As I write this, the voting for the next President of Ireland is going on, and the current incumbent looks set to walk it.
While the campaign has had its moments for most people it’s been a giant switch-off. But for those of us who spend our time parsing and analysing most of the comings and goings of this campaign via the media outings of the various candidates, it’s offered some important lessons. These are lessons which apply to anyone who wants to convey their message clearly in the media, at a job interview or in the boardroom.
LESSON ONE: BE STRAIGHT AND UPFRONT
This is hard to do, but obvious at the same time. Don’t try to hide your ignorance. Say “I don’t know” when you don’t know even if you should know. People will more likely forgive you for that rather than trying to pretend you do know.
Broadcast media – both radio and TV – always reveal when someone is not being straight and upfront.
So (media trainer) Gavin Duffy was flummoxed on two occasions (at least two…) when on Morning Ireland presenter Audrey Carville asked him who his favourite poet was, He said Emily Dickinson, and then she asked him who his favourite Irish poet was. When he clearly didn’t have an answer he turned it around and started asking her questions – revealing in my opinion his own lack of an answer.
Considering Michael D is popular as a poet, and is trending on Twitter as #keepthepoet, you’d have thought Duffy would have been ready for that.
Duffy gave a better performance when he was fairly upfront about his road speeding antics when confronted with them by the ever pugnacious Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One. By being open about them they were no longer an issue.
LESSON TWO: BE PREPARED
Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail. Have your facts and figures ready and at your fingertips. Write them on those postcard-size pieces of card you can get in any good newsagents, and write them large. Everyone forgets something obvious in the heat of battle – these aide memoires are so useful.
Have great examples – with details you can stand over, right down to the weather on the day, the colour of the tie you were wearing, the names of people – to back up your arguments.
Michael D has proved good at this – “when I was xyz….”. He could quote chapter and verse when he wanted to back up a point – and he more than often referenced real people in real situations, so the audience at home could immediately engage with that.
LESSON THREE: STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
In the visual age we live in – and that includes the webcams in radio studios, and obligatory photos with radio presenters and journalists – you have to look a bit different, and you should have your own distinctive style.
Having three businessmen looking practically identical did none of them any good in any of the studio debate line-ups. Being small actually helped Michael D. Being a national figure since 1969 with a distinctive face, hairstyle, glasses and those professorial suits helped too.
And then there’s that rather unique tea cosy thing…
For women, it’s arguably a bit easier, but I thought Liadh Ni Riada’s decision to wear a dark blue one-colour dress to the first Virgin One TV debate did her no favours. By this week, her white outfit really helped her stand out from the crowd, and accentuated her height and relative youth.
LESSON FOUR: BE YOURSELF
Don’t try posh accents. I noticed by the beginning of this last week of campaigning that Michael D had lost his rather odd mannerism of starting a sentence in one accent – usually a kind of Clare-meets-Galway – and morphing into something sort of posh English, as he floated on the winds of his own powerful oratory. He got out of that though as he was pushed into the trenches.
LESSON FIVE: BE CONSISTENT
Once you have decided what your response to a particular criticism – or recurring argument – is, stick to it. That’s what Liadh Ni Riada did with her HPV vaccine answers, what Michael D said about the Learjet, and Joan Freeman and her opposition to the 8th Amendment.
LESSON SIX :HAVE A STRONG ‘WHY”
And mean it.
I know most of us have by now probably watched this powerful Ted talk by Simon Sinek on the power of Why. If you know your Why, everything else follows.
Why do you want to be President? What difference will you make? What’s your unique selling point?
And it has to be meaningful.
Can it answer the “So what?” test?
So what if you felt you were wronged 7 years ago?
So what if you set up a great mental health charity?
So what if you are a successful businessman with a half-decent idea for a Youth Corps?
So what if you speak Irish and want a united Ireland?
And so what if you made millions in the US and think you can now use negative campaigning to lower the public discourse to catch media attention?
Finally, if you do get the opportunity to convey your message in the media don’t be afraid to say yes. Listen or watch back over your performance afterwards and learn from the inevitable mistakes you will make. That way you can make fewer mistakes, or at least different ones, the next time you get the chance!