STYLE IS EVERYTHING – THE GREAT DEBATE

 

Nixon

This upcoming story is particularly relevant especially with the fun goings-on with the political climate. For the most part I do not comment on politics. I think it’s a personal, individual choice and by opening up dialog on the subject you invite unnecessary confrontation.

Speaking of unnecessary confrontation, Donald Trump is giving us all a lesson in show biz. Those of us that have been in that business recognize exactly what’s happening with The Donald. He is a performer. It’s a sign of the times. Or is it?

Now I don’t exactly have the official numbers but if you have ever been outside the US you know one thing – America’s chief export is our culture. Our entertainment. It is everywhere. So, it just stands to reason that the political candidate who is gaining the most traction is essentially an entertainer. Donald is fantastic. He is so congruent is all his actions and words that he could be used in a case study on “How To Be A Rock Star Without Ever Picking Up An Instrument”. Congruence means you are in a state in which every fiber of your being is in agreement. Your attention is undivided. You are really SURE! It’s a really powerful process.

No one seems to care about the nuance of Mr. Trump’s platform. Wait, he hasn’t really explained anything yet, has he? Well, he has mentioned a wall and that he wants to “Make America Great Again”, but that’s about it. I am not criticizing or complaining, I am just marveling at the hubris, the chutzpah and the just plain cockiness. It’s awesome. And it’s awesomely effective. People are not used to this from their politicians. Hell, people are not used to this from anyone

So, is this style over substance thing new? Why it’s effective is a whole other kettle of fish. It’s also not new. Realizing that style and image is critical to your success began a long time ago. And as soon as there was mass media involved, being congruent became the deciding factor in winning elections; and anything else for that matter.

On the morning of September 26, 1960, John F. Kennedy a little-known senator from Massachusetts, proved to the world that image was everything, especially in American politics. It was during the first televised Presidential debate. The debate was between “Rock Star” not very well known Senator Kennedy and the woefully out “rocked” Vice-President Richard Nixon. The two candidates faced the television cameras in front of an audience of 70 million people.

Unfortunately for Mr. Nixon, things didn’t go as well as he expected. He had been recently hospitalized for treatment of an injured knee and appeared pale, a little gaunt and way underweight. Kennedy had the opposite appearance. He looked fit, tan and completely in control. As a matter of fact, if you watch footage from the debate, poor Nixon is sweating profusely under the harsh lighting necessary to properly light the event. Nixon made the very un-Rock Star choice of refusing makeup. Being a “manly” man he decided he didn’t need it and went out au naturale and became noticeably shiny during the 60 minute dual. He even has to towel off his face several times. Senator Kennedy knew that the make-up would enhance his appearance, not make him look like one of the guys in KISS. The make-up artists hired for the performance, and that’s what it was; a performance, did a great job of making Kennedy appear calm, cool and collected under the lights.

Ted Sorensen, Senator Kennedy’s aide and speechwriter, tells the story of how they prepped the good-looking Presidential contender for the event. Perched on the top level of their hotel in Chicago they ran through a huge collection of note cards grilling Kennedy on all the possible topics that would be covered in the debate while he worked on his tan. “We knew the first televised debate was important, but we had no idea how important it was going to turn out,” Sorensen told TIME. After hours of practice Kennedy went in to take a nap. “The story I like to tell is of when they delegated me to go wake him up,” Sorensen said. “I opened the door and peaked in and there he was, lights on, sound asleep, covered in note cards.” Kennedy was well prepped, rested and tan for the event.

The end result of the debate changed the way political campaigns were run from that point forward. It also dramatically altered America’s political history, all in a single night.

The really interesting thing that occurred was; those Americans who listened to the debate on the radio and did not see the candidates as they spoke, thought Nixon won. But, by this time in American history 88% of the population owned television sets. So, more people watched on television than listened on the radio. Those people who watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy won by a landslide.

While it’s true Senator Kennedy was a great orator, so was Nixon. The real deciding factor was each candidate’s image and ultimately their non-verbal communication skills. In the debate, Kennedy masterfully turns to the camera instead of facing his opponent when he speaks. Making it appear that he is talking directly to everyone who is watching and making it much more personal. Kennedy is keenly aware of style and body language. Nixon looked away from the camera and didn’t seem to understand how he was being perceived. After the debate Nixon tells his advisors that his style doesn’t matter, the only thing of consequence is the substance of his message. Kennedy’s style advantage ended up being substantially more important than Nixon’s substance.

The Kennedy-Nixon debate not only had a major impact on the election’s outcome, but also ushered in a new era in which crafting a public image and taking advantage of media exposure became essential ingredients of a successful political campaign.

Senator Kennedy’s team recognized its importance and prepared their candidate accordingly. Vice-President Nixon in a one-hour block of time completely eviscerated any chance of him being elected. Lesson learned. Politicians now know that they have to pay close attention to the 93% of communication that is non-verbal.

Lesson learned.

The lesson is still being taught. Donald’s just the next guy showing the importance of non-verbal communication and absolute alignment of everything you are communicating.

We unconsciously accept everything you say if you believe everything you are saying is correct. That’s being congruent. That’s also the essence of charisma. You want to have “Donald Trump” presence? Learn how to create congruence in your behaviour, in your interactions and especially in your focus.

Congruence helps you to focus fully on just what you want to accomplish. No questions. No conflicts. You are in the moment. There is no conflict between alternate desires or opportunities, no decisions to be made, no alternatives to be considered, nothing else to be done.

I am not sure how much longer Mr. Trump has in the spotlight, but I’m watching every time he steps onto the stage. Not because I am behind him politically but because I want to experience someone who knows how to really be fearlessly effective. That and he’s got great hair.