He could be called “Donald the Disrupter”. Ever since Donald Trump joined the race for president, journalists and political pundits have predicted his immediate demise on a weekly basis. But, his ratings keep going up. To say he has disrupted politics would be an understatement. He seems to drive some news commentators crazy, but he also drives the news cycles — so he earns valuable media coverage. What is behind this phenomenon and what can spokespersons and speakers learn from Trump’s approach? Many Trump supporters tell reporters and Republican pollster Frank Luntz they like Trump because he comes across as real and talks in a way they can understand. Trump is a disrupter and a master marketer, and there are some valuable communication lessons to glean from The Donald.
Trump is a disrupter & master marketer –
and there are some valuable communication
lessons to glean from The Donald.
1. Be conversational — be real!
To resonate with journalists or stakeholders, spokespersons and speakers must sound real. Many people say they find it refreshing to hear a presidential candidate just talking to them – like a real human. Trump does not go to media interviews or rallies with scripts or a teleprompter. Wall Street Journal reporter, Monica Langley, traveled with Trump and observed he wrote down just five bullets with fifteen words in preparation for a rally. While he appears to sit at one end of the “not coached” spectrum, many politicians and corporate spokespersons sit too far at the other end of this spectrum, coming across as robots spitting out repetitive talking points and predictable sound bites. This was the case when the Royal Caribbean CEO was on CBS This Morning to talk about the “vomit cruises” caused by norovirus. He was obviously coached and his self-serving messages did not set well with hosts Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, yet he kept spewing out his talking points. Professional coaching can turn a mediocre speaker into a powerful speaker, but the key is to sound un-coached and real.
2. Be available to the media
Trump makes himself available to the news media at all times. He is on the morning, mid-day and evening news shows — and is also an avid user of social media. He is on the phone if he cannot make a live appearance. This year the press criticized Hillary Clinton for limiting her availability and her campaign drew a huge media backlash when they used a rope – yes a rope – to keep reporters away from her at a New Hampshire parade. For years, the White House press corps has criticized both Republican and Democrat presidents for limiting media access. President Obama averages just two press conferences a month and President George W. Bush averaged 2.2 per month over eight years. Trump lives for the news cycle and therefore he drives the news cycle. By doing this, he directs the attention of the media on a daily basis.
3. The power of emotion
Trump shows a range of emotions from dismay to anger when talking about terrorism or the economy. In contrast, Jeb Bush has to stretch himself to speak with emotion and he ends up looking awkward and sounding forced. Bush has self-identified as a “policy nerd” and studies show your capabilities tend to fall in line with your beliefs and identity. With that type of identity, Bush could have limiting beliefs about using emotions when he speaks. When appropriate and real, emotion isn’t just a good thing – it is a powerful thing. Emotions turn boring talking points into compelling and passionate messages that resonate with audiences.
4. Avoid “bridging” over troubled waters
Trump answers many questions head on and still stays on message most of the time. The vast majority of PR and media training firms teach an archaic technique called “bridging”. Simply put, that means when you are asked something you do not want to answer, you “bridge” to something you do want to talk about. Many journalists find this insulting and in recent years more and more reporters have called out spokespersons for trying to change the subject. This happened recently when Chris Wallace interviewed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Fox News Sunday. Wallace asked about Obama circumventing Congress with executive orders and McDonough continually ducked his questions by bridging to his talking points. At the end of the interview Wallace quipped about the questions McDonough answered – as well as those he outright avoided. Journalists are not stupid and neither are stakeholders. Techniques like bridging actually lower trust and credibility with journalists and the public.
Trump lives for the news cycle and therefore
he drives the news cycle.
When Ronald Reagan was running for the highest office a reporter asked him, “How can an actor run for President?” Reagan responded, “How can a president not be an actor?” Trump has honed his speaking and acting skills over the years by being a businessman, author and TV celebrity. Great actors deliver messages with emotion and they are believable. Trump is the anti-politician in more ways than one. He doesn’t sound like most politicians – and he could never be accused of sounding over-coached like most politicians. There is great value in professional coaching, yet every presenter or spokesperson should strive to sound un-coached and deliver messages with a straightforward and emotional edge. This combination is critical for those who wish to be powerful and engaging presenters or communicators.