Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Geithner Gap

After Timothy Geithner made his initial speech as Treasury Secretary to the public on his banking plan, the reviews were not kind to say the least. He got panned on content and delivery.

On content, it was the old "where's the beef" argument. The market, the pundits and the public wanted more details on the plan and were left wanting. They expected more - and got less.

On the delivery side, he got horrible reviews as well. Why?

First of all, President Obama must own a teleprompter company because it seems that everyone in his administration has used one for a speech. Secretary Geithner used the left/right teleprompter setup as well and came off like a student reading a book report. In his first opportunity to look the American people in the eye and gain their confidence, he bailed out and read his words off a teleprompter screen. He failed in his first big test as a communicator.

It's a shame too, because it was a pretty easy test. His predecessor, Secretary Paulson, was probably the worst communicator in an administration known for lousy communicators. It's unfortunate because both men seem to be very decent fellows who are smart, savvy, credible, experienced and highly accomplished. They have been communicating in business and govenment for decades.

They should succeed as communicators. Why did they fail?

For the same reason many of us fail as speakers - we don't connect with our audience. With a simple 'prepared but unscripted' leader message at the beginning and end of his talk, looking directly into the camera, Geithner could have transformed his talk, and the public's reaction to it.

He had no Hook at the beginning (to grab the audience) and he had no Hammer at the end (to nail down his message).

He 'presented' to us. He didn't 'talk' to us.

I'm not suggesting that speakers like Geithner should never use a teleprompter. President Reagan did, but he made it look like he wasn't. He made it look like he was speaking directly to you through that television screen.

Why did it work for Reagan, and not for Geithner? Because Reagan knew how to connect with people on television and Geithner doesn't, yet.

Heck, it worked so well for the Great Communicator that it turned my mother into a Reagan Democrat. He made her and millions of other Americans feel better; feel more confident; and feel that things would work out in the end. Emphasis on feel.

Even when he made his 'arms for hostages' confessional from the oval office on television he connected, one human being to another; enough so that many Americans were willing to at least give him the benefit of the doubt, even if they were opposed to him politically. He didn't convince everyone but he connected well enough to keep it from being a total communication disaster. The American people, after all the angst, let it go.

The key is connecting.

Watch President Obama tomorrow night. He's a public speaker for the ages, like Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Reagan. Yet even he can fail to connect with his audience on occasion. In fact, he's fallen so much in love with teleprompters, he runs the risk of coming off android-like - 'Obamatic'.

He is becoming so focused on giving the 'perfect' speech that he's ignoring the emotional connectivity with the American people that helped get him elected in the first place. He succeeded at convincing voters across the country that he was 'one of us' while the opposition pulled out all the stops to convince people of just the opposite. He was able to do it.

That takes connecting.

So on February 24th at 9 PM, President Obama should look directly into the TV camera and simply 'talk' to us - at least at the beginning and definitely at the end. I know he'll be in front of Congress but he only has one audience - us.

He has a challenge not unlike a father or mother sitting down at the kitchen table in the midst of a family crisis, looking into the eyes of their children and saying; "Everything is going to be alright. We'll get through this together".

It's sounds hokey, but Tuesday night that's the whole ballgame right there. He needs to speak fron the head, the heart and the gut. Otherwise it will just be a bare collection of facts to be dissected the next day on CNBC and MSNBC and Fox - and they are going to do that anyway.

So next time you give a speech at a conference or sit across the table from a group of clients or give a talk to your church group, please remember to connect first. Look them in the eye and talk. Don't look down or away and read. Start human and end human. Grab them with a Hook and then hit them with a Hammer.

Connect, Connect, Connect!

The Global Coach

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