How did it happen that a smart accomplished politician like Theresa May can communicate so badly?
Faced with a succession of horrific events, we have barely seen a flicker of emotion. Just turgid sound bite after tedious forgettable boiler-plate statement.
Just watch this! Ouch!
How did it come to this?
Here’s how the process works …
- Theresa and her highly paid team discuss each media engagement in detail.
- They know that our attention spans are dwindling. And most media will only include sound bites.
- They agree on a handful, say three, key messages. And a key message they wish to convey.
- Whatever question Theresa is asked she tries to construct the answer to include a key message.
- This way, however the footage is sliced – there is a better chance that a key message is included.
This approach to communication assumes that the people who stumble on your messages are empty vessels waiting to be filled with your information.
The problem is that most people are not empty vessels.
Far from it.
We are not an audience patiently waiting for other people’s words of wisdom. Even if the other person is PM.
We are in fact a swirling sea of cognitive biases an personal opinions. We are already choosing where we place our attention and the conversations we contribute to. We are not waiting patiently.
To forget that simple fact is to demonstrate supreme arrogance and naivety.
People aren’t stupid
Worse still for Theresa, the people she is hoping to reach are actually pretty smart. We’re the kind of people who have sussed out that the DFS sale that must end – will be followed by another almost immediately.
We know stuff!
Be honest! Which of Theresa’s messages do you remember?
For all the hours constructing perfectly balanced messages and sound bite contributions, what do you remember about Theresa?
- We remember the one about certainty – because we got the opposite. People love talking about cock ups.
- I know she likes shoes. But I feel a bit sexist for noticing.
- And she comes across as a bit of a robot.
- She ran through some corn.
Think of all that precious strategic time with a team of communicator royally pissed up the wall to deliver that!
Then consider less reasoned and calculating communicators like Trump and Farage. They actually win hearts and minds! Loose cannon communicators getting votes and winning over public opinion!
These maverick non-conformists know something that Theresa and her highly-paid advisors have chosen to forget about the human condition.
They have forgotten that that no-one remembers what they say. Only what they make people feel.
With Theresa, she’s apparently never allowed to feel anything. And neither are we.
Remember Corbyn put his arm round people at Grenfell Tower? And it meant more than all of Theresa’s pallid statements rolled into one!
The opportunity for anyone communicating anything is to remember this.
As you pour over every word and every detail of your next message? As you cross every t and dot every i? As you debate with colleagues about semantics and tone of voice? … no-one will remember any of it. Sorry.
And just like Theresa you risk coming across as an unemotional tactical robot at best. And patronising and arrogant at worst.
People only remember how you make them feel.
(Ooh, Theresa’s shoes are a bit different. Interesting! Running through corn? That’s a bit weird!)
So, listen respectfully. It is not your conversation to control!
But you are allowed to contribute.
So, contribute …
- authentic, and
- meaningful value
… to the conversations that matter most.
If you still insist of churning out controlled messages to mythical ‘target audiences’ – then don’t get upset when you are ignored and irrelevant.
Just ask robot Theresa.
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