Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's often not what you say but how you say it that matters: thoughts on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's interview with CBC

I was very keen to watch Peter Mansbridge’s interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week. Admittedly, the problem with me watching any interview is that I often end up dissecting the person’s ability to communicate rather than fully paying attention to what is being said. So, here are some of my distracted thoughts and, therefore, humble advice for our Prime Minister.

1) Be careful of what I call the President George Bush smile. This is a slight smile (or smirk) that comes out at inappropriate times (like when talking about the economy). Likely, this is a subconscious nervous habit. The problem is that it risks being mistaken with insincerity.

2) Get personal. Connect with the audience by showing that you are one of them. There was nothing “wrong” with the answer regarding the job loss in the auto sector. It possibly was even a very good answer; but it didn’t give the impression of personally understanding and sharing the pain of people facing unemployment. I don’t know if President-elect Barack Obama understands either, but he sure makes Americans feel as if he does. A simple anecdote can go a long way.

3) Lastly, try to avoid starting answers with “Look,….”. This can very easily be interpreted by the reporter and viewers as an irritated response. In addition to it not sounding very polite (which usually doesn’t win points with voters), showing aggravation can suggest a lack of control over the interview.

As I teach in our media training course, it’s often not what you say, but how you say it, that makes all the difference.

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