A Real-Time Case Study on What (Not) to Say

I can tell the holidays are coming by the growing number of catalogs and sales circulars in my mailbox each day. There’s also another kind of mailbox clutter these days, but this one will mercifully disappear in another two weeks.


You guessed it, it’s all the flyers and postcards for local and regional candidates running for office.


With midterm elections coming on November 8th, debates abound, and while I find there is rarely any substance in them that would sway my vote one way or the other, there are ALWAYS great leadership communication lessons to be learned from the events.


Now, as most of you know, I remain firmly apolitical in my work and commentary. Ever since my analysis of the communication patterns of the 2016 presidential race, I watch and listen in order to provide analyses of the candidates’ messaging styles for the sole purpose of identifying effective (or ineffective) communication strategies and tactics, which we can then apply appropriately in our own lives.


I did the same in my commentary during the 2020 election, from my analyses of the Democratic primaries, final debates, town halls, Comparing the DNC and RNC conventions and beyond.


Objectivity is key here. Think of it as though you were a football coach watching game footage the next day. You want to see:


  • What your team did well so you can do it again
  • What your team did NOT do well so you can work on strengthening those areas
  • What your opponent did well, so you learn new ways to be successful
  • What your opponent did NOT do well, so you can leverage it to your advantage in the future (and avoid making the same mistakes for yourself)


You would NOT, however, look at a great play your opponent made and say, “Well, I don’t like them, so I’ll never use that play.” You give objective credit where credit is due, and then decide how to implement it for your own purposes later.


As a prime example, tonight is the debate between Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) as they compete for the open Pennsylvania seat in the US Senate. It’s the only debate I plan to watch and analyze this cycle, frankly because, (a) it’s my state, and (b) there are simply far too many other races to follow.


When I watch “the game footage” tonight, I will be looking for a variety of things I believe each candidate will need to do in order to tip the scales in his favor with regard to:


  • What key personal characteristics they need to project
  • Their ability to make core messages “Tweetable and Repeatable”
  • What they will need to say (or avoid saying) to project those qualities
  • How the sound of their voice and body language will affect those interpretations


In this video podcast I share exactly what these specifics are that I’ll be looking for.


Listen in to see what my predictions are, then watch tonight's debate and see:


  • Where the candidates did or did not follow my advice
  • Who framed and delivered which messages most (or least) effectively,
    and most importantly
  • What lessons we can all learn from their performance and apply in our own lives to help us be more confident, influential, inspiring leaders… regardless of which candidate teaches us each lesson and how.


Then, tomorrow morning I’ll share my “post-game analysis” with you. And if you’re an early bird, tune in to WPHL-17 at 7:45am (watch the livestream here) where I’ll be speaking to the morning show hosts and sharing my main take-aways from the event.


If you’re in PA (or anywhere else), will it help you decide whom to vote for this year? I doubt it. But will it help you increase your influence and have a greater positive impact with some key take-aways about how to be a more compelling speaker and inspiring leader? Absolutely.


Speaking of persuasion, did you miss last Friday’s LinkedIn/YouTube Live event with Keith Campagna, on “Articulating Your ROI in Concrete Terms”? If so, fear not – here’s the replay!


How to be the Conductor of Your Team’s Orchestra

I’ve always been jealous of my cousin Dana’s voice. She’s a classically trained singer with the Washington Choral Arts Society in Washington DC, and I was glad that she was willing to sing at my wedding years ago.


I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of her performances over the years, ranging from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana to annual holiday concerts in December and lots in between.


One year she told me about an upcoming concert with a very unexpected conductor: Bobby McFerrin. Yes, THAT Bobby McFerrin, of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” fame.


McFerrin was a formally trained folk and jazz artist, who – among other talents – could use his voice and body to make and imitate sounds you wouldn’t think the human body was capable of producing.


But somehow, in my woefully limited knowledge and understanding, having “the Don’t Worry Be Happy guy” conduct the Washington Choral Arts Society seemed incompatible at best.


Boy, was I wrong.


“What’s he like?” I asked Dana.

“He’s incredible!” she replied. “He’s so talented, not just in what he can sing himself, but it’s amazing what he can get US to


And the concert was, indeed, mesmerizingly beautiful!


