Monday night was the first presidential debate for 2016 and it did not disappoint. Both candidates showed up hoping to positively influence undecided voters to come to their side. Below are a few things we can all take away, should we be placed in a position to influence others on important issues in our own lives.
1. When feeling the “rev” — S-L-O-W D-O-W-N: Anxiety is normal during key presentations and talks; don’t be rattled by it. Instead, slow down and breathe. Secretary Clinton started the debate a bit nervous, yet as the night went on she slowed herself down and got into her groove. When nerves show up, focus your attention on your breathing, not your anxiety. Take a couple of slow, deep, centering breaths to slow your heart rate down and steady yourself. Your nerves will begin to calm as you get grounded.
2. Focus on the message, not on your delivery: A great speech coach, Dr. Nick Morgan, once taught me to focus on the message you are bringing to your audience, not on yourself. When you tune in to your message, your passion will come out, you become less self-conscious, more laser focused and, overall, more inspiring. Any good speech, he would say, isn’t about you—it’s about your message and what your audience has to gain from your message.
3. Prepare and practice: You owe it to your audience to be prepared. Shooting from the hip does not bode well for you or your audience. Know your information, practice delivering it and then allow yourself wiggle room during the live event. Mr. Trump came to a presidential debate shooting from the hip, with minimal facts and repetitive comments. Not doing your homework is a slap in the face to your audience. They are taking time out of their lives to listen to your message—make sure you have one. Honor the audience’s time by preparing the information you are going to give them.
4. Answer the question: In any presentation, workshop, team meeting or conversation, you must realize that communication is always a two-way interaction. It, quite simply, is not all about you. Make space for your audience. When they ask you questions—answer them. Answer the exact question that was asked—not the question you hoped they’d ask or the one you want to answer. It’s dismissive, at best, to avoid answering questions or answering a question different from the one asked. Trump refused to answer the birther question, even after being asked repeatedly. His answer was to say he was proud of himself for forcing President Obama to show his birth certificate. When we continue to avoid a question, the audience gets frustrated, the speaker looks like they are hiding something and often a bigger deal is made of an issue than was necessary. Politicians in general are notorious for this dodging, which frustrates the audience. Learn your lesson from them—ANSWER THE QUESTION!
5. Be careful how you speak about others—you may have to face them. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been at odds with one another, to say the least. Both have said derogatory things about the other on many occasions. I believe it’s safe to say that there is no love lost between these two. Watching them, then, have to pretend they don’t despise each other was almost painful. The old saying “never burn a bridge” is a brilliant one. When you say hurtful things about someone, you never know when it will come back to haunt you. Take the high road always—it’s a much smoother ride.
6. Sometimes things are out of your hands: The truth is that sometimes, no matter how well you communicate, it won’t make a difference in how others respond. Learn to separate your piece in the equation from the outcome of the interaction. You may do an amazing job and still the other person may not listen, may continue doing what they want to do and may even get explosive. Their reactions are not a scorecard about how you did. The debate was a prime example of this. Donald Trump committed countless communication “don’ts”: rolled his eyes, interrupted, didn’t do his homework, said calling Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig was okay, etc., and still people will vote for him. Women are voting for Trump even though he objectifies all women and is grossly sexist. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it—people will be in their own story, their own dysfunction and have their own agendas. Let them go. Do your best to communicate concisely, respectfully and with a Grounded Powerful Strength, and then LET IT GO. How others respond from that point, has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally or give too much of your time or attention to that individual. Take the high road and let the rest go.
Mastering communication requires a great deal of healthy self-esteem, strong boundaries and a willingness to take the high road. It also requires the ability to say hard truths with a Grounded Powerful Strength, rather than with arrogance and aggression. Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that you can say whatever you want and in any way you want to say it, without repercussions to that choice. Those repercussions may not come immediately, but they will come at some point down the road. Clean up your side of communication and raise the bar for others to do the same.
Challenge: Look over the list above and imagine what it’s like when others make these mistakes toward you. Next, don’t make that same mistake toward others. Choose the skill you most need to work on and commit to working it.
NOTE: Although, historically I have not taken any position regarding politics, in this election I am taking a position for humanity. As such, I am vehemently against Donald Trump running this country in any way, shape or form. He represents the worst aspect of humanity in our culture. Regardless of his political beliefs, he is toxic to our culture, to women and to our world. While I understand this may offend some people, I want to be transparent in my stance on this topic. It’s impossible to work with men and women on creating healthy relationships and then support, in any way, a man who is the antithesis of being relational.