What’s the heck is going on with Mitt Romney?
He just lost 3 more primaries putting his front-runner status into question yet again. For professional communicators like me, it’s obvious.. he just doesn’t connect and connecting is all about communicating. I know that sounds vague and perhaps even a little “woo-woo.” In every presidential election in modern times, however, the candidate who connects best wins.
Let me make this perfectly clear: This has nothing to do with policy or even who might do a better job. It’s about intangible, but critical qualities, like:
Delivery — These are verbal and nonverbal skills that go into delivering an impassioned, inspiring speech. We know from watching politicians ranging from Winston Churchill to Barack Obama, skilled orators change hearts and minds.
Then there’s the Public narrative — This is the “story” that surrounds the candidate including personal and professional background that goes all the way back to childhood and gives us information as to whether a candidate can feel for the averagel voter.
Interpersonal skills — How does the candidate do on the campaign trail? Can he do a “Bill Clinton,” you know, make a person feel as if her or she is the only person in a crowded room? This skill has the added benefit of being able to soften any inherent problems in the public narrative. The best recent example of that is George W. Bush.
There’s also slogans andmessaging, as well as message discipline, which I’ll talk about another time.
Now before all you Romney supporters get mad at me, please know that I believe he can fix all this. These are concrete skills and can be learned. AND, it’s only February, so light-years from Election Day (in presidential election years, that is).
If I were Mitt Romney, here is what I’d do:
1. Delivery: Throw away most of what he’s learned in his corporate speech- and media training. Everything from his posture, to the sound of his voice (excellent, btw), to his amused smiling, to his trying-to-look-relaxed-by-putting-his-hand-in-his pockets, it all smacks of following all the rules of delivery technique. These rules are actually made to be broken, or, at least, adjusted and adapted to allow for personality and humanity shine through.
2. Public Narrative: There is nothing Romney can do about his privileged upbringing, nor should he. But there are ways to manage the perception that he isn’t like you and me. Mitt Romney actually had one moment during an earlier debate where he said, “I didn’t grow up poor. And if somebody is looking for someone who’s grown up with that background, I’m not the person.” And he said it with all the sincerity he could muster and it was powerful. It was finally something he didn’t seem to be running away from. He was believable. We felt a connection. This is a simple equation he should follow: He’s gotta stop running away from every bit of his past policy-making, too. People are going to disagree, no question. He may even lose a few votes, but most will respect him more.
3. Interpersonal Skills: Lucky for Romney, he’s got some competition from President Obama on this one. Both men seem to be introverts. They don’t like small talk and aren’t comfortable in the everyday encounters that are a big part of campaigning. Romney has difficulty because, again, he hews too closely to the rules. It’s difficult to imagine him putting his arms around someone who’s dealing with hard times. I’m sure he has it in him; he just needs to show it more. It’s risky, too, because it means veering from scripted and memorized talking points. But, come on, this whole thing is one big risk.
All the above require story-telling skills. Story-telling is the lifeblood of political communication — and all communication. Romney needs to mine his life for some new stories and learn how to tell them. Right now, he’s giving us the view from 30,000 feet when he needs to be down-to-earth.
He (or, someday, God willing, she) who communicates best, wins. That’s all there is to it.