By Thomas Graham
For the business leader thrust into the public eye, two clear lessons emerge from the first Clinton-Trump debate:
Stay on message. Donald Trump was prepared and disciplined in the opening minutes, scoring points with a slashing, informed attack on Clinton on trade. He had his opponent backing into the ropes. But then Clinton repeatedly got under Trump’s skin, such as when she called Trump “racist” for his birther remarks and chiding him for calling women “pigs.” Trump took the bait, lapsing into defenses that named Sydney Blumenthal and Rosie O’Donnell, obscure figures meaningless to most listeners. By then he was far off his message and easy prey for his opponent.
The lesson is to stick with your message. Pivot away from an attack and return to your agenda. Be disciplined. Trump should have invoked Ronald Reagan, who dismissed Jimmy Carter’s attacks by saying, “There you go again.”
What your body says is 93% of the communication. Only seven-percent of what is absorbed by an audience comes in the word bundle. In this confrontation, Clinton looked more presidential. She showed energy and was calm, appeared healthy and vigorous. As is his standard shtick, Trump grimaced, rolled his eyes, puckered his lips, bobbed and weaved and then added a surprising new tic: horse sniffles. And then there were the water gulps. Gosh, had he picked up Hillary’s respiratory issues?
The lesson is to be aware of the message you’re sending with facial expressions and body language. Show command of the facts, confidence in the message, optimism about the outcome, and control of the discussion. In the case of a presidential debate, look presidential. Avoid Al Gore’s sighs as he debated George Bush, Barack Obama’s prickliness in his first debate with Mitt Romney and Trump’s horse sniffles.
This isn’t intended as political commentary, but as a case study with lessons for the business executive about to face the media. Be prepared, stay on message and remember your body language speaks more than your words. What you say and how you say it should be aligned. He said she wasn’t getting to him, but she clearly did.
Thomas Graham is founder, president and CEO of Crosswind Media and PR.