Let me tell you where I was wrong! Has watching the Trump-Hillary spectacle over the last few months changed my opinion about the candidate’s communication skills?
If you’ve been a long-time reader you might remember I started dissecting some of Trump’s persuasion skills way back in January before the first primary elections: You are being manipulated, part 1
In march I posted a much longer analysis of Trump’s skills: You are being manipulated, part 2. That article went semi-viral to over 50,000 readers. Thank you.
In the conclusion of my analysis I said:
If Trump DOES win the Republican nomination, he will completely obliterate Clinton or Sanders in the general election. In comparison, Clinton and Sanders have virtually no persuasive skills.
I’ve had many of those readers contact me asking if in retrospect I want to change my analysis. My analysis, no. My predictions, yes.
I still contend that Trump’s persuasion skills are much better than Clinton’s.
Since this is a communication skills blog and not a political blog, I’ve postponed delving back into politics. However, since the election is only hours away, I thought I should make a few observations. Here’s the final election analysis of 2016.
In March I predicted Trump would win easily because during the primaries he was effortlessly using every persuasion technique in the book.
However, beginning with his convention speech, his style changed somewhat–as if someone else wrote his speech. In my analysis of his acceptance speech I commented:
Trump’s speech was actually weaker than usual … he did not employ all of the manipulative techniques that I have chronicled from him in the past.
Nevertheless, despite media criticisms, his speech did not hurt him in the polls. Read my analysis to learn why. I stand by that analysis.
After Hillary’s acceptance speech I predicted:
Hillary is in trouble … Trump’s choices are what will win or lose this election. Trump has proven he has the persuasion skills … if [Hillary] continues to use the same tactics head to head against Trump [and Trump] capitalizes on that, which I believe he will, Trump wins.
Persuasion wise, Hillary’s speech was much weaker than Trump’s. I stand by that analysis as well. The trouble for Trump in the polls following Hillary’s speech was because of Trump’s missteps with the Kahns and others, not because of any Hillary persuasion.
Do I stand by my prediction of an easy Trump win? Clearly the polls do not show anything about this election has been “easy.”
Where I was Wrong
I stand by my conclusion that Trump is a gifted manipulator, but I was wrong about one BIG thing. My mistake was in my prediction:
… when Trump actually makes the switch from the primary to the general election. When he starts directing his skills toward you, you will be shocked at how good he suddenly starts to appear.
I was wrong. Trump never did this. His persuasion tactics worked great on his target audience in the primary. I thought he would direct his skills toward a more centrist voter in the general, but he didn’t.
In fact, a few of his positions have actually become MORE conservative in the general election campaign. For whatever reason, Trump decided it was more important to retain the loyalty of his primary audience rather than invite centrists into his camp. Whether or not that was the right decision remains to be seen.
I was wrong that Trump would direct his skills toward a broader audience. Also, since the nomination, he has not even taken advantage of ALL the techniques that he used in the primary.
- Maybe he’s not trying to win. Maybe the speculation is true that his candidacy is a publicity stunt for a new business venture.
- Maybe I’m wrong, and his early success was just a coincidence, but I simply do not believe that anyone could defy the analysts and use so many manipulation techniques so successfully by accident.
- Maybe his hired hands convinced him to abandon the tactics that were working in the primary. Maybe those consultants have taken over. Again, that wouldn’t make since if he was self-aware of his own persuasion skills.
- Maybe the obscene video and sexual harassment charges have simply overpowered his persuasive ability.
- Maybe he really believed that reinforcing the support of his core supporters would be more effective than reaching out to a new audience.
Whatever the reason, in the general election, he simply has not used all of the persuasive tools he proved he was capable of in the primary.
Whether you agree with me or not, let’s look at what we can learn about communication skills from this insane election year.
Persuasion isn’t enough
First, my past predictions were based solely on Trump’s persuasion skills. Clearly, that has not been the only factor in this election. Embarrassing video tapes, media persuasion, the opposition’s parties framing, email leaks, FBI investigations, and new information all have all had effects!
One of the techniques in my SpeechDeck communication skills system is based on the principle of “new information.” Whenever new information is revealed it gives the audience a chance (and excuse) to change their minds.
One of the best ways to subvert the persuasive power of blind allegiance is to supply “new” news. The “news” in this election has never stopped. “News” has virtually no effect on those who have already made up their minds, but it can sway the undecided.
Takeaway: Persuasion is not enough. Always withhold “new information,” just in case.