That’s the beauty of great leadership: it’s not about how brilliant we are individually, but rather how brilliantly we can get the rest of our orchestra to play in perfect harmony from the conductor’s chair.


The notion of being the conductor of your team’s orchestra was also a central theme of this week’s episode of the Speaking to Influence podcast, with Dr. Shannon Hader, Dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC.


As one of her direct reports informed her on the very first team she ever led, they didn’t need her to be a “guest oboist” or otherwise jump from chair to chair playing different instruments at different times; they needed a conductor. Someone who could help each play their individual instruments to the very best of their abilities, and collectively produce beautiful music.



Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


Dean Hader and I also addressed moments when our orchestra hits sour notes, such as when your intentions are utterly misinterpreted (and not for the better), and challenges around changing long-standing daily habits and routines to fit a new reality.


It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely essential.


Another group that is all too clear on the importance of being able to clearly conduct their organization’s orchestra is the MSPA, or Mystery Shopping Providers’ Association at whose 25th Anniversary conference I had the honor of delivering yesterday’s keynote address.


“Mystery Shopping”… yup, that’s a thing!



In case you recognize the other face but can’t quite place it, that’s Charles Stiles, past president of the MSPA but more popularly known for being the host of the Food Network show Mystery Diners for nearly a decade.


He and his crew would set up “sting” operations in restaurants around the country at the owner’s request to find out what was at the root of dwindling profits and customer complaints.


It was a full orchestration of collaborators posing as new employees and customers wearing hidden microphones, with surveillance cameras, and more.


Charles and I met when he was in Philadelphia about eight or nine years ago, when he was preparing to shoot an episode in one of the local restaurants near where I used to live. He was standing on the sidewalk outside my apartment, looking around the neighborhood, and I happened to recognize him.


As a fan of the show, I took the opportunity to introduce myself, welcome him to the neighborhood, and get the inside scoop on which restaurant was the “target” for the upcoming episode. We’ve been friends ever since, and this year he invited me to speak at the MSPA conference.


(Who says networking isn’t a long game, and doesn’t pay off?)


But as I have come to learn, what’s even more unique for this particular industry is that a Mystery Shopping service provider company may only have a few dozen or 10% of members who are actually full-time W2 employees; the other 90% – with numbers in the thousands – are 1099 contractors.


Motivating FT employees is hard enough; how do you motivate day-to-day contractors to take a sense of pride and ownership, appreciating the value of a job well done, when their engagement may only last a few hours at a time, and take place on multiple sites over the course of a day or week?


In other words, how do you get all these individual instrumentalists to play together and create a symphony instead of cacophony?


That’s what we discussed in my session.


And speaking of conferences, I’m also honored to keynote again this Friday, 10/14 at the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership event: Breaking Barriers and Igniting Impact.



For more information and registration details, please check out lbccc.org/events .


Now the question becomes: Regardless of what instrument you originally played, can you hand it over to someone else, and learn the art and science of conducting to show your ensemble how to play your magnum opus?

How to Make People Want to Listen to You

Although I speak regularly in front of audiences from all walks of life, yesterday I found myself uncharacteristically nervous before I took to the stage.


I had the honor of speaking at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s annual Leadership Conference in New York, hosted by none other than the Sheriff himself, Dr. Errol Toulon (and former Speaking to Influence podcast guest from episode #101 back in January.)




Of course, I take all of my speaking engagements seriously, but somehow the idea of giving back to first responders by providing them with an experience that was worthy of serving as thanks for all they do for us every day felt like I had to set an even higher standard for myself than usual.


When I got to the stage, there was a much heavier, almost military energy in the auditorium full of very serious faces.


Undeterred, I launched right in with a story about my interaction with an officer who pulled me over for an illegal U-turn (oops) my first year teaching in south-central Los Angeles back in the ‘90s. It was complete with a photo of my first class of students, with me standing alongside them, complete with my 1990s “Jersey-Girl hair” and outfit to boot.



Ironically, I had a little trouble gauging engagement during the talk, as the spotlights on stage were rather blinding, I only heard soft waves of chuckles around the auditorium at points that normally would have gotten full belly-laughs from other audiences, and there were few questions at the end.


Had I gotten through? I wondered.


