How to Debate Like a Presidential Frontrunner

In today’s Washington Examiner, DMG President Beverly Hallberg discusses why debates matter, the Trump factor, and how the participants in tonight’s Republican debate on Fox News can be remembered for all the right reasons:

“No, it isn’t about the length of airtime (120 minutes tonight for the main debate). It’s about the sound bites that circulate in the 24-hours news cycle and on social media tonight, tomorrow and (potentially) for years to come. Those 10-second clips are why debates, even primary debates, matter.”

Here’s what the candidates, including Trump, need to keep in mind if they want to be remembered for the right reasons this debate season. Read the full article here.

Give the Answer You Want

DMG President Beverly Hallberg offers advice on how to make the most of your media interviews in The Heritage Foundation’s latest edition of InsiderOnline:

“It’s no secret that many dread the unknown of reporters’ questions. The reason? Even the friendliest reporters are doing their job when they play devil’s advocate. But the true horror lies in hostile reporters trying to trip up their “guests” with the sole goal of shaming them in a never-to-forget clip.”

The good news? “There is a strategy that works…and it is the true art of interviewing well.” To find out how to give the answer you want (not the one a reporter wants), click here.

Blurred Lines: When the tie doesn’t make the man

They say “the tie makes the man,” but too often the tie competes with the man.

Ties with small patterns cause movement and appear blurred on screen. If a man wears a small-patterned tie, he risks shifting the audience’s focus from his main message to his “dancing” tie.

The technical term is “The Moiré Effect,” but the important point is that small patterns cause big problems on the TV screen. Thankfully, this problem is easy to avoid: Don’t wear a tie with a small stripe, dot, or pattern. Wear a solid, or keep the stripe but make it large.

“What difference does it make?”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is typically on message.  Notably, the man never misses an opportunity to state his disdain for the Koch brothers.

But Mr. Reid was off his game in a recent interview.  While answering questions on the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, he uttered the words that have been played over and over in the media, and not because they worked.  He repeated Hillary Clinton’s infamous phrase, “What difference does it make?”

While most of us won’t recycle Hillary Clinton’s words, we often say things that do anything but make us sound relatable and likable.

When we say…

  • “Kick the can down the road” – We sound cliché (and like a politician).
  • “First Amendment” – We sound out of touch (sadly, not everyone knows what the First  Amendment is).
  • “That’s a great question” – We sound like we’re stalling (and we probably are).

Instead, we should use words that make us sound like, well, a real person.  For example, say…

  • “We can’t delay any further” – It means the same thing, but without the Washingtonian jargon.
  • “Free Speech” – Who isn’t for free speech?
  • “Let me put that into perspective” – It’s never a great question anyway.

So, do your words really make a difference?  Yes.  Your words can determine whether someone tunes in or changes the channel.

Wardrobe Malfunctions: fur coats and lapel pins

Besides the complete one-sided play of Superbowl XLVIII, the other story of the big game was Joe Namath’s coat.  While only 49 degrees, Mr. Namath decided to dress for the Arctic. 

His over-the-top fur was the talk of sports shows and news shows alike and not just because PETA was less than amused.  We were all left wondering, what was he thinking?

But most wardrobe malfunctions are not due to a complete departure from sanity.  Most are due to clothing that may make sense in person, but have no place on TV. 

In comes Mitt Romney – a man known for anything but over-the-top and flashy.  A man known for a navy blue suit, white shirt, and red tie – the true Republican uniform.  But even the most vanilla can make mistakes on TV.

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney chose to wear an American flag lapel pin complete with a secret service star in the center. 

While in day-to-day conversation this lapel pin is easy to discern, problems arise on TV.

During Mitt Romney’s first answer in his first of three presidential debates I, like so many others, Googled “what is on Mitt Romney’s lapel pin?”  Through the lens of the camera, it was impossible to know what the dot was and our attention was focused on figuring it out.

The main rule of TV clothing is that clothes should enhance but never distract.  If the audience is focused on what you wear more than what you say, it is a wardrobe malfunction.

Vocals Matter: Howard Dean vs. Edward Snowden

In 2004, Howard Dean effectively ended his campaign for the democratic nomination when he gave the infamous “I have a scream” speech.

His campaign wasn’t over because of his platform.  He didn’t use words he shouldn’t have.  His campaign was over because of the way he used his voice.  That scream, which was replayed over and over, made him sound crazy.  Essentially, Howard Dean didn’t seem presidential.

Now, to Edward Snowden.  Whether a traitor or a hero, one thing is true – he was in control of his first U.S. TV interview.

He didn’t rush his words.  He didn’t raise his voice.  He calmly but strongly defended his actions.  His vocal delivery alone made him sound sane instead of crazy.

How you use your voice matters.

  • If you sound angry (and it isn’t for a good reason), people won’t like you.
  • If you sound defensive, people won’t trust you.
  • If you speak too quickly, people will think you’re nervous (and possibly have something to hide).

How you say something is just as important as what you say.  Don’t make the same mistake as Howard Dean.

You are always live!

ABC US News | ABC International News

Let’s talk about Representative Michael Grimm.  The day after the State of the Union, he was all over the news — but not for a good reason.

After an interview in the Capitol, he expressed his displeasure with the questions asked, telling the reporter: “Let me be clear to you. If you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this f***ing balcony.”

Was this a good thing to say while still hooked up to a microphone? Was there any reason to use an expletive? Grimm is already facing twenty counts related to evading taxes among other illegal behavior, and this outburst certainly doesn’t help.

Grimm thought this was a private interaction, but he forgot one very important thing: when you are around a camera, never say anything you don’t want the whole world to hear.

Many politicians, candidates, policy analysts and others have ruined their careers by comments made when they thought their interviews were over and microphones were off.

Word to the wise? Just keep it to your self.  Make sure your microphone is completely off and out of sight before you make those offhanded remarks! Trust me, they can wait.

“I am not a bully” and how to avoid incriminating yourself

In January of this year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie held a two-hour long press conference explaining his involvement — or lack there of — in the “Bridgegate” scandal. 

While the Governor’s focus was to emphasize that he knew nothing about the scandal, questions turned towards the governor’s temperament — as they often do. Reporters asked him, “Are you a bully?”

By most accounts, Christie handled the press conference well, but his response to that one question became the focus of the USA Today Weekend front-page story. The headline read, “I am not a bully.”

There have been many memorable quotes over the years of famous folks declaring what they aren’t:

  • “I’m not a liar.”
  • “I’m not a crook.”
  • “I don’t beat my wife.”
  • “I’m not a witch.” (My all-time favorite.)

These quotes, of course, were responses to accusations. But saying what you aren’t is a horrible idea.

In addition to the public automatically believing you are guilty of what you’re saying you aren’t, the quote becomes memorable and cemented in people’s minds whether you are truly guilty or not. The quote becomes the story.

You can’t avoid acknowledging accusations, but can control your response. The best way to handle negative accusations? Craft the negative statement into something true or positive about you, your organization or your position.

While you can’t change the question, you have the power to change the narrative.

If Governor Christie would have rephrased the negative question and responded with, “I treat all my staff with respect,” the front-page story may have been focused on the actual scandal, which was Bridgegate.