In a prior blog, you read the infamous advice about handling tough questions offered by Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the controversial Vietnam War:
Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It's a very good rule.
But it’s only a good rule for government officials and politicians. While the public has come to tolerate non-answers from such individuals, most other people, in most other walks of life—particularly business men and women—can never get away with ducking questions.
Except for sports figures. Most press conferences in the sports arena are never more than an exchange of innocuous answers to innocuous questions for one very simple reason: all that matters in sports is what happens on the playing field. Talking about a game in advance or after the fact devolves into either meaningless conjecture or equally meaningless rehash.
Jim Harbaugh, the coach of the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco Forty-niners, understands the rules of the press conference game, but he makes his non-answers a form of art. In anticipation of this Sunday’s big game, Mr. Harbaugh’s artful style was captured by Kevin Clark, a sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal, in this clever article.
Jail break films have long been a staple offering of Hollywood but, in a real life reversal of form, the Los Angeles Times reported that a former prisoner of the California State Prison in Sacramento, one Marvin Ussery, attempted to break into the jail. Although Mr. Ussery claimed that he was only “reminiscing,” prison authorities suspected that he was trying to smuggle in drugs, tobacco, or mobile phones to sell to the inmates. However, a search didn’t find any contraband on him, so his motive remains a mystery.
In business, “breaking into jail” has a different connotation: offering negative information voluntarily. Revealing a liability raises doubts in the audience’s minds about a company’s viability. However, there is a very good reason for such revelations: accountability. In presentations, unlike awkward social situations: the elephant in the room cannot and must not be ignored.
In some cases, accountability is mandatory. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires that a company selling stock to the public for the first time must include a “Risk Factors” section in the Prospectus for their Initial Public Offering. But the road show presentation of the offering isn’t required to use the Draconian language of the prospectus. Nor is there such a requirement for countless other routine types of business presentations. Yet all presentations must be forthcoming about bad news, or the presenter will be perceived of as having something to hide.
The challenge is when and how to handle the revelation. The “when” has two options:
Be preemptive: Include the negative information in the body of your presentation
Be reactive: Wait until a question comes from the audience and have a prepared response ready.
Each option has a risk. Offering negative information is “breaking into jail,” or admitting guilt, and raises an issue that the audience may not have considered. Waiting until a question is asked can appear evasive or concealing.
Regardless of which option you choose—the choice is a judgment call dependent on the situation, the audience, and/or the presenter—you must then make full disclosure by acknowledging the negative. But, as soon as you do, follow up immediately with the actions that you and your company are taking to rectify the problem or to prevent its recurrence.
If your bad news is about:
a down quarter, describe your extra efforts to stimulate new sales
the loss of a key customer, explain your efforts to win a new customer
the resignation of a key executive, talk about your search outreach
a delayed product release, lay out your accelerated production schedule
a failed product trial, list the corrections you are making
a critical comment by an important thought leader, find a more positive opinion and quote that person.
This strategy is a variation of the correct method for handling the ritual “What keeps you up at night?” question. Be candid about what keeps you up at night, but immediately follow up with what you are doing about it. Be candid about your company’s bad news, but immediately follow up with what you are doing about it.
Acknowledge that the elephant is in the room, and then lead it out.
After more than a decade of denials, Lance Armstrong finally admitted in yesterday’s televised interview with Oprah Winfrey that that he used performance enhancing drugs. His denials had been so vehement, Gail Collins, the Times satirical columnist,said that they “made ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ sound like a confession.”
One Wall Street Journal story speculated that Mr. Armstrong’s motive was to “figure out a way to compete again;” another quoted “ESPN writer Don Van Natta Jr. [who] posted on Twitter, ‘You don't go on Oprah to confess. You go on Oprah to be forgiven.’”
Motives aside, Mr. Armstrong’s admission provides a larger communication lesson; it is what every human being must do in every exchange: take responsibility and be transparent.
In a prior blog, you read how Rupert Murdoch, when confronted with charges that his newspapers had engaged in phone hacking, ducked his responsibility by issuing an apology in the passive voice: “We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred.” But the passive voice is the opposite of transparency.