My silent question was answered in technicolor as soon as I finished. There were lines of people waiting to talk to me afterwards, and at every stretch or meal break in the program for the rest of the day, straight through the cocktail reception into the evening.


Each person shared their favorite parts of my talk and biggest takeaways, why it hit home with them, and asked for advice or tips for themselves or their teams on how to be more effective communicators in different contexts.


The common thread that wove implicitly through everyone’s respective comments was universal appreciation for what can be known as “infotainment.”


Infotainment, a.k.a. Information + entertainment, is a commonly misunderstood and underappreciated engagement strategy.


In the past, infotainment (or edutainment, in the world of education) was synonymous with dumbing-down your content, or otherwise being “content-lite”: e.g. 60 minutes of talking, consisting of a few value nuggets glued together with a lot of cute, fluffy, potentially fun filler. Infotainment was hardly the hallmark of the thought-leader or other expert.


There’s also the deeply ingrained fear among many people that adding any sort of personality, humor or fun to an otherwise serious topic would be a form of self-sabotage that would undermine the speaker’s authority, credibility and reputation. That gravitas and any sense of “fun” were mutually exclusive.


For many, the belief is that serious topics need to be addressed seriously if you want to be taken seriously, period.


However, nothing could be further from the truth.


The truth is that humor and personal connection opens listening.


That’s because there is an instant dopamine hit. Remember that dopamine is one of the very addictive “happy hormones” that makes our brains say, “hey, that felt great; I want more!” And since you were the source, that means they want to listen to YOU even more.


Don’t get me wrong: I’m NOT suggesting that you try out your new standup comedy routine at the next board meeting. But in the midst of an otherwise perfectly serious topic and discussion, like when I teach about leadership communication, executive presence, and influence, one of the most effective strategies I can use is to incorporate some moments of fun, as well as moments of heart-felt emotion, empathy or vulnerability, and aspirational vision.


No matter how important the information is, the ability to sprinkle in the right quality and quantity of humor at the right times to add some unexpected variety to the energy of the room can be the very difference between fully captivating an audience… or just holding them captive.

That’s why Infotainment is the topic of this week’s Speaking to Influence podcast episode . Tune in to get my top secrets, strategies and tips to help you effectively and authentically incorporate my most powerful teaching tool into your presentations and talks with any audience.



Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


(FYI: That’s the perceived “magic” that makes clients invite me back for more half-day [3-4 hour] virtual trainings because everyone loved the first one, whereas most people can barely stand to be on a 30-minute video conference with each other without being bored out of their minds.)


And speaking of 30-minute videos, one that you absolutely can NOT afford to miss is the replay from last Friday’s LinkedIn Live/YouTube Live conversation with another former Speaking to Influence Podcast guest, Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO of Hawke Media.


Erik and I first connected over a year ago on Episode 53, and this time on Friday he walked us through how to proactively think through the stages of a new product, service or business launch. Start to finish, there were tons of immediately actionable take-aways you’ll want to add to your tool belt!



Catch the replay HERE.


At the core, it's the ability to shift from one stage to another, from serious to humorous and back, from one platform to another, with the confidence that conveys “I know exactly what I’m doing; you can trust me,” that creates the magnetic leadership style that ultimately makes people want to listen to you.

What to Ask For From a Mentor

Sometimes I wonder what God’s voice would sound like. Fortunately Hollywood has given us countless versions to sample over the years, from the sublime to the silly and everything in between.


One of my favorite “God” embodiments was Morgan Freeman in the 2007 comedy Evan Almighty. (Let’s face it, he could read the dictionary aloud and make it sound good.)


In one scene, God appears as a table server to Evan’s wife Joan (Lauren Graham), although she doesn’t know he’s God. As they chat, she finds herself confiding in him, sharing how her husband Evan (Steve Carrell) is building a giant ark in their yard because, he claims, God told him to do it.


“What am I supposed to do with that?” she asks helplessly.


His answer sticks with me even today, 15 years later:

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience?

Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?

If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?

If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings,

or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”


Regardless of your beliefs about God, the underlying message is inarguable:


Personal growth doesn’t come from wishing for it or instant fixes. It comes from opportunities to work on improving the areas in which we want to grow.


Lots of people can give us advice, models, or some answers, but we have to put all that into practice, again and again, if we truly want to see, hear, and feel results.


