Wednesday night, the Republican candidates faced off in their second round of debates. During the three-hour showdown, we learned quite a bit about the candidates of the Republican Party, including what they would want their secret agent code names to be (nice touch, CNN), but there’s actually a lot more than politics that we can learn from this debate.
It’s no secret that each presidential candidate is coached by a public relations representative (disclaimer: we’re not here to trash any candidates or their PR team), so what exactly can we learn from the mishaps and triumphs of Wednesday night’s debate?
1. Don’t stare into the camera when you’re in front of a live audience.
Sure, you can glance at the camera sometimes. After all, those watching from home are your audience too, but people are there to see you. Talk to them. You wouldn’t single out one person in the audience to stare at the entire time, so don’t single out the camera.
2. Don’t sound rehearsed.
Be knowledgeable about facts and have more than one point to bring up. State statistics, testimonial stories and make your point in a conversational way. Choose your statements wisely and make them meaningful.
3. Fess up before they find out.
If there’s something from your past that could negatively affect your public’s opinion, get it out. It’s better you say it than to have it come out when it’s too late to fight. Have a plan to fight the battle it may cause, but in the end, everyone will appreciate the honesty. The number one rule of PR – be transparent and honest.
4. Don’t be defensive.
Tell your side of the story without being too defensive. Admit to what went wrong, state the facts, and state how you have (or will) overcome. There’s nothing wrong with defending your company (that’s what we’re here for, right?), but make sure it doesn’t come off too aggressively.
5. Don’t shift the blame.
There are some instances when guilty parties should be brought to justice, but if you’re at fault, own up to it. Don’t blame it on someone else. There’s also a point when blame becomes irrelevant. Once you’ve owned it, move on. What will you do now to fix it?
6. Have a specific plan.
Don’t just shout inspiring words, history and generalities. This can work in some situations (i.e. motivational speaking), but it’s not so inspiring during the midst of a company’s crisis. Your publics want to know how this problem will be fixed. How will you right the wrong? Not only should you have a plan, you should be confident in that plan. Don’t say “maybe, sometimes, might or could.” Stand up tall and stand firm.
7. Don’t be a know-it-all (unless you really do know it all).
If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply state, “I don’t know.” It does not help the situation to talk in circles, dodge the question, or lie.
8. Show emotion.
Passion, empathy, initiative, SOMETHING. Let people know that you truly care about what you’re saying to them. It’s the old saying, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
9. Don’t say more than what needs to be said.
If the question is asked, by all means, answer it. But don’t offer information that the public doesn’t need to know. Be honest and transparent without being irrelevant. Don’t be a “data dump” and insert your foot in your mouth.
10. Don’t talk about irrelevant issues.
Keep it mild and impartial. If someone asks you a question that doesn’t have anything to do with the issue at hand, simply say that you’d like to stay on topic. Stay relevant, friends.
11. Speak wisely.
Think first, speak second. Be careful with the words you choose. Words can easily be twisted and fired against you. People are looking to start a controversy and to find where your words contradict what you’ve previously said.
The last thing a company needs in the midst of a crisis is another crisis. The key is connecting with your publics while finding a way to be truthful, honest and real.