680News political affairs specialist John Stall on politics.See more blogs
Why political leaders do what they do during debates?
Preparing for and performing in a televised leaders’ debate is one of the most challenging and perilous aspects of campaign communication, because the objective is to appeal to two distinct audiences while sounding sincere to both. The two audiences are the one watching in real time and the one hearing, reading or watching what the news media has to say about it the next day.
What the news media has to say about it the next day is tactically the most significant because most people don’t watch the actual debate, but will hear, watch and read excerpts the next day. The neutrally presented news stories by the very nature of the work, include clips and quotes from each leader — which is why they are coached within an inch of their political lives to stick to their talking points and to excessively repeat well-rehearsed lines.
The theory is that the news media will have a limited number of clips to work with and if they are delivered succinctly, those are the only impression creating messages that the larger “next day audience will hear, see or read.” Rob Ford’s constant reference to “stopping the gravy train” and showing “respect for taxpayer dollars ” is a good example. He ended every answer he gave to a question asked during candidate debates with one of those two lines and the media invariably used a variation of them in next-day reports. He repeated them so many times in so many places that they became the “people’s mantra too.” The key is that the lines have to be delivered sincerely and with authenticity in order to resonate. Simply delivering a campaign slogan doesn’t cut it.
Performing for the next-day audience of course is perilous because the audience watching in real time can conclude that the leader is evasive, detached or insincere.
The winner is usually the one that can leave a positive impression with the real time audience by being authentically engaged in the moment while weaving some well-conceived, rehearsed and well-timed “key lines” or “talking points” into the performance that the media will include in the next-day coverage. The less-skilled or coached will deliver detached, but repeatable lines that the news media will include in “next day coverage,” but they risk leaving the real time audience extremely unimpressed.
The worst-case scenario for a political leader is to continually default to ill-conceived lines, delivered insincerely followed by next day coverage that point that out.
For more of 680News political affairs specialist’s views on politics and other other issues, visit www.johnstall.com.