(Whenever a client says they wish they could bypass the practice part, I just smile, hold up my pen, and reply, “Sorry, it’s a pen, not a wand.”)


Sometimes the hardest part is actually finding the opportunity to practice, much less shine.


This is one of the many areas for which this week’s guest on Speaking to Influence, Dr. Brenda Allen, 14th President of Lincoln University, professes being driven by an attitude of gratitude.


President Allen acknowledges the role mentors played in her success along each stage of the career path that started as an undergraduate student at the very university she now leads. In particular, she shares the value of mentors who


  • Taught her how to take a seat at the table,
  • Encouraged her to ask questions,
  • Challenged her to be part of every conversation
  • And not only gave her some initial opportunities to do all this and more, but
  • Taught her how to make her own opportunities on the journey.



Paying it forward, President Allen now looks for people with key skills among her own students and university community to join her team and then helps give them opportunities to be noticed and to shine along their journey.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on Youtube here.


But before you do, take a moment to look inside and ask yourself where you are simply wishing you were (or life was) different, better, received more or had less of something, such as

  • Patience
  • Authority
  • Love
  • Depth of relationships
  • Courage
  • Reputation as a thought leader
  • Charisma, or
  • A friendly work environment

… just as a few examples.


Then ask yourself what you need to put into practice, ask for, or give to others, in order to ultimately create it for yourself.

How to Make Your Audience Trust You

Before moving to Philadelphia over 20 years ago(!), I spent a few years teaching English (as a “foreign” language) at Meito High School in Nagoya, Japan.


On the one hand, academically-oriented high school seniors around the world all seem to be focused on the same thing: getting into the best universities possible.


However, a major difference is what is required to be successful in this endeavor. In Japan, grades are extremely important, but the real focus is each university’s entrance exam, and a major national exam: With minimal exception, the highest test scores win, period.


Most of the seniors in my honors English classes had visions of studying at American (or British, or Australian) universities, which meant that a big part of my job was helping them learn the art and science of writing the dreaded college admissions essay.


That task vexes most students, but there were at least two extra layers of challenge for my students: First, of course, was that they had to write these essays in English, rather than their native Japanese (can you imagine having to write your application essays with however much Spanish or French you managed to pick up in high school?)


But even more challenging was that essay writing overall was NOT a part of the Japanese education system on the whole. In other words, they’d never written 1,000 words about ANYTHING, in any language, EVER.


So needless to say, they thought what I was asking them to do was absolutely insane, which was reflected in the effort they were putting into their assignments. Finally, in a moment of empathetic exhaustion, I said to them:


“Look, I know this is difficult, and it’s not fun. But the American university admissions process is very different from the                                        Japanese system, and in the US, this essay is extremely important.

Most of you have said that you dream of studying abroad. If so, you will have to do a LOT of writing, in almost every class. This                            essay is just the beginning.

I am asking you to PLEASE TRUST ME. I know what will be required for you to get there, because I have done it myself, and I                        want to help you succeed. Will you please trust me?”


The class was silent for a moment, but after that, the work ethic was notably improved. That Friday, I collected the students’ journals to read over the weekend, and one student had written:


“I was very surprised and impressed by your words. No teacher has ever asked me to trust them before. I felt your words were                              powerful. So I will trust you.”


An interesting moral to the story for me was that in order to gain people’s trust, sometimes all it takes is to explicitly and sincerely ASK for it!


Being transparent overall is a big part of gaining trust, as explored this week on the Speaking to Influence podcast with guest Trevor Garner, CFO of IdeaCrew. Trevor shares some examples of what works – and what doesn’t – in creating clarity and cultivating trust with both sides of a service-based tool.


IdeaCrew works with politicians and the government and community members to create efficient, user-friendly state healthcare websites. (Talk about a daunting prospect!)


I love when guests surprise me with their answers. In talking about the importance of vulnerability as a prerequisite to building trust, he told a story of when, in a meeting, a male coworker rudely dismissed his comments, after which Trevor replied, “You know, when you said X, you really hurt my feelings.” (If you want to know how the conversation ended, you’ll have to tune in HERE.)