As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “at the length truth will out.” Evidence mounted in the phone hacking scandal, and a year later, the United Kingdom Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee issued a report that called Mr. Murdoch irresponsible. In response, he apologized and he did so in the active voice, “We certainly should have acted more quickly and aggressively to uncover wrongdoing. We deeply regret what took place and have taken our share of responsibility for not rectifying the situation.” (You can read the full account in my latest book, Winning Strategies for Power Presentations.)
The truth came out for Lance Armstrong. Last year, the United States Anti-Doping Agency barred him for life from Olympic sports and stripped him of his seven Tour de France medals. His major sponsors such as Nike, Oakley, and Discovery Channel dropped their endorsements. And so Mr. Armstrong finally took responsibility when he told Ms. Winfrey, “I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.”
Transparency counts. Its vital importance was best expressed by Meg Whitman, the CEO of HP. In a video interview on the Journal’s CIO Network earlier this week, she spoke about her company, but her words have universal applicability: “One of the things that I think is so important, I will tell you in some ways I learned this in the governor’s campaign, which is transparency of communication. Say what you mean, mean what you say and deliver along the lines that you say you will deliver.”
The quality that earned you your present job--as well as all of your previous jobs--is the same quality that impedes your ability to answer questions effectively: you are a results-driven person.
To determine how good and--just as important--how fast you are at producing results, your employer undoubtedly assessed your resume, your references, and your character during your intake interview. Having demonstrated your proficiency means that you spend most of your time on your job (and most likely, the rest of your waking hours) ready to pounce on problems and find solutions. As a result, whenever you get a question, you are primed to provide an answer instantly.
Unfortunately, if you are too quick with your response, your answer might be wrong--because you did not understand the question. You will have fallen into the "Ready, Fire, Aim!" trap.
Being a good listener, as you learned from Johnny Carson in a prior blog, is important, but that is only the first step; it is just as important to take a beat before pulling the answer trigger; to put the aiming in its rightful place--before the firing. Pause before you answer a question.
But pausing is difficult during a mission-critical presentation because you are acting under the influence of a double speed whammy: the adrenal overdrive of being on the spot, and the DNA of a trigger-happy problem-solver.
Apple Computer understands trigger-happiness. The company, which is well-known for carefully guarding its product development, makes a practice of keeping all but a few select senior executives from answering questions from the press. In Inside Apple, a book describing what the subtitle calls its "secretive" practices, author and Fortune Magazine Senior Editor Adam Lashinsky quotes an Apple product marketing executive: "The challenge with those guys is that they are super smart and they know a lot of details, but...they haven't learned how to gracefully avoid answering."
Apple's competitor, Google, also understands trigger-happiness. Their Gmail has a feature called "Undo Send." Once you hit "Send," Gmail will hold your email for five seconds, during which time you can stop the email from going out.
The most sensitive trigger-happy arena of all is television and radio. Broadcasters employ a seven-second delay in live programs to monitor and edit undesirable material. Think of the wardrobe-malfunction at the Super Bowl or an excited blurt of profanity during a live Academy Awards acceptance speech. The most common example of the seven-second delay is the frequent sound of beeps during broadcasts of Jon Stewart's bawdy "The Daily Show."
Author Frank Partnoy extols the benefits of delay in his book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, with examples of a baseball batter waiting for the perfect pitch to hit, a comic waiting a beat before delivering a punch line, and a matchmaker counseling a blind date to suppress snap judgments.
Because presenters do not have the facility of an "Undo Send" button or a seven-second video delay, they must create their own beat in real time--with a verbal pause. That is not a contradiction in terms; a verbal pause is none other than the old reliable paraphrase. Readers of In the Line of Fire will recall that the paraphrase--a reconfiguration of a question--serves as a buffer. For our purposes, let's consider the paraphrase as the presentation equivalent of the seven-second video delay.
For instance, suppose an irate customer was to ask, "Where do you get off charging so much for your product?" The hair trigger answerer might say, "It's not that expensive when you think of all the features you get..." or "You have to consider the long-term cost of ownership." Each of those rapid responses accuses the questioner of being wrong. If instead you paraphrase by saying, "Why have we chosen this price point?" you remain neutral--and you take that vital verbal beat.
Having bought the time, you can then go on to describe the features and/or the long-term cost of ownership, but you will do so without--to extend the metaphor--the crossfire.
