10 things business leaders can learn from presidential debates

Regardless which nominee you support, you and your top executives can glean key techniques to embrace or avoid. Look back at round one, and gear up for Sunday night’s town hall.

Here are my 10 takeaways from the first presidential debate:

1. Tell the truth. Fact checkers will share with us which of the nominees’ assertions were exaggerations, half-truths or outright lies. Although political candidates often survive their tall tales, business leaders and their companies are generally more vulnerable when journalists and other neutral parties point out their untruthful statements.

2. Speak with passion. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke with passion. A business leader’s key messages might perfectly strike target audiences, but sharing words robotically or without enthusiasm, even under uncomfortable circumstances, is a quick way to lose people’s interest.

3. Don’t deviate too much from your talking points. When answering questions, presidential candidates often end up talking about whatever issues they prefer. That’s why politicians often gain a reputation for dodging questions. Doing so reflects poorly on business leaders in the eyes of clients and employees.

4. Get ready. Media outlets have analyzed the different approaches that Clinton and Trump apparently took in preparing for their first debate. Whichever approach you prefer, be prepared to discuss the topic at hand, or be ready to handle questions when you don’t know the answers. News media interviews offer business leaders an opportunity to position themselves as industry experts. Take advantage of such occasions.

5. Watch the adrenaline. Both nominees showed spirit, but don’t mistake a surge of adrenaline for spirit. People won’t listen if your tone turns them off first.

6. Don’t overload us with information. Almost all political candidates at times lose their audiences with details that most of us don’t understand. Media outlets afford business leaders far less time to elaborate. Unless your audience is industry-savvy, explain yourself and connect the dots, assuming people don’t know much about what you do.

7. Prepare great sound bites and quotes. Most TV producers repeatedly show us the same sound bites from the debates. Presidential candidates don’t generally provide such words by chance. They look for opportunities to deliver clever insights. Business leaders need not be so calculating. However, considering sound bites that might sum up complex topics can be strategically important.

8. Beware of body language. We don’t recommend adopting Trump’s body language. It might work for him, and every rule has its exceptions. Some business leaders consider body language superficial, but we’ve watched too many executives lose the war of words not by what they say but by how they say it and how they look.

9. Realize traditional media outlets are only one channel for the story. If you’re handling a crisis, trying to manipulate public opinion or attempting to extend your reach, ignoring the impact of social media is like a football coach claiming special teams don’t play a significant role in the game’s outcome.

10. Don’t blame media outlets. Your fans and supporters might love attacking journalists individually or en masse, but your goal is building business, bringing in more clients or increasing support for important causes. Blaming the messenger for your troubles won’t resonate with outsiders who are giving you and your team initial consideration.

Keith Yaskin is president of The Flip Side Communications LLC, a media company that helps companies tell their stories through video production, employee communications, public relations and media training. A version of this article originally appeared on The Flip Side Communications.

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