But I confess I was surprised to hear about two male executives having this exchange, as – stereotypically – women are told to “be less emotional” at work, and men have been historically socialized to not talk about their feelings at all. Yet Trevor’s transparency and vulnerability in this way built trust on many levels that opened to deeper and more productive conversations.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


Influence and trust have an interesting relationship: When your audience trusts you, you do not need to persuade them.


And speaking of persuasion, did you catch Friday’s LinkedIn Live (and YouTube Live) with Deb Coviello, The Drop-In CEO? Our topic was “Persuading the C-Suite,” and we had over 5,000 people watch within the first 72 hours – amazing!



But don’t worry if you missed it: you can still watch the replay here.


Adding even more to your powers of persuasion, we're going live on LinkedIn today, May 3, 2022 at 1:00PM – 2:00 PM, where we'll get to discuss Adding Humor to Work and Life with Theresa Hummel-Krallinger, President of High Five Performance. RSVP or join the conversation here.


And if that wasn’t enough, I also have the privilege of speaking with friend and colleague Dr. James Smith, Jr. on The Dr. James Show. You may recall Dr. James from Speaking to Influence episode 95, “Mastering Public Speaking.”


Dr. James is the incoming president of the National Speakers’ Association, a certified speaking professional, master trainer in leadership as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and so much more. When the two of us get going, conversation goes both fast and deep – try to keep up! And get ready for some fun in the process.


You can watch a little promo here.


Now I'm asking YOU to trust ME: take a few moments over lunch or whenever you're free and check out at least one of these conversations with these experts. I know you'll come away with some 24K gold nuggets you won't want to miss.

How to Make Others See Your Point of View

“Diplomacy is the art of letting others have your way.” – Daniele Vare


When my older son (technically my stepson) T., was around 12 or 13, we got an email from one of his teachers informing us that he had been clowning around, talking too much, and otherwise being disruptive in class – a trend that needed to stop.


That evening when he came home, my husband Larry sat down with him at the table to have a chat about it. But before too long, T got loud and defensive, stormed up to his room and closed the door.


I gave him a few minutes to cool off, then went upstairs and tapped on the door.


“Can I come in?” I asked.


“Yeah,” came the muffled and unenthusiastic reply.


I entered to see him sitting on his bed, arms and legs crossed, and a scowl on his face.


“You okay?” I inquired, and sat at the foot of his bed.




“Want to talk about it?”


“No.” (You can see where this conversation was headed.)


“Okay, no problem,” I said. “Just out of curiosity, when your dad brought it up, did he seem mad?”


“No… I guess not,” he mumbled.


“Did he yell?”




“Did he tell your (biological) mother?”




“If he had, would that have made it worse?”




I paused briefly to let it all sink in.


“Okay,” I shrugged. “Well, if you change your mind and want to talk, you know where to find me.”


I went back down to the kitchen to start preparing dinner, where Larry was at the table reading.


A few minutes later, T came downstairs and entered the kitchen.


“Dad, I’m sorry I yelled. You were just trying to talk to me and I was a brat. Thanks for not telling mom I got in trouble. I won’t do it again.” Then he hugged his dad and left the room.


My husband turned and looked at me, incredulous, as if to say, “Did you see that? Was that the same kid from 15 minutes ago? What the heck got into him?!”


I just smiled and went back to making dinner.


Sometimes asking just the right questions can get us infinitely further toward our ultimate influence goal than formulating the most articulate argument.


And it’s not just about asking “leading” questions (although that can be extremely effective, as I described above). Sometimes it’s about asking the right open-ended, fact-finding questions, to help shed light on an issue, and change our own perspective.


Yet ironically, our educational system, society, and most jobs seem to have placed more value on knowing and providing answers than on seeking them. So it often feels counterintuitive when we realize that asking the right questions helps us make an even greater impact as a human being and as a leader.


That’s why in this week’s podcast , Crystal Ashby, Executive Vice-President and Chief People Officer, Independence Health Group, digs deeper into how asking good questions not only makes interesting and meaningful conversations, but more importantly develops trust.


As Chief People Officer, Crystal’s role is focused on providing opportunities for her team as well as empowering them to find their own ways to shine, especially in today’s “new normal.”


Listen in as we discuss forecasting and reimagining a hybrid workforce, providing equal opportunities to remote and in-person team members, and how great leaders teach their direct reports to advocate for themselves and solve problems before stepping in.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video here .