Hair trigger answers are old habits, as unproductive a habit as procrastination. Old habits die hard, but die they must because each of them--one more extension of the metaphor--backfires. Replace them as you would any bad habit, with positive action: listening and paraphrasing--and get positive results.
Yesterday’s post, in anticipation of the third and final presidential debate of 2012, described how Al Gore agreed with his opponent, George W. Bush, seven times during one of their 2000 debates. In last night’s debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, Mr. Romney outdid Mr. Gore nearly twofold:
1.…we’re going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done. I congratulate him on — on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaida.
2.There was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement. And I concurred in that and said we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with…That was your posture. That was my posture as well.
3. After Mr. Obama, speaking of his handling of Syria, said, “What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go,” Mr. Romney said:
Recognize I believe that Assad must go.
4. After Mr. Obama, speaking of his handling of Libya, said, “We did so in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with. And we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Mr. Romney said:
I don’t want to have our military involved in — in Syria. I don’t think there’s a necessity to put our military in Syria at — at this stage. I don’t anticipate that in the future.
5. After moderator Bob Schieffer of asked Mr. Obama, “During the Egyptian turmoil, there came a point when you said it was time for President Mubarak to go,” and Mr. Obama said, “Right,” Mr. Schieffer turned to Mr. Romney for his position, and he said:
I believe, as the president indicated and said at the time, that I supported his — his action there….once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did
6. After Mr. Obama said of Mr. Romney, “He’s praised George Bush as good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment,” Mr. Romney said:
My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that.
7. After Mr. Obama said, “What I now want to do is to hire more teachers, especially in math and science, because we know that we’ve fallen behind when it comes to math and science,” Mr. Romney said:
Look, I — I love to — I love teachers, and I’m happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers, do that.
8. I want to underscore the — the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel.
9.After Mr. Obama said, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I’ve made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy,” Mr. Romney said:
And crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago when I was in Israel speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps. Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions.
10. When Mr. Schieffer asked Mr. Romney about the president’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, he replied:
Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014. And when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.
11. We look at what’s happening in Pakistan and recognize that what’s happening in Pakistan is going to have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. And — and I say that because I know a lot of people just feel like we should just brush our hands and walk away. And I don’t mean you, Mr. President, but some people in the — in our nation feel that Pakistan (doesn’t ?) — being nice to us and that we should just walk away from them.
This is — this is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is — is technically an ally, and they’re not acting very much like an ally right now, but we have some work to do. And I — I don’t blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do.
12.When Mr. Schieffer asked, “Let me ask you, Governor, because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones? Mr. Romney replied:
Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.
To repeat the George Santayana quote I cited after Mr. Obama’s flat presentation in the first debate, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Twelve years ago, during the presidential election that pitted Vice President Al Gore against then Texas Governor George W. Bush, the candidates met in three debates, just as President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are doing this year. One dynamic from the 2000 campaign could carry forward to this year: dramatic reversals in presentation style. Just as Mr. Obama made a significant shift from his listless demeanor in the first debate to what Maureen Dowd called an “alpha tone” in his second, Al Gore made significant shifts in his style between his debates.
In the first contest, Mr. Gore, who was expected to dominate the notoriously language-challenged Mr. Bush, came out roaring like a lion. His statements and rebuttals were filled with aggressive and divisive words like “wrong,” “not,” “differences,” “mistake,” and “opposite.” His manner was also combative, continually punctuated by condescending sighs, derisive head-shaking, scornful frowns, and disdainful eye-rolling.
The arrogant behavior immediately boomeranged. Television broadcasters had a camera isolated on Mr. Gore for reaction shots. Their news directors took the output of this camera and edited his expressions into a rapid-cut sequence that they ran in their local and national broadcasts repeatedly. Public and media criticism rained down on the vice president.
In response, Mr. Gore made a sharp about face in the second debate and came out like a lamb. During the 90- minute event, he expressed agreement with his opponent seven times—earning him further public criticism. So Mr. Gore reversed field again and swung back to his aggressive ways in the third debate.
