HELP WANTED: Media Coach for GOP

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway 3 Comments

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The GOP doesn’t get the media and really, the feeling seems mutual. So listen up, there’s an elephant in the room and he doesn’t know how to look good on TV.

During the State of the Union Address last night, I watched the speeches as if I were critiquing and assessing candidates of my own. Overall, the Democrats and Republicans are not just divided by political differences, but also in appearances.

Regardless of whether the Conservative powers that be in D.C. care to admit it – appearances matter.

Watch the State of the Union Address 2011

Just for an exercise, visualize these match-ups: Nixon/ Kennedy; Bush/ Clinton; McCain/ Obama. We make split-second decisions about people based on what we see.

Why should voters be any different?

I use myself as an example when I coach clients and I ask them a series of questions about myself to literally judge the book by its cover:
– Did I graduate from college?
– Are my parents married?
– Do I attend church?
– Do I rent or own a home?
– Am I a parent?

Clients guess right nearly 100 percent of the time. Why? Because we tend to reflect outside who we are inside.

Take President Obama during last night’s speech. He entered a room full of Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Green Partiers and Independents – all sitting together.

He looked comfortable and confident. His suit was neat, but not splashy, and he smiled as he spoke with folks.

At the podium, he was a different man: reserved, serious, sometimes almost fatherly. Unlike his predecessor, his facial expressions tended to match his words, his inflection was well-rehearsed but natural, and he seemed precise in his body posture and gestures.

But he has room for improvement. His makeup looked fine, until you noticed his hands were about three shades darker. When he stumbled on words, he would panic for a second and whip his head back and forth looking for his place. He clunked his suit buttons down on the podium which the microphone picked up. And as a rule, the President also seems bent on appearing stoic, but smiling a bit more often wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

The first half of the speech flowed well, but he ran out of steam quickly at the mid-way point. The president’s speech writer deserves the job; it hit the right points and relied heavily on research and polling. The word choices were right on the mark. The Thomas Paine writing style spoke to the common man and struck me as an attempt to relax the nasty perception he exudes of an elitist.

It was short on specific tangibles, but I’ve learned to expect that less and less in State of the Union Addresses.

President Obama struck the middle ground on issues to get as many Republicans as Democrats to their feet – which made him look good. He made nice points for the GOP on education and Tort Reform, but he’s still not there on the deficit. Win some, lose some. He even managed to seem authentic when he remarked equally on the achievements of Vice President Joe Biden and the Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Then, the night took a weird turn.

First of all, what a public relations mistake to have public responses from both the Republicans and the Tea Party. I’m sure the Libertarians are re-thinking their strategy for next year.

Of course, Republican and Tea Party responses could have been productive, public relations snafu aside. But it wasn’t.

On the surface, both Congressman Paul Ryan (R- Wisconsin) and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Tea Party-Minnesota) are great choices: attractive, young elected officials from the heartland with a bit more polish than an everyday American.

Congressman Ryan was selected mostly because he’s the budget chair – that’s pretty sexy in GOP land. Plus, he’s very put together for a TV audience from his neat suit to his easy-on-the-eyes camera-ready mug. But they set him up for failure with a bad speech. (FYI: Didn’t anyone on his staff care to offer him a few drops of Visine for his red eyes?)

Watch Congressman Paul Ryan\'s GOP Response to State of the Union

Reading from a teleprompter probably seems easy if you’ve never done it, but unless you practice with AND without it – you’re just reading words. Delivery is all about building a bridge between you and your audience for full comprehension. Studies show that the average reader achieves full comprehension at only eight words.

As a Republican, I understood what he was saying because I’ve heard it before. His speech was full to the brim with 10-cent words and complicated sentence structures. Highfalutin rhetoric goes no where fast on TV. And what pollster’s research supported the writer lifting content straight from the Constitution? It’s lost on people if the speaker delivering it doesn’t look like he completely buys it.

Simple writing isn’t easy, but if done right – can be thrilling. This writing bored me. He bored me.

And then, we got to experience the reaction of Congresswoman Bachmann, the Tea Party Express candidate (whoo-whoo). The Tweet stream during her reaction speech cracked me up. Folks thought she was looking off at her teleprompter, which she was of course. But she was actually recording two addresses at once – one for Tea Party Express TV and one for the networks. Apparently, she looked into the wrong camera. Epic Fail!

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann Reacts to State of the Union

From the minute she started talking, I wrote her off. From her raccoon eyes to her bouffant hair, it seemed like she was auditioning for a Minnesota TV weather girl job. She used flow charts to emphasize her points, which harkened back to the madcap adventures of one Ross Perot, and her voice almost sounded shrill and a tad too perky.

Where the Dems and GOP failed to give many tangibles, the Tea Partier seemed a little more focused on substance and detail. Overall, her delivery and presence came across genuine and likable. But she needs some serious media coaching (this camera, please) and a TV-friendly makeover if she wants the role of serious politician.

There’s gotta be a public relations team somewhere in the D.C. area willing to work with the conservatives. They’ve got a help wanted sign on their front door, even if they don’t know it.

– Follow me @erica_holloway.

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