Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lessons Association Executives Can Learn from Politicians: 7 tips from an Executive Coach

Guest Post By David Scruggs, Professional Speaker & Executive Coach

As Campaign 2012 winds down, association executives can learn vital communications tips.

Politicians and political candidates are just like the rest of us except they live their lives under a microscope. A lot like movie stars in that respect. Bigger than life to us, while all is seemingly normal to them.

I enjoy working with politicians and political candidates. They know the power and importance of communicating effectively at all times because they really feel the pain when they slip up. They know the cost of mistakes or missed opportunities. They know that they are the message.

I recently worked with a sharp young man who is running for Congress. My job: coach him to clarify and enhance his message to his district. He is a talented small businessman who was, until recently, a troop commander in Afghanistan. He has six children. He is new to politics and just now learning how the message and the messenger are one and the same.

When we started, he was working with a stump speech that he delivered over and over again. It came across as mechanical. It hid the passion he felt for the subject. Maybe it was because he didn’t write it himself. Maybe it was because it was a memorized speech that was more for the written word than spoken. Or, maybe just because he was used to seeing the words so much they had lost the impact to him. Whatever the reason, his delivery was a little stilted and not as interesting as it should have been and he felt it.

We first focused on the three fundamentals of effective communications:
  1. Own your message 
  2. Have a positive feeling about your subject and your audience 
  3. Project the value and significance of your ideas to your listeners 
These fundamentals of communication are a foundation for any association executive today. Some presentation tips I coached him on and recommend for association executives and volunteer leaders:
  1. Open and Close with impact. Just like in flying, the take-off and landing are most critical. 
  2. Limit the key points of your message to your available time. 
  3. Make sure your body language and tone are dynamic yet congruent with your message. 
  4. Use illustrations and evidence to support and enhance your message. 
As he practiced using these techniques as key focal points, he began to come across in a much more credible manner.

Next, we look at handling the media. Projecting professional competence under the pressure of today’s media is often challenging. Being prepared is a full time job – especially when you aren’t expecting what is to come.

Before people can see our professional competence they must go through a series of steps to get there.

First step: The first impression we give starts with appearance. How we look and come across in the first 7 seconds is critical. If it is not a positive first impression, we will be spending a long time afterwards trying to overcome it.

Second step: How we communicate. Our communication style and our delivery often begin the process of building trust and credibility with our listeners. If we don’t listen well, if our tone of voice or body language is not in alignment with our words, our message will be incongruent.

Third step: Our attitude and self control. People are always making a judgment in what they see in this area. They can see nervousness, discomfort, pressure or stress on one side, and arrogance, disinterest or aloofness on the other. People see how these compromise the message being communicated.

The last step people go through before really seeing us as professionally competent is how we relate to other people. I met President Bill Clinton once. Clinton is a master at making everyone around him feel important through the warmth of his personality. Whether one voted for him or not, most would have to admit, he is very effective in his people skills.

My coaching was designed to let the candidate’s personality come out in a positive way to insure people get through each of the steps to see his professional competence in the end.

As we worked together for two days, we both saw great changes in his abilities in the areas of speaking, handling the media and debating skills. He and his campaign staff have all commented on the changes that have taken place. He is his own new message.

Think what these lessons could do in advancing your association.

As Roger Ailes entitles his book on communications skills: You Are the Message.

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