Communication Success Requires Discipline
Despite Trump’s proven persuasion skills, discipline is not one of them. No matter how great your skills, one momentary lapse or faux pas can undermine it all–and in Trump’s case “faux pas” is a gigantic understatement.
It could be argued that both Trump and Clinton have committed these lapses (fainting, vulgarity, etc.). However, neither of the candidates let embarrassment stop them.
Takeaway: Don’t let a mistake, no matter how large, derail you. Keep going.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Much of my blog and analysis is based on public speaking skills, rhetoric, and verbal persuasion. No amount of words can compensate for contradictory actions.
No matter how many times Hillary denies health problems and denies support for corporate bankers, fainting and Wikileak’s revelations undermine those words.
No matter how many times Trump denies bigotry and vulgarity, audiotape of real life conversations count more.
The human brain processes actions faster than words–and when there is a conflict, we subconsciously believe the actions.
Takeaway: Make sure your actions match your words.
Use Group Relationships
In nearly every previous post about this election I have discussed the importance of group identity. If this election proves anything it’s the validity of this principle.
We have the “must-vote-Democrat-even-if-we-don’t-like-Hillary” voters, the “must-vote-Republican-even-if-we-don’t-like Trump” voters, the “never-Trump” voters and “never-Hillary” voters, the “Only Trump” and “Only Hillary” voters, plus a few others.
In fact in this election, the group identities have moved outside the scope of political party. I’m willing to bet some of my readers better identify as “people who stand for principle” or “people who respect common courtesy” or “people who want a non-politician” or “people who are afraid what will happen if nothing changes” or “people who want to protect others” or “people who want diversity and unity.” Personally, for the first election in my life, I find myself in the same “group” with people who believe in completely different political policies.
Generally, my prediction has been correct that most Republicans have fallen in line with Trump and most Democrats with Clinton. This is why Trump can get votes from people he insults–because group loyalty is that strong. However, more so than in previous elections there are many voters who have stronger identification with non-party groups. This makes the outcome harder to predict.
I don’t think any further explanation is necessary. If you live in the USA, you’ve seen the fanatical power of group loyalty on full display this year.
Takeaway: Always be first to define the in-group.
You Have to Choose
Speaking of group identity, it should be just as clear this election that you can’t be everything to everybody. The first rule of marketing is that you have to know your audience.
Hillary knows that she won’t be able to persuade everyone, and has chosen to appeal to the centrist “stronger together” group identity.
Trump knows that he won’t be able to persuade everyone, and has targeted his appeal to the “anyone but Hillary” and “America first” groups.
I thought Trump would choose to target the centrist group, and I was wrong. Nevertheless, to be an effective persuader, he had to choose, and he did.
Normally, I would call Hillary’s “stronger together” identification the weaker choice (which I did after her nomination). However, in this election, Trump has been so divisive, I just don’t know.
The message is not that one choice is right and one is wrong. The takeaway message is that you have to choose. If you try to persuade everybody, you’ll persuade no one. At least speak to only one audience at a time.
Takeaway: Choose your target audience.
Another self-evident lesson from this election is the difference between a group and a personality.
I don’t think many people in either party would disagree when I say that most Hillary voters are not Hillary loyalists as much as party or policy loyalists. Very few Americans have any idea what Hillary, the woman, is actually like in real life.
On the other hand, a huge portion of Trump voters are loyal to the man more than his policies. The loyalty displayed by the Trump faithful is proof of the power of personality. If Trump wins, it will probably be because his voters are more loyal. He created that loyalty with his persuasion tactics.
Love him or hate him, you can see the power of personality.
Takeaway: Don’t just deliver a message, reveal the messenger.
You are Being Manipulated
Whichever side of the political spectrum you embrace, I hope you have recognized how the powers that be are trying to manipulate us.
Politicians, marketers, management, religious leaders, family members, professional speakers and others are all trying to manipulate you. Whether that is good or bad is a conclusion I will leave to you.
Whether you agree with the “persuaders” or not, you are in danger of being manipulated by their tactics if you don’t educate yourself on the principles of persuasive communication.
Takeaway: Learn the principles of effective communication to protect yourself against manipulation.
And the winner is …
I don’t know. Regardless of the polls, I’m not going to make a prediction about this election. There are just too many variables at play beyond a single candidate’s communication skills.
I stand by my analysis of the persuasion techniques the candidates have employed–regardless of the outcome.
Please don’t discount the persuasion principles involved–regardless of the outcome.
You can become a better communicator by studying the candidates–regardless of the outcome.