency: I changed my mind. I think a good leader changes his mind sometimes. Let me tell you why I’ve changed mine.” “I’m not going to promise that because, frankly, there are a lot of things I can’t control. But I’ll do my best.” “I know this is an unpopular position, but let me explain why I hold it.” “There are many problems government can’t fix and many problems politicians shouldn’t try to fix. That doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means we’re not gods and you shouldn’t expect us to be.” “You raise a really tough issue. There’s no clear cut answer. I can see why my opponent thinks the way he does, but let me try to explain the tradeoffs and why my position makes more sense.” “It’s possible for me to disagree with their decisions, their ideas, and even their religion without despising them. Just because I don’t think everyone is doing what is best doesn’t mean I don’t want what is best for everyone.” “I’m not smart enough or virtuous enough to figure out everyone’s fair share.” “I don’t pretend to understand the needs of every American or feel every hurt.” “I may not be able to find a job for everyone, but I will do my best to defend this country, defend the constitution, defend your liberty, and defend the rights granted to us by God.” “There is no reason a President needs to give his opinion on that or even have an opinion on that.” “I don’t know.”


I think we can all agree with Kevin. Why don't candidates offer an alternative to the same tired rhetoric? Why not be honest? Unfortunately, there are reasons they don't, a few of which I have listed here:

1- As outlined in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Denial of Death," Ernest Becker explains that people intuitively demonize opposing views. A candidate who acknowledges similarities and makes connections to the opposing side will risk ostracizing his/her own voting base. Unfortunately, as a whole we are just not capable of seeing the shades of grey that exist in the real world.

2- The overpromise and under-deliver rhetoric of campaigns has been proven over and over again to be not only effective, but the only way to win. Voters want to hear that the candidate will solve their problems. Four years later, the consequences of unfulfilled promises can be easily sidestepped by pushing responsibility to the opposing party and external unforeseen circumstances. Not making lofty promises might earn you honesty points, but it won't earn you votes.

3- People want to believe in the super-hero myth of the president. Humanizing the president must be done in only the most delicate of ways. Good examples include Obama playing basketball and making picks for March Madness, Clinton playing the saxophone. On the other side, some political communication experts argue that George H. W. Bush's bid for re-election was lost when cameras caught him vomit on the Prime Minister of Japan. We want our President to be healthier, smarter, more confident, stronger, and ultimately super human. Thus, rhetoric that includes "I'm not sure...I don't know...I'm human and make mistakes" is a quick route to losing votes.

4- In any public argument (including writing), you should NEVER explain the other side's view in detail. That gives the alternative view double the time in the debate. We remember what we hear repeated. Instead, explain what's wrong with the view briefly and focus on your superior solution.

All this to say, if you are looking for the candidate who makes limited promises, lowers expectations, acknowledges doubt and personal limitations, and talks about how much he likes the other candidate, you will be looking for a long long time.