Election 2015 – communication coaching & the prime ministerial debates

Again, late to the party – another blog post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while but have only now found a moment to pen the words that have been turning over in my mind the past few weeks. These comments may have been timely a few weeks ago, but are now more of a commentary to add a very small voice to a very loud conversation.

I tuned into the first two debates of our prime ministerial campaign season here in the UK, not to see what would be said – it was always going to be the same thing that has been churned out from all parties for way too long now – but to see how it would be said. Suffice to say, the first two debates were so appalling, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the third. Across the first two, the most impressive person by a country mile was Julie Etchingham – the facilitator of debate two.

I simply can’t understand what exactly the leaders’ communication coaches behind the scenes were thinking.

Nobody seemed to tell Miliband that if he over-rehearses his answers to the questions he knows will come up, it becomes far too obvious that he is just regurgitating something from memory and all semblance of him being genuine flies out the window. Not only did nobody tell him this for the first debate, someone appears to have told him before the second clash that his irritating repetition of meaningless phrases was a good thing and his second performance was so skin-crawling that I almost turned off many times just to stop hearing the phrase ‘the people at home’.

Cameron’s communication fared a little better. He was composed and tried to come across as human by acknowledging that nobody is perfect – not even the prime minister. Yet he failed to do one thing. Be unique. He had nothing new to say, he performed his lines well and calmly but he was bland and thus blended into the wall of unimpressive characters that the British public were presented with. He failed to inspire.

Clegg and Sturgeon’s performances were worryingly good. I say worryingly because what they have to say rarely makes good sense but how they say it is so convincing that people may not realise that. If their coaches could make a few suggestions to Cameron, we may get somewhere. That said, Cameron would need to believe his own lines in order for them to start coming across as passionate.

Farage was convincing early on but soon overstepped the mark and couldn’t recover any credibility after that. His confidently arrogant performance and blurring of lines was easily predictable.

As for Bennett and Wood? Sadly they had absolutely nothing to say and they said it badly. There is no way they should have been on the stage with a handful of politicians who, although far from being perfect or even possess anything near gumption or integrity, were a complete other league to these two ladies.

Perhaps I have been too influenced by the West Wing, but I remain quietly hopeful that one day, the British public will be confronted by a prime ministerial candidate who has vision, courage and conviction and who can articulate these qualities with passionate prose.

Oh, and be someone who cares about what happens beyond the borders of our increasingly self-focused country to the broader issues in the world. Foreign policy was disappointingly lacking anywhere in those first two debates. When did Britain become so introspected that we no longer care about the rest of the world? As I say, I’m quietly hopeful that one day a personality will emerge that can change that and give some hope back to British politics. Until then, I’m done trying to figure out the bizarre coaching that is going on to ‘prepare’ these leaders for their debates. Good communication requires a good message and for now, we appear to have neither.

The power of words : infamy

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There is so much I could write about our time in Hawaii. I could dwell on the simplicity of sun, sea and sand and the positive impact they can have on your soul. I could reflect on how time spent on an island that is six hours from the nearest mainland can really give you space to take stock and figure a few things out. I could tell you that these islands are a merging of Polynesian and American cultures and unpack how that gives them a unique atmosphere. I could quite happily recount how excited I was that my name – one that is Hawaiian in origin – was everywhere and how when I told my name to the baristas in Starbucks, they didn’t ask me to repeat it or how to spell it when they wrote it on my cup. There is so much I could write.

But one of the things I remember most, is visiting Pearl Harbor (I’m spelling it the American way… humour me). When I first visited Oahu over 20 years ago, I was too small to take the short boat trip over to the Arizona memorial but for whatever reason, from a very young age, I have had a fascination of the events of 7 December 1941. So it was with great anticipation that this time, when I visited with my husband, I could make that trip and really take in the place, the history and the events of that ‘date which will live in infamy.’

It is that very phrase that as a communicator, I was excited to see ‘in the flesh’. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the phrase, which in itself lives in infamy, was written in pencil over the original script. These famous words were not those that were intended to be spoken. They were an amend, seemingly written by the hand of Franklin D. Roosevelt himself and they were displayed in the museum at Pearl Harbor.

The power of words is something that I am all too aware of. When used in spite, the spoken word can hurt more deeply and make a longer lasting impression than any physical wound. When used in triumph, the spoken word cannot be matched in its ability to inspire and transform generations.

So it is with this one word. Yes, 7 December 1941 was a date that became part of world history. But with that small pencilled correction it graduated beyond being a date that is simply recited by youngsters in a history class and became a date that changed the course of history. A date that, because of a President’s understanding of the power of language, lives in infamy.