They never answer the question do they? And the words they use don’t really mean anything. It’s mainly platitudes. Do they think we’re stupid?
I hear this a lot when discussing communication and presentation skills with clients. It’s usually aimed at our politicians. And this weekend we had a fascinating insight into what happens when words are used that were intended to say one thing, but actually say another.
‘So tell me Mrs Leadsom,’ asked the lady journalist from The Times, “you repeatedly referred to your children during the Brexit campaign. You regularly said and I quote: “As a mum.” ‘So do you feel like a mum in politics?’
And out it came. Andrea Leadsom who wanted to be Prime Minister said, and I paraphrase here, ‘I don't want this to become Andrea has children but Theresa (May, her Conservative party opponent) doesn’t, because that would be really horrible but I believe that being a mum’…… and on she went.
Now politicians never lie of course. They merely misspeak. They say something and then say something else if their original words start to behave like a verbal boomerang.
How does this happen? It’s simple word play. If you say something in public like: “I don’t want this to be taken out of context but I believe the moon is made of green cheese.” Guess what will happen? A newspaper or broadcast headline could rightly scream: Media-Vu’s Graham Miller believes the moon is made of cheese.
It’s just like if I say to you: “Close your eyes and whatever you do don’t think of your pet dog Rover.” Naturally the very first thing you do is see a picture of Rover in your mind’s eye. There he is tail wagging as you walk in the front door, and a huge smile breaks out on your face.
Unless we carefully think through what it is we precisely want to say in public we really shouldn’t raise the subject. Or if we have no choice we should say something like: “No, having children or not having children really makes no difference whatsoever to my way of thinking,” if that is what you truly believe. And then move on to something you do want