The 2020 US Democratic National Convention – what we can learn to enhance our business communication.
In this time of global pandemic, the outcome of the US election in 2020 is being watched with even greater scrutiny. Last week we had the DNC, with Joe Biden formally accepting his nomination to bid for America’s Presidency with Kamala Harris as his Deputy. However, this time it was different – no cheering crowds, no grand rhetoric, just a cavernous space for him to talk into. With this ‘new norm’ of social distancing, he needed to adapt his style and content to talk both personally to his audience – each person watching at home, whilst appealing generally to both progressive Democrats, disappointed to see the defeat of Bernie Sanders and some Republicans alienated by Trump’s leadership and perhaps now ready to listen.
I’m not here to talk about Politics; there are plenty out there far more qualified to do that and I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to do so; I’m just looking at what we can take from a business perspective when it comes to communication, to help hone all our messages and there is a great deal we can take from what went on last week. Here’s just a handful of things, focusing on just one area…CONTENT:
FIRSTLY…’LESS IS MORE’:
Biden has been criticised in the past of going ‘off-piste’, but his acceptance speech was short, which not only had the benefit of keeping him on track, but also helped us to stay focused and listen. If I can lower the stakes here, having just spent 3 days on Zoom attending an excellent course to qualify as an MBTi Practitioner, I witnessed first-hand how difficult it is to stay focused online for long periods of time and the Team delivering the course adapted brilliantly. So, what can we learn? During the foreseeable future, this is how we will all be communicating, so shorten the meetings/presentations, have time-out and if you’re teaching, break-up the learning with different exercises that take people away from the screen. If like Mr Biden you are prone to a ramble (and I know I am), then be absolutely brutal about ‘killing your darlings,’ as writer William Faulkner said… not literally obviously, but be absolutely objective about content doesn’t serve your core message or can be saved for another time. It will help us all, including you!
Secondly…ESTABLISHING BENEFITS FOR YOUR AUDIENCE:
As already mentioned, Biden is walking a very fine line with appealing to both progressive Democrats and centre Republicans and needed to offer-up fundamental benefits that would appeal to this mixed audience. He did this using the universal values of ‘hope’, ‘healing’ and ‘finding the light’ and promising that tackling Covid-19 would be the priority in his first days in Office. There are arguments that there was not much detail in how he would do it, but for a Nation in the grips of a deadly pandemic, broad reassurances are what are needed. We can take a valuable lesson from this in Business; if you are communicating to with a mixed /cross function audience, it is vital either to find universal benefits to make people want to listen, or pinpoint specifics for each group you are addressing. If you don’t get this right, you may lose them. Remember ‘benefits’ are not ‘the process’, they generally come down to money, time and emotional values, the latter is ridiculously underused in business, but can be the biggest driver around decision making. Biden cleverly focused very much on this. So have a think; will your ideas make people feel ‘happier’, give them ‘clarity’, ‘reassure’ them… it makes such a difference if these things are voiced.
And Finally…PERSONAL CREDIBILITY AND PERSONAL STORIES:
We are living in a time where death is touching us all. The tragedy of losing a wife and baby to a car accident and a son to cancer puts Biden in a position to connect with just that. I spoke in a previous article for Body Talk about the importance of logical and emotional credibility and here is a man who has that emotional connection… and whether it is said or unsaid, it is implicitly in the air. In Business, we need to find a way to connect to our business audience other than using logical rhetoric. Remember too, that Biden’s story is one that is known; we can’t afford to be implicit with our experiences, it has to be explicit – ie ‘said’. And, if you don’t have a direct connection, then use emotive language when establishing the context of your conversation, to show you care about what you are talking about… or the people you are talking to.
Another lovely example of the use of ‘personal’…Without the crowds and the pomp and the VIPs, Biden’s Team took the opportunity to hear stories from ‘real’ people. Who better to demonstrate ‘hope’, ‘healing’ and finding ‘the light’, than 13 year-old Brayden Harrington, a boy with a speech impediment, given just such hope by meeting Biden, a fellow stutterer. His story touched everyone that saw it. Personal stories are a brilliant way of connecting with people; we are able to draw upon the narrative and give it a bigger meaning. Obama did this when first elected, talking about 106 year-old, Black American, Nixon Cooper; he told her story; weaving facts, dates and events from US history through her experiences – we connected to her and she became the story of every Black American. To quote Robert McKee, the Godfather of all screenwriters, ‘Stories are how we make sense of life and how we connect’. In Business, stories are not told enough. I would heartily recommend you find a story, chuck in name – make something ‘personal’ to touch the people around you and connect them to what can otherwise be, just a dull list of process details and facts.
So that’s it for me. Well nearly…so here’s the thing… I was going to talk about ‘style’ – ie how the Speakers delivered to camera, analysing body language and voice, but it doesn’t serve the ‘core message’ of this article, which was about content, so I’ve ‘killed that darling’. To end, this was an unprecedented way of delivering a Convention, and I rather liked it. Let’s see what Trump has to offer in return.