Here’s to your success,


PS: If you’re a “last minute shopper” (frantic mall sprint on Christmas Eve, anyone?), consider giving someone an alternative gift: the gift of success through greater Virtual Influence! This is the last chance to register for my online Virtual Influence course to up your game and maximize your confidence, presence and influence online for ⅔ OFF the normal registration fee ! Go to virtualinfluence.today  and enter the promo code INFLUENCE21 to take advantage of this limited time offer today!

A Special Thanks for Veterans Day

This week is a special week as I have two exciting things to share.

First, in honor of Veterans' Day tomorrow, my podcast guest today is Bryan Buckley, a former Marine Raider — special ops leader — turned CEO of Helmand Valley Growers Company.



In this episode, Bryan not only shares experiences from his military service where he was awarded the Bronze Star, but also what his life as a Marine taught him about influence, and how it has helped him communicate with different groups of people now in the medical marijuana industry, specifically to help veterans manage the symptoms of PTSD.



Second, this weekend I get to participate in an event for a cause that is close to my heart, the Alzheimer's Association. This past July, my dad (who was also an Army veteran) passed away after a 5-year battle with Alzheimers, and I miss him every day.



That's why I'm honored to have been asked to judge a decorating contest for both employees and residents of White Horse Village in Newtown Square, PA as they work to raise $20,000 to end Alzheimer's Disease. They have a slew of events planned which you can learn more about.



If you have a loved one struggling with this horrendous disease, here are some additional resources you may find helpful.



And once again, to all our active and former military service members, a most heartfelt THANK YOU for your service and sacrifice, and the support and sacrifice of your families. It is because you do what you do, that the rest of us have the freedom to safely do what we do!



Here's to your success!

FAQs for Conferences on Video

In the past few weeks I've been running a series of webinars for different organizations on how to look and sound great, feel confident and get results on video conferences, webinars and other virtual events.

Each time, participants freely wrote in questions in the chat box — sometimes they were thought-provoking for me, and sometimes the same question was asked in each event. Either way, they brought up GREAT points, and I wanted to share the insights with you.


That's why we collected all of the questions and put together an FAQ sheet for your easy reference. We grouped the questions into categories including Tools & Equipment, People, Breakout Sessions, Resources, App-related and Other.


I hope you find this resource helpful in jump-starting your Video-Brand REBOOT so you feel CONFIDENT, project LEADERSHIP, and get RESULTS!


(If you want to download a summary of all the tips and strategies I covered in the webinars themselves, you can get them HERE.)

The Persuasive Power Tool of Debate Eight

Whereas President Trump’s state of the union address relied on hyperbole and superlatives as I described here, Friday’s Democratic primary debate round eight demonstrated the impact of the use – or absence – of REFRAINS in the art of persuasion and influence. Let’s look at a few examples of both.

Joe Biden

Biden was the most effective in using repeated refrains. His greatest strength as a candidate is his quantity and quality of experience, and refrains help to highlight that. For example, in talking about abortion rights and supreme court justices, he began each of his achievements with “I’m part of the reason why (Justice name) is on the court,” repeating it for each appointment referenced. In talking about the drug crisis, he started multiple statements with “I’m the guy” (e.g. “that set up drug courts.”)

Refrains like that helped the listener’s brain register the fact that he’s listing accomplishments, and that this is someone who has done a lot in his career, and can ostensibly get even more done if elected.

If he had been more consistent, using the SAME refrain for each list, and used it in answers to more questions, it would have been much more powerful. For example, if he had started dozens of statements with “I’m the guy,” it would have translated into an easy refrain for others to repeat and apply, a-la “Joe’s the guy” or “Joe’s our guy.” That’s very tweetable-and-repeatable.

His messaging team has the right idea, they just don’t know that they have it!

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar was on fire Friday night, compared to her usual performance. Among other strengths, she also used a great sequence of refrains, but unfortunately, she waited until her closing statement to employ them. Hers were two-parters: “If you have trouble” (with X,) “I know you and I will fight for you.” She also coupled this with a very poignant story about a man who attended FDR’s funeral, and this combination spoke directly to most of America. It was compelling, relatable, compassionate, authoritative and memorable. If she had worked into any other answers over the course of the two hours, it would have been even more powerful.

