That is exactly what happened today on Meet the Press. Secretary Geithner grabbed hold of his interview in a way he hadn't before, even as recently as five months ago.
Forget about whether you're a Democrat or Republican for a moment. I simply offer up Secretary Geithner's growth as a public figure on television as an example of what each of us can accomplish as communicators when we focus on 3 key areas: Message, Mindset and Mechanics.
To Secretary Geithner: You have made tremendous progress in my opinion. Keep up the good work and keep owning your stage.
First, on Message...
Gregory focuses his first question on "too big to fail" and financial reform. Twice he interrupts Geithner and tries to take him off message by saying "but what if they need more money?" and "you'll have to define derivatives." He is trying to get Geithner to dance to his tune - the Meet the Press Polka.
This time though, the Secretary doesn't dance. He keeps coming back to his central theme that "we are going to accomplish two things..." Even after he gives a definition of derivatives and Gregory tries to move on, he interrupts him and brings him back to finish his message "I want to get back to the central thing..." That's where the interview turned. Secretary Geithner signaled calmly yet strongly to Gregory - this is my dance pal, not yours!
Second, on Mindset...
I don't know if the Secretary worked with a coach to prep for this interview, but it seemed that his mindset shifted from his Meet the Press appearance last March.
This time Secretary Geithner looked like an athlete who decided to stop trying so hard. He seemed more relaxed in his approach, slower in his pace and calmer in his presence. He seemed less like a harried executive trying to deflect and defend and much more like a polished lawyer laying out a strong case.
I believe he came in today with the mindset that he would own this stage - and he did. He came to David's MTP home court and made him play Geithner's Game, not Gregory's Game.
Third, on Mechanics...
Take a look at today's MTP clip and one from March 29, 2009.
- He sits in a neutral upright position vs. hunching over
- He speaks slowly and rushes fewer words and phrases
- His face looks relaxed and his brow looks less furrowed
- He smiles on occasion and his demeanor is much calmer
- His head position is much more level, balanced and steady
- He uses his lower register to project more vocal strength
- He is wearing a standard shirt collar vs. a spread collar
Some might argue that Secretary Geithner has simply improved with experience, both in his job at Treasury and in TV interviews. Undoubtedly that's true. Only the Secretary knows how much planning, preparation and deliberate practice he put into this TV appearance or any of the changes I mentioned above.
I'm betting he's put a fair amount of work into these changes. I believe his progress provides a model for all of us from three perspectives related to changing our speaking style:
- Change is a process, not a transaction
- Change is a matter of choice, not skill
- Change helps us play to our strengths
So if you are a CEO, executive, leader, salesperson or regular Jane or Joe, don't fall into thinking that some people are just naturally good at the skill and the rest of us are screwed. Speaking in any kind of a public or private setting is a learned skill. How good or bad we are at utilizing this skill is up to us.
Thanks, Mr. Secretary. You were terrific today.
P.S. Now just stop rushing your saying of the word derivatives. Based on recent news events, you are going to be using it quite often in the coming days.