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Did you notice? The closer we got to election day, the more the pundits and politicians were prattling on about Arizona Republican Kari Lake.
Not just about her campaign for governor, but about the prospect of her joining Donald Trump’s 2024 ticket as vice president. Or maybe elbowing out the comparatively dull Ron DeSantis to run for president in 2028.
They had a lot to say about Lake as the natural heir to Trump. I heard somebody call her Trump’s “mini-me.”
Whether you like her positions or not, Lake has a lot going for her as a candidate. She’s telegenic, what with her background in TV news. And she knows how to talk in the soundbites that make an impact on an audience.
In fact, the commentary about Kari Lake brought to mind what I wrote about the former guy himself, during his first presidential campaign in October of 2016. There’s a business lesson in all of it.
This, from 2016 …
Love him or loathe him, you have to admit Donald Trump is brilliant at capturing attention, creating enthusiasm, and generating solid, unwavering support from a big chunk of the American electorate.
He vanquished a boatload of primary opponents and he’s held his own against Hillary Clinton. All that in spite of editorials blasting him, commercials calling him names, and well-reasoned critiques from Republicans who by rights should be on his side.
What gives? The guy may have never read a briefing paper. He makes egregious errors every time he touches on actual issues. He routinely says stuff that’s blatantly false.
And, he is brilliant when it comes to communication.
Turns out it’s all in the brain. Not in Trump’s brain–in the voter’s brain. It has to do with what the experts call “high attentional engagement.”
Salon.com reported on a study that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates.
“Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session.”
In this brainwave study, Trump’s ability to hold voters’ attention measured a 7 on a 10-point scale. That’s better than even the most popular TV commercials. His references to the Islamic State and overseas trade wars stirred up fear, the most intense emotion humans experience.
As for Hillary Clinton, she averaged a 4 out of 10. Voters were bored with her rattling on about her résumé as she often does.
The guy knows how to generate emotion. People may say they disagree with him. In fact, in this study many people said they opposed his plan to ban Muslims from the US. And yet, the brain scans showed that kind of talk had a positive effect on his supporters.
They stayed engaged with him because “his showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level.”
So, what can we do with this insight when it comes to talking about our business?
Ditch the data-dump
Sometimes we get confused and think if we just give them more information they’ll buy our product or service. Or they’ll buy into our idea.
In fact, persuasion is rarely about more information. Business speakers usually need fewer facts and more oomph. (Oomph—that’s a technical term. Stay with me for some ways to get it.)
Use plain English …
… as opposed to utilizing unembellished global lingua franca.
They don’t give speakers extra points for spewing more syllables. Occasionally a longer word is much more descriptive or specific than a shorter one; it can be useful to have a wide vocabulary.
But in general, when you’re speaking about your work, shorter words and simple sentences are stronger. Donald Trump’s language hovers somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade level and it’s working very well for him, buh-leeve me.
Keep it conversational
Trump’s departures from the teleprompter get a lot of attention, much of it unfavorable. But here’s where it serves him well.
He often uses phrases like “Believe me…” “And you know what…” and “By the way…”
I call those idioms Conversational Lubricant because they keep things flowing.
Chances are good you use that kind of phrase frequently when you’re just talking casually to a friend. Many of us, when we’re speaking to a bigger audience, or in a more formal setting, strip out those filler phrases.
Please, put them back into every talk. You’ll sound much more natural, and you’ll make a better connection with your audience, when your speech flows as it would in a casual conversation.
Back to now …
A lot has changed in the six years since I was drawing communication suggestions for us from the presidential candidate who went on to win the White House.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the value of high attentional engagement. It’s no easier, and it may be even harder now to get and keep your audience’s attention, whether you’re talking to a room full of potential clients, a small group of colleagues, or your teenager.
You can always get my attention though … all it takes is a comment here.
I am impressed by the patience and grace of Pennsylvania voters who stood by Fetterman a candidate who has trouble with communication. But even though his recovery is ongoing he is able to communicate with heart and authenticity.
Yes, the support for Fetterman was heartening, considering the changes his stroke created. I hope he continues to heal.
Excellent analysis, as always.
Thanks, Robyn. Here’s to more charismatic candidates.