Bernie Sanders

Ironically, Sanders is the perfect warning tale of what happens when NO refrains are used. People on both sides of the aisle fear the “democratic socialist” label, which holds many back from supporting him. It is absolutely his (and his team’s) fault for not finding a way to dispel the fear. The well-honed refrain could be the perfect antidote.

Sanders would do well to pick a few key goals and frame them in tweetable-and-repeatable refrains to paint a simple, concrete picture of what people would get if they supported him.

For example,

  • “Raise the minimum wage to $15”
  • “Ensure world-class education for all children”
  • “Make Amazon pay its fair share (of taxes)”
  • “Make prescription drugs affordable”
  • “Rebuild coast-to-coast infrastructure”

are messages that are easy to understand, in a way that would allow Team Sanders to say, “That’s not so scary, is it?” They illustrate outcomes that virtually every voter would support – on principle, who wouldn’t? The details about how it would happen and what would be entailed are topics for later discussions. But people would “get it,” and be able to remember and discuss them with others.

“But wait,” you say, “most candidates on the stage could use these same refrains.”

YES! You're right… but the problem is that NO ONE HAS DONE SO. Whichever candidate is smart enough to pick on this detail can have them. THAT will start to make things interesting.

Andrew Yang and the rest

Of all people, Andrew Yang should have this down to a science (or for him, perhaps an algorithm.) His whole candidacy is centered around his “Freedom Dividend” (a phrase he didn’t use even once this time around, surprisingly) of giving all adult citizens $1000 per month. While he worked the idea into many answers on various topics, he hasn’t chiseled it down to a key refrain that he can work in verbatim each time, mantra-like. It’s clear, but not “sticky” (in the marketing sense) just yet. Close, but no cigar.

Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer all failed miserably on this assignment. They talk a lot, about a lot of issues, but little that they say stands out from their competitors, making performances that were, effectively, forgettable.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The first candidate who figures this out is the one who will stand out from the herd in a way that speaks to voters and secures the nomination.

It’s NOT About Policy: What does Winning Sound Like?

Last night was Round 3 of the Democratic Primary Debates, with ten qualified candidates in the running. Each candidate had two main goals: to connect with more voters than anyone else, and to convince those voters that they (the candidate) would have the best chance of beating Donald Trump this time next year, an area in which nobody effectively stole the show.

Sure, each candidate had some good moments, but they also had individual polishing to do in other areas: For example, Yang was a human metronome, perpetually shifting his weight from foot to foot as he talked; Sanders sounded like he had phlegm in his throat all night, and Klobuchar’s overall debate image is still generically “nice.” In this context, such little details can be subconsciously off-putting for viewers and detrimental to gaining popularity.

However, as I mentioned earlier in the week, the key to meeting those two goals would be based on who came across as most MEMORABLE in their debate performance. In particular, being (the right kind of) “memorable” at this stage could be achieved if they remembered to include three kinds of information:

1. Refrain-style sound bite campaign promises (that were “tweetable and repeatable”)
2. Personal stories (to make the candidate relatable and therefore likable), and
3. A Call to action at the end.

So how did it pan out?

First, as far as campaign promise sound bites, some were pithier than others, and although a lot of candidates listed specific promises ranging from eliminating our energy dependence on fossil fuels (O’Rourke), or raising teachers’ salaries to a minimum of $60,000 nationwide (Sanders), to guaranteeing access to healthcare (everybody) or giving $1,000 per month to every American (Yang), most lacked two things:

One is saliency: each promise was mentioned once in passing and embedded in a litany of other ideas. None was a repeated refrain, elevated as a fundamental “If you don’t remember anything else, remember this” levels of priority. Think of it this way: If you’re going to the grocery store and someone asks you to buy three things, chances are you will remember them; if they rattle off twelve things, you probably won’t remember any of them.

This was one of the most effective strategies in Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign with expressions like “make America great again,” “build a wall,” and “repeal Obamacare,” which he repeated over and over again; even people who didn’t like him can still recite them easily today. I guarantee he will do this again in 2020, and any opponent who does not have a clear refrain of a handful of “tweetable and repeatable“ campaign-defining promises will already start out behind the proverbial eight ball.

