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!

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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.