History can turn on one little question. It did for the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. In 1979, Democrats unhappy with President Carter organized a draft Kennedy movement. CBS News devoted an unprecedented one hour of prime time television to profile him. Was the youngest Kennedy brother up to the challenge? The broadcast is memorable for a now famous, direct question posed to Kennedy by then CBS correspondent Roger Mudd, who asked, “Why do you want to be President?” Kennedy froze. And when he finally began to answer, he rambled. “Well, I’m… uhh… Were I to make the.. uh.. the announcement… uh.. to run.. the reasons I would run.. is because I have a great belief in this country.. that it is…. There’s more natural resources than any nation of the world…….”
He had no ready message, no answer for the most obvious question he might be asked. His Presidential dreams, if indeed he had them, were dashed. Carter won the nomination, only to lose to Ronald Reagan.
Reagan was a master of the message. His 1980 campaign was based on three promises. He said he would: 1) cut tax es, 2) strengthen defense, and 3) restore traditional values. He ran an entire campaign based on variations o f those three themes, rarely strayed from them, and was elected.
The Presidential candidates today could learn from Kennedy and Reagan. And so could you, as a business person. Are you prepared to deal with the media, whether print, online, TV or radio? Ted Kennedy wasn’t ready on CBS that night in 1979. What is your company’s message? Reagan had one. Do you?
And yes, the medium is equally important. There are large differences in how you are perceived on TV, radio, print and online media. TV tends to reward people who project warmth, strength and enthusiasm. Radio, brevity. Get to the point! Print and online, being direct. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Being quoted in print or online is similar to writing an email. Subtlety is easily misunderstood. What you say on TV or radio is shaped by facial expression or vocal tone. The same words in print or online, without the twinkle of an eye, or a smile, may be easily misinterpreted as sarcastic or mean-spirited.
Authenticity generally shines in all mediums. Think of the current presidential candidates, from both parties. Forget for a moment their views, intelligence and experience. Focus on their persona. Which candidate is most comfortable with himself and his beliefs? Who projects purpose? Looks like he wants to be there and is enjoying himself? Chances are, this candidate will win. Authenticity is a key trait among leaders, and winners, in all fields.
Even the most authentic leader, with a message, must be comfortable speaking to the media, or to a group. There are many examples of executives who don’t “do speeches,” or “talk to reporters.” They usually stall or fail in their careers.
But those who take the time to absorb media and speaking skills – and they are learned skills – will invariably be successful. They won’t be tripped up by a reporter or a roomful of people. And they may find, to their satisfaction and even surprise, they’ve
also become more comfortable with themselves.
Written by Mike Nikitas, television news anchor at NECN and media coach.