Second, regarding use of personal stories, the format of Round 3 actually promoted this: the closing statement round was replaced with a question for each candidate to share a personal story about overcoming professional setbacks. Since it was teed up so well, all candidates made contact with the ball one way or another, so to speak. There were however a few who managed to hit it out of the park while others just rounded some of the bases.

As part of a “good, better, best” comparison, some of the candidates who’s final stories were in the “good” category included Bernie Sanders who focused his story on his political career, losing initial races and eventually coming out on top, and Andrew Yang’s story of multiple failed start-up businesses before finally being successful in business. Both implied the “never give up” theme: It is familiar to everyone, but doesn’t necessarily make you sit up and take notice.

Some that were “better” included Pete Buttigieg who shared a moment of vulnerability in describing his decision to “come out” (as gay) in the middle of an election cycle, and Kamala Harris who was always underestimated as a black woman and told that things “can’t be done,” but not letting it stop her. Unsurprisingly, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar‘s stories were all gender-related. All of these were inspiring, touching and relatable, and these kinds of stories will hit home with people of similar demographics, but it’s harder to predict how they will land with others, or even how it will allow any one of them to get more traction than the other two.

But the “best” ones really sucked you in. Cory Booker probably won the storytelling award from a quantity perspective, as he regularly illustrated his points with snippets of dialogue (a great rhetorical device) between him and other key people, allowing listeners to imagine themselves in each moment.

Beto O’Rourke was also given an extra boost this evening because so many of the questions lent themselves directly to the opportunity to talk about the shooting in El Paso, which is still fresh experience for the whole country. He did this very passionately and authoritatively, and most of his counterparts on stage even took a moment at some point in the evening to praise how he had handled the situation.

But Joe Biden stole the show for a quality story, despite a couple of dubious false starts, with the most heart-wrenching tragedies regarding the deaths of his first wife, daughter, and son. It’s a personal tragedy sequence that would make it hard for most people to get out of bed every day. It was humble and relatable and for just a moment, you forgot you were listening to a debate. That’s a winning story.

Finally, in an interesting twist, only ONE person had a call to action. As we just mentioned, unlike in the first and second rounds of debates, this time there was no closing statement round, which would have been the natural place for a call to action.

However, all of the candidates did know about this format change in advance, so they all should have figured out how to weave a call to action into that personal story in the last five seconds, to leave viewers with a clear, simple, immediately completable instruction of what they needed to do as soon as the debates were over. If people complete an action that helps you, they feel more invested in you, and are more likely to support you moving forward, bringing others with them. Most failed completely in this regard.

The only person who DID successfully beat the system was Andrew Yang. Political pundits panned it as a gimmick but I thought it was a very smart “outside the box” move. Yang effectively “gamified” his Freedom Dividend proof of concept in a call to action by personally offering ten families $1,000 per month for a year with the pitch, “If you personally believe you can solve your own problems better than any politician, go to Yang2020.com and tell us how $1,000 per month will help you do just that.”

It not only has great “bait,” (who doesn’t think they’re smarter than politicians?) but since it’s a competition, it inspires people to be as passionate as possible in their efforts to explain how this gift will make their lives better, thereby creating an anthology of case studies he will now own and extol as evidence that his plan is really what Americans need and want….and hopefully ten case studies that demonstrate before-and-after lifestyle transformations. Very powerful, and the kind of thing people will keep talking about. Tweetable? Somewhat. Repeatable? Absolutely – watch any talk show today for proof.

Shame on nine out of ten candidates for missing this opportunity.

Overall, each candidate had moments in which they gained and lost inches, but nobody launched ahead. The candidate who can get their campaign-defining refrains together, consistently tell compelling stories and call people to act will be the one to leap to the forefront, and have the best shot at leaping to the presidency.

Let’s see if they figure it out by October.

It's NOT about policy: Winners and losers from last night's #DemDebate will emerge from who was most memorable in three key areas: (1) Who had the simplest campaign promise sound bites, (2) Who told the best stories, and (3) Who had the best call to action. Who were the real winners and losers? It's not who the pundits think. Here's why.

#election2020 #publicspeaking #influence #leadership #communication #executivepresence #politics #joebiden #berniesanders #elizabethwarren #kamalaharria #andrewyang #betoorourke #petebuttegeig #amyklobuchar #juliancastro #corybooker