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Rick and Joe Screw Up

Rick Perry and Joe Paterno both screwed up in very public ways. Can rhetoric help them recover their footing? You betcha.  Here’s how.

Let’s start with Rick.  I don’t particularly like his politics but I can certainly sympathize with his moment of brain freeze. Many a skilled communicator has run into the occasional communications barrier. It’s happened to me and I’m sure that it’s happened to you.  Though we hold our presidential candidates to higher standards, we also want them to be normal people — more or less like us.  In other words, someone we could have a beer with.  So how does Rick recover?  With self-deprecating humor.  It’ll do him no good to get on his high horse and sound defensive (which is a mistake Herman Cain is making). He’ll do much better if he pokes fun at himself, acknowledges his mistake and moves on. He might even pretend to forget something in his next debate and then laugh, say “Just kidding”, and complete his thought.  That would acknowledge his mistake while making light of it at the same time — exactly what he needs to do.

Joe, on the other hand, is in a much deeper bind and can’t turn to humor.  He has to deal with the perception (true or not) that he could have stopped evil but did nothing instead. It will do him no good to argue the finer legal points.  People aren’t going to give him credit for being right in a narrow legal sense. We want a leader to do the right thing, in the broadest, deepest sense.  To reclaim his good name, Joe will have to use his persuasive skills to give a painful, and deeply felt apology.  I could see him saying, “I’ve always believed that coaching is about teaching good values to young men and women.  It’s about being a role model when life presents you with agonizing choices.  And today, I’m going to teach one of the most painful lessons of my life — I didn’t do the right thing.”  I think Joe still has a lot to teach us — but he needs to lead the way.

Winning vs. Winning & Losing

How is winning an argument different from winning a baseball game?  In baseball, you have a winner and a loser.  In an argument, you need more than just good communication skills — if you’re smart — you can have two winners. It all depends on how you play the game after you’ve “won”.  Being a good winner this time will make you even more persuasive next time. Learn more in the video.

Nerves and Presentations

How nervous should you be when you start a speaking presentation?  A little nervousness during a public speaking event can actually help you perform better.  What does nervousness communicate to your audience? Mainly, it says that you’re taking them seriously and sincerely trying to do a good job. That builds credibility rather than reducing it.  What should you do if you’re too nervous to make your presentation? Well, watch the video.

Are older people wiser?

Many cultures around the world consider old people to be wiser than young people.  Why would that be?  It may be very simple — old people have forgotten a lot.  They forget the details and the minutiae. They remember the important stuff.  That’s also very good advice for creating powerful, persuasive presentations.

Get more tips for improving your verbal communication skills in the video.

Your metaphor or mine?

The world is just too complex.  It’s difficult to understand all the different things that are going on around us.  Some people retreat to conspiracy theories to try to make sense of the world.  Most of us do something simpler: we create metaphors.  A metaphor is simply a way of saying, “the world is like this…”  It simplifies the many complexities and makes the world — and our arguments — easier to understand.

But what happens if my metaphor for how the world works is different from your metaphor?  If I say that life is like baseball, then I’ll probably tolerate a little deceit in life.  After all, the hidden ball trick is acceptable, no?  If you say that life is like a court of law, you’ll probably have a much different view of what’s acceptable.  We could wind up talking right past each other.  Worse, we could get very angry at each other without really understanding why.  It’s not an effective communication tool for business or for romance.  Learn more in the video.

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