Mitt Romney’s front-runner status has been thrown into question once again after his triple loss in the Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri primaries. For professional communicators like myself, the reason for his difficulties is obvious–he doesn’t connect, and connecting is all about communicating.
I know that sounds vague and perhaps even a little “woo-woo.” In presidential election after presidential election, however, the candidate who connects best, wins.
This has nothing to do with policy or whom a voter might like better, or even who might do a better job. It’s about intangible, yet critical qualities, particularly the following:
- Delivery – The verbal and nonverbal skills that go into delivering an impassioned, inspiring speech. As we know from watching politicians ranging from Winston Churchill to Barack Obama, skilled oratory changes hearts and minds.
- Public narrative – What is the “story” that surrounds the candidate? This includes personal and professional background reaching back into childhood and goes to whether a candidate can empathize with the typical voter.
- Interpersonal skills – How does the candidate do on the campaign trail? Can he manage a “Bill Clinton”–making a person feel as if she or he is the only person in a crowded room? This skill also works to mitigate any inherent problems in the public narrative (see George W. Bush).
(Another very important area is slogan/messaging, as well as message discipline, which I’ll write about in a subsequent post.)
Now before all you Romney supporters get mad at me, please know that I believe all these things are fixable or at least manageable. They are concrete and can be learned and incorporated. Considering it is only February, and, thus, light-years from November 6 (in presidential election years, that is), he has time.
If I were Mitt Romney, here is what I’d do:
- Delivery: Throw away most of what he learned in his corporate speech and media training. Everything from his posture, to the sound of his voice (excellent tone quality, by the way), to his amused smiling, to his trying-to-look-relaxed-by-putting-his-hand-in-his pocket, smacks of following all the rules of delivery technique. In fact, these rules that are made to be broken, or, at least, adjusted and adapted to allow for some personality and humanity to shine through.
- Public Narrative: While there is nothing Romney can do about his privileged upbringing, there are ways to manage the perception that he isn’t like you and me. In fact, Mitt Romney had one moment during an earlier debate where he said, “I didn’t grow up poor. And if somebody is looking for someone who’s grown up with that background, I’m not the person.” It was powerful precisely because it was, at last, something he didn’t run away from. He was believable. We felt the connection. Considering this simple equation, he should stop running away from every bit of his past policy-making, too. People may disagree, but they will respect him and connect.
- Interpersonal Skills: Luckily for Romney, he’s got some competition from President Obama on this one. Both men seem to be introverts. They don’t like small talk and aren’t comfortable in the everyday encounters that characterize retail politics. They become exhausted and irritable. Romney has difficulty because, again, he adheres too closely to the rules. It’s difficult to imagine him putting his arms around someone who’s dealing with hard times. I’m sure he has it in him; he just needs to show it more. It’s risky, too, because it means veering from scripted and memorized talking points.
All the above require storytelling skills. Storytelling is the lifeblood of political communication–and allcommunication. Romney needs to mine his life for some new stories and learn how to tell them. Right now, he’s giving us the view from 30,000 feet when he needs to be down to earth.
He (or, someday, she) who communicates best, wins. That’s all there is to it.
Copyright 2012 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.