Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sex Appeal

Several weeks ago, quite by chance, I stumbled upon a 1994 video of a Massachusetts Senate debate between Mitt Romney and Ted Kennedy.

Although since 2011 I’ve written a blog about most of the serious Republican presidential candidates, I never wrote about Mitt Romney. His qualifications and experience were exceptional; but probably because of his uninspiring speaking style, nothing ever captured my attention enough to give me a reason to write.

To Romney’s credit, almost without exception, he turned in the most consistent debating style and his rhetoric (although bland) was sensible and predictable. In content and delivery, whether in his stump speeches or debates, I fought boredom—and I wasn’t alone.

The video, filmed almost 18 years ago in October 1994, changed dramatically my perception of Romney. As I watched the debate, I realized with amazement that his full head of jet black hair and his Clark Gable chiseled good looks rendered him downright sexy.

And even more remarkably, his often combative and uninhibited delivery was dynamic, powerful, and exciting! The juxtaposition between Romney’s sleek, powerful presence and Kennedy’s bloated appearance and sluggish jousting was an eye opener. 

What happened? Clearly the fiery younger Mitt Romney was never duplicated in all the Republican presidential debates. Intrigued, I decided it was time to take a deeper look at the communication style of a guy who just might become the next president of the United States.

Mitt Romney’s speaking style has been described as stiff, measured and contained. He’s not a natural campaigner; yet given his long years of experience, he should be.

It’s not for lack of practice, as at age 23 he spent a summer campaigning for his mother, Lenore Romney, who was running as a Republican for the state Senate seat in Michigan. Add to that his years as Governor of Massachusetts when he regularly gave speeches to his constituents. One or both of those experiences should have further honed his speaking skills.

Colleagues and friends say Mitt Romney is often “the smartest guy in the room” and a man who always had a lot of self-confidence. In an April 2012 New York Times article, Benjamin Netanyahu – a colleague of Romney’s at The Boston Consulting Group in 1976 – described how Romney was clearly considered “the star” of the group by the founder, Bruce Henderson. In turn, Romney envied Netanyahu for his easy ability to dominate discussions in the highly competitive atmosphere at BCG.

Perhaps the best way to observe Romney’s communication style is to examine his Victory Speech after he won the Wisconsin primary. There he delivered a humble speech that was heartfelt, sincere, and laid out his vision for America. He started slowly with a somewhat wooden delivery but moved quickly into broader gestures and owning the podium to convey his very positive message. He manages to convey a likeability factor on a very honest and humble level.  

What will we see going forward when the presidential debates begin? I’m not sure, but I’m secretly hoping for some of the bite and sex appeal of 1994!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting the First Impression Right

Frank Luntz in his New York Times bestseller WIN reminds us in his LUNTZ LESSONS that your first words are more important than your last: a repositioning of the old adage, “You only get one chance at making a first impression!”

I am sure everyone now reading this blog knows that line, but when was the last time you took a few minutes to seriously think about it before the start of an interview or perhaps a long-sought-after meeting to sell your design services to the company’s marketing VP?

And if that gentle prodding doesn’t get you to pause and think about how you present yourself, then consider the fact that first impressions – which are generally lasting – take place usually within three to seven seconds. It may be your posture, your handshake, your smile, your clothing or what you say, which often means it’s your attitude that creates a relationship that can make or break the future for you to sell into the company or win future business. 

I always over-prepare for an interview. I research the company, management team, their product and the interviewer’s background via LinkedIn.  But I probably don’t spend enough time thinking about how and what I’m going to say in pitching my services.
And like any good lawyer’s opening statement, I should be able to request the outcome or call to action I want. Besides that, if I don’t project the confidence and energy necessary to solve their problems, then I probably don’t stand a chance of being hired.

So start by considering not just what you say but also what nonverbal signals you send to others in the all important opening seconds of a meeting. Do you quickly establish a rapport that lasts until the end of the meeting? Have you mastered the ability to tune out distractions and focus on the composite of the person, and thereby enhancing your ability to read that person’s nonverbal signals?

And finally, learn to verbally edit on the fly. If midway through a story you lose eye contact (as I experienced last week), then you know you’re speaking too long. Getting and holding attention is becoming increasingly difficult today amid the ever-present distractions of texting and tweeting.