By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial
The time has come for the next wave of presidential candidates to descend upon Iowa to launch their campaigns, appearing at Pizza Ranch restaurants, VFW halls and coffee shops across the state to test out their messaging among savvy small business owners and skeptical teachers.
One high-profile senator paved the way earlier this month, speaking at a bowling alley in Council Bluffs. “This is how it starts,” she said. “Person to person, town to town across Iowa and then across America.”
I find it fascinating. The skillset I teach every day is the turning point for these politicians. Their ability to successfully launch a presidential campaign — and potentially become leader of the free world — hinges on their public image: how they look and how they sound.
This is our specialty at Dardis Communications. We advise on wardrobe. We teach elevator speeches. We break down the nonverbals of a speech. And we provide a road map to structure any public presentation. Now high-profile politicians are grasping for those same skills.
Here are five pieces of advice I would offer them that will apply to your next presentation, too.
1. Be sincere. Your appearance and message must pass the sniff test among the toughest crowd: Iowa farmers. Crusty East Coast politicians who dress in plaid and decorate the stage with straw bales just to fit in fall flat. Authenticity counts.
2. Keep it simple. Do not fear plain language; embrace it. A memorable message is a simple one, crafted with active verbs and single-syllable words and repetition to help it stick. “I work for you.” “I’m fighting for you.” “I believe in a better America.” Often the simplest statements are the most powerful.
3. Listen. Successful presidential candidates make their backers feel heard. They listen well, they paraphrase back what they’re hearing and they ask clarifying questions. They also reference related feedback from other Iowans and they follow up on that feedback — the surest evidence that voters have been heard and remembered.
This is practiced by the best leaders in every industry. Listening well is the under-appreciated foundation to speaking well.
4. Empower. A skilled speaker communicates — verbally and nonverbally — in a way that empowers her listeners. The underlying message: You’re part of this presidential campaign (or movement or workplace initiative). Your role is vital.
“I need your help,” a presidential candidate may implore. “I can’t do this without you.” Such statements — familiar in the political arena — can also be effective in the workplace.
5. Rally the troops. This is where many of us miss the mark. Every form of public communication, be it a keynote address or a brief work email, should include a call to action. It must be crystal clear what is being asked of them.
In politics, this involves a field department that excels at on-the-ground organization. When you’ve delivered a memorable message and empowered your audience, they’ll be eager to answer your call to action. In business, it means outlining specific next steps to help advance a project. Do your employees leave a meeting knowing exactly what is expected of them? Does the colleague who reads your email understand what he should do next and when?
Heed these five tips and you’ll make an impact — whether you’re eyeing the Oval Office or the corner office.
Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardiscommunications.com.