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Political campaigns and conventions are such an opportunity to study what works … and what doesn’t … when it comes to getting a message across and persuading people to pick you.
That’s a priority for presidential candidates, of course. It’s also crucial for all of us with a business. Or a job. Or a recalcitrant family member we need to influence.
To persuade anybody of anything, step one is making a real connection with them.
But how do we do that, exactly? It’s not always so easy, is it?
That’s why I was fascinated by a look at this 2020 campaign through the lens of Joe Biden’s first presidential campaign. New York Times op-ed columnist Jennifer Senior took a look back at that 1988 race and at Richard Ben Cramer’s classic book about it.
Cramer pinpointed Biden’s political gift in What it Takes: The Way to the White House. He called it “the connect.”
And what was “the connect,” exactly?
It didn’t have much to do with policies or platforms or data to support them. Instead, it was the way the candidate locked in with people and related to them.
“You were more likely to hear from Biden what Jill said the other day about teaching … what his mother used to say … or a wonderfully embroidered story about a nun in Scranton … than you were about his five-point education plan.”
People in the business have always seen Biden as a natural politician, Senior writes. And voters, many of them, respond to him now, as they did in the ‘80s.
What do they see in him?
“His decency. His identification with ordinary, bone-weary, under-appreciated Americans. His commitment to them, his compassion for them. The connect.”
Of course, Joe Biden is not what you’d call eloquent, is he? Maybe that’s turned out to be a plus in this election year. As Senior says, people take his “unvarnished, corkscrew speaking style” as a sign of authenticity.
In a way, his appeal mirrors Donald Trump’s–you may not like what you hear, but you know it’s not filtered through an official campaign message machine. In fact, sometimes both of these guys could benefit from a bit of a filter!
It looked bleak for Biden way back last year when Democrats began their primary campaign with those seemingly endless debates among way too many candidates.
In the end though, Biden’s authenticity, even his gaffes, are part of what earned him so many Democrats’ votes in the primaries.
He seems to them like the antidote to what ails us with what Senior calls “his capacity for compassion, identification — the ability to make the connect, the very thing he’s been peddling from the start.”
It’s been a long way from that start back in the ‘80s. And there’s still a long way to go until November 3. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that you never know what might happen tomorrow.
In the meantime, those of us who communicate for a living (and that’s all of us!) can learn a few things watching and listening to how the candidates, all of them, convey their message.
From Biden, the big lesson is about the connect.
First and foremost, if we want to make a connection, we need to know who we’re talking to.
Biden’s been clear about that from the get-go. As he put it in that first presidential campaign, “We’ve got to talk to regular Americans.”
He felt he knew where they stood, and he stood in the same place. Right there with them.
What do they care about? Today, it’s the coronavirus and the economy. And the racial justice that has eluded us for so long.
Are we safe? Can we send the kids back to school? Will our jobs be wiped out in the next wave of COVID-19 cases? In this wave? Can we afford to take care of our health? Can we afford not to?
How do we stop the violence in the streets? What about the violence in homes? Can we trust the police? Will anyone want to live in a big city when life goes back to whatever normal is going to look like?
Those issues confront all of us, and the candidates offer their answers.
What about the people you’re talking to? What do they care about? What’s important to them?
Do they want bigger businesses? Better health? A secure retirement? Happier families? More followers on Instagram?
If we don’t know what people deeply care about, we don’t have much chance of connecting with them. Of course, there is another side to “the connect.”
That’s the part about us.
I’d argue that the only way to really connect with anybody is to be you. And that’s not as easy as it sounds.
It’s so tempting, when we’re speaking or selling or sitting in a meeting with colleagues, to put on a false front. To hide what we might think of as our weaknesses. To wear a mask – not a pandemic-protocol-two-layers-of-cotton mask, but a figurative mask that hides who we really are.
It’s tempting. And it’s a mistake.
True connection only happens when we’re be willing to be seen. To be heard. To share our strengths and our brilliance and our foibles.
I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.
Post a comment below about how you make a connection with the people in your life.
And I’m curious: When the connect doesn’t quite happen … what’s missing for you?