At one point, moderator, Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour, who also moderated the first Obama-Romney debate,asked Mr. Bush the same question he would later ask Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney:
I’d like to know how you see the differences between the two of you
Mr. Bush rose from his seat and began to address his answer to the town-hall audience
Well, the difference is that I can get it done. That I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That’s what the question in this campaign is about...
As he continued his answer, Al Gore stood up, and started to walk across the stage, directly toward his opponent, almost menacingly. Unaware of Mr. Gore’s move, Mr. Bush continued:
…It’s not only what’s your philosophy and what’s your position on issues, but can you get things done?
In the middle of his statement, Mr. Bush turned to see Mr. Gore approaching, paused for a beat, then nodded at Mr. Gore and smiled, evoking titters from the audience.
Then, Mr. Bush turned back to the audience and said:
And I believe I can.
The audience titters gave way to laughter.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll about the effects of the debate on public opinion gave George W. Bush a seven point advantage over Al Gore.
Mr. Gore compensated for his initial aggressive behavior by being passive, and then he overcompensated for being passive by being even more aggressive. Mr. Obama compensated for his initial passive behavior by being aggressive.
As 50 million viewers prepare to watch the first of this year’s presidential debates tonight, the media is abuzz with discussions and opinions about the major issues: jobs, taxes, healthcare, Libya, Iran, Israel, abortion, immigration, and same sex marriage. For many voters, this is a single-issue election that drives them to favor one candidate or another, but all voters are driven by one factor more powerful than all the others: their gut feelings.
The feelings actually emanate high above the gut, from a group of brain cells called “mirror neurons.” As their name implies, these cells mirror feelings between people, creating an instinctive emotional bond between them. First discovered two decades ago in experiments with lab monkeys, the mirroring phenomenon became known as “monkey see, monkey do.” In humans, what people see, they feel; if we see another person wince in pain, we cringe, if we see another person giggle uncontrollably, we smile, if we see an anxious person, we feel ill at ease, if we see a confident person, we feel elated. These feelings are also called “empathy.”
Political pollsters call them “likeability,” a more sedate term than "gut" and less touchy-feely than "empathy", yet all of the terms describe the primal emotions that candidates generate in the electorate. After all, the president of a nation, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is very much like the chief of a tribe or the patriarch (and perhaps someday, the matriarch) of a clan. Followers of any leader want to feel—deep inside—that they are in good, strong hands. “Who’s your Daddy?”
Theodore H. White, the great political historian who chronicled the presidential elections of 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972, saw these primal forces at work in the seminal 1960 debate that pitted the patrician John F. Kennedy against the rumpled Richard M. Nixon. In his classic, The Making of the President 1960, Mr. White wrote thatdebates “give the voters of a great democracy a living portrait of two men under stress and let the voters decide, by instinct and emotion, which style and pattern of behavior under stress they preferred in their leader…[they] generalize this tribal sense of participation, this emotional judgment of the leader, from the few to the multitude.”
Half a century later, Mr. White’s words were echoed by Dante Chinni in a Wall Street Journalarticle anticipating tonight’s debate between President Obama and Governor Romney:
Of all the measures of a presidential candidate, the most useful may be the most basic: whether voters have “positive” feelings toward him. In every recent presidential race, the candidate with the higher positive numbers has won the White House.
Mr. Chinni’s article went on to list the likability figures for the month preceding the three most recent presidential elections and that of the most recent month this year:
Will the patrician Mr. Romney break the likability string or will the cool Mr. Obama keep it alive?
As the stock market surges to new highs not seen since before the fall of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns—Standard Poor's 500-stock index is up 25 percent over the past 12 months—the window for IPOs is beginning to open again. Yesterday, Trulia, a real estate information site, closed up 40 percent on its first day of trading, as the New York Timesstory described it, “defying the recent lackluster performance of newly public stocks.”
The surge was the subject of a panel discussion at last week’s high profile KPCB CEO Summit in Pebble Beach, California. One of the panelists was Ken Goldman, a respected Silicon Valley CFO, who has served in that role forCypress Semiconductor, Sybase, Excite@Home, Siebel Systems/Oracle Corporation, and Fortinet. Having led the IPOs for two of those companies, Mr. Goldman offered the 200+ CEOs at the conference 17 brief pieces of advice, five of which related to presentations. (He had a sixth, which was to utilize presentation coaching, but in the interest of selfless-interest, let’s stay with five).
While very few people get the opportunity to make a presentation that seeks to raise tens of millions of dollars as most IPO road shows do, in each of Mr. Goldman’s recommendations below, you’ll see aspects that resonate with all presentations, along withbasic best practices that you can employ for your presentations.
1)Don’t be bashful - In 1-on-1 meetings, ask your potential investors for their thoughts on the company and if they have any issues or concerns that should be addressed
Mr. Goldman is recommending that CEOs “Ask for the order,” or as sales people put, it “Go for the close.” Faint heart never won fair lady. Does this mean that a presenter should thrust a contract at the audience and ask them to sign on the dotted line? Of course not, but there is a wide gulf between hard sell and no sell.
A sales person can ask a customer for the order by saying, “We hope that you’ll see how well our product meets your requirements.” An IPO CEO can ask an investor for the order by saying, “We hope that you’ll join us in this attractive opportunity.” Mr. Goldman’s usual call to action for investors is simply, “So what do you think?”
Define your call to action.
2)NetRoadshow has changed the game – Meetings are primarily Q&A, not a regurgitation of the road show presentation
In 2005, following the stock market excesses that led to bursting of the Internet bubble, the Securities and Exchange Commission mandated, in the interest of full disclosure, that companies offering stock for the first time must make their road show presentation available to the public online. Since then, every company makes a video recording of the management team delivering the pitch and posts it on the NetRoadshow site and its public companion, retailroadshow.com, along with the slideshow that accompanies the narrative.
Despite this wide access, the company’s senior management team goes on the road for about two weeks, during which they visit potential investors in about dozen cities across the country, for about 30 or 40 meetings a week for a total of 80 or more iterations—just as they did before NetRoadshow.
The reason for this grueling tour is that no investor will make a decision to buy up to a 10% tranche of an offering based on a canned presentation alone. Investors want to meet the executives in person, press the flesh, look them in the eye, and interact with them directly. As a result, many of the meetings are not presentations, but intense Q&A sessions.
Prepare for the most challenging questions to your presentation.
3)You control the road show logistics – Despite the hectic schedule, there is enough time to conduct business, hold conference calls, workout and unwind.
Mr. Goldman is referring here to the tried and true concept of time—and personal—management. All too often, when business people have a major project (and there is no project more major than an IPO road show) they allow daily business tasks and physical exercise slip by the wayside. Not a good idea for business and not a good idea for your body.
Make the time. Take care of business. Exercise regularly.
4)Road show start critically important; Europe or otherwise.
Here Mr. Goldman is advocating a strong launch. Success in the first iterations can generate word-of-mouth within the investment community that creates momentum for the offering. Companies that develop road shows for product launches need the same impetus.
Run through your presentation multiple times in advance; to your team or to “friends of the court” to refine your pitch. Launch only when ready. Make the first iteration as polished as the last.
5)Six timing decision points: a) Soft start; b) Formal Bakeoff; 3) Organization meeting; 4) File S-1; 5) Start road show and 6) Price
While Mr. Goldman’s steps are IPO-specific, they represent a high level strategic roadmap with key milestones. Every presentation requires a strategic roadmap laid out in advance so that when D-Day arrives, you are ready for action.
Mr. Goldman knows whereof he speaks: Fortinet, his current company, has seen its stock price climb more than 50% in the past year alone. If adjusted for a 2:1 stock split last year, the adjusted price is $54, more than 4 X IPO price of $12.50
Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, who was the driving force behind the controversial Vietnam War, went on to a more successful stint as head of the World Bank. He lived until the ripe old age of 93, but according to his New York Times obituary, “spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral consequences.”
As part of his struggle, he agreed to be the subject of a 2003 documentary in which he expressed regrets but ultimately defended his actions. The film is called The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara. Lesson Ten is about communication, and it contains sound advice for presenters about what not to do. Said Mr. McNamara:
One of the lessons I learned early on: never say never. Never, never, never. Never say never. And secondly, never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It's a very good rule.
Unfortunately, that rule has taken on a life of its own in the modern business world. Many consultants urge presenters to stay on message. And yes, it’s good to do that--within bounds. But think about it: How can it be a “very good rule” not to be responsive to other people? In interpersonal relationships, not answering a question can lead to an argument; in business, not answering a question can lead to the failure of a deal. Only in politics, where the public has become inured to the practice of ducking and spinning does the public tolerate unanswered questions. But even there, the McNamara rule can backfire.
In the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry threw his hat into the ring late in the game, but his track record of three consecutive victories in Texas elections and strong conservative support vaulted him to the top of the public opinion polls very quickly. However, after hapless performances in live televised debates, Mr. Perry’s poll numbers sank as fast as they had risen. The polls were confirmed in his dismal showings in the first three primaries, and he withdrew from the race five months after he entered.
Mr. Perry’s two most notorious performance stumbles were his brain lock in one debate and a bungled statement in another, each of which went viral on the Web and in the media. But what was largely overlooked in all that attention was a Robert McNamara moment in the October 18, 2011 debate on CNN, when moderator Anderson Cooper asked this question:
COOPER: Governor Perry, the 14th Amendment allows anybody. A child of illegal immigrants who is born here is automatically an American citizen. Should that change?
PERRY: Well, let me address Herman's issue that he just talked about.
COOPER: Actually, I'd rather you answer that question.
PERRY: I understand that. You get to ask the questions, I get to answer like I want to.
“I get to answer like I want to.” Imagine a salesperson saying that to a customer, a mid-level manger to a senior executive, an executive to a board member, or a CEO to an investor. Meeting over. No deal.
Imagine saying that to your significant other. No comment.
Anderson Cooper called Mr. Perry on it, “That's actually a response, that's not an answer.”
Four months later, in another debate among Republican candidates, a déjà vu Robert McNamara moment occurred in this exchange between Mitt Romney and CNN moderator John King:
KING: What is the biggest misconception about you in the public debate right now?
ROMNEY: We've got to restore America's promise in this country where people know that with hard work and education, that they're going to be secure and prosperous and that their kids will have a brighter future than they've had. For that to happen, we're going to have to have dramatic fundamental change in Washington, D.C., we're going to have to create more jobs, have less debt, and shrink the size of the government. I'm the only person in this race --
KING: Is there a misconception about you? The question is a misconception.
ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions want, I get to give the answers I want.
You must respond to all questions. This is not to say that you should give away state secrets; you have every right to decline to answer on the basis of confidentiality, competitive data, or company or legal policy, but you must provide a rational reason — and “I get to answer like I want to” is irrational.
his campaign to become the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt
Romney has taken many lumps for being rich. His opponents and the media
have exploited the contrast between his personal wealth and the economic
struggles of much of the electorate. Mr. Romney hasn’t helped his cause
by making several awkward statements about the subject. Yesterday, the
day before today’s critical Michigan and Arizona primaries, the ABC News
OTUS site ran a twelve-page post titled, “Is Mitt Romney out of touch?” which included the following assertions:
The latest gaffe came last Friday in a speech Mr. Romney gave in Detroit,
during which he said, “I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck,’’
but then went on to say, “Ann drives, a couple of Cadillacs, actually.’’
The statement wound up on the first page of the ABC News post.
On Sunday, however, Mr. Romney reversed gears by turning the gaffe into an asset. During an interview on Fox News, Chris Wallace asked, “Governor, could you understand why some voters could be put off by those things?”
(video clip requires Microsoft Windows Media Player)
Mr. Romney replied:
I can't be perfect, I just am who I am and I can tell you this
with regards to the cars that was talked about last September and people
ask us what vehicles we own. We have a car in California; we have a car
And so that's the way it is. If people think that there is something
wrong for being successful in America, they should vote for the other
guy. I have been successful.
Mr. Romney didn’t equivocate or evade as so many politicians so often
do. In the parlance of the middle America he is trying to win over, he
“told it like it is;” in the parlance of effective communication, he was
being open and direct. But being even more effective, he added one more
sentence to his answer:
And I want to use that success to help the American people.
That single sentence represents both a benefit to the electorate and a
declaration of his qualifications to provide that benefit. This is a
technique called Topspin; taken from the tennis term for a power stroke,
it adds power to answers. You can read more about Topspin in my book, In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions—and can get a FREE Kindle copy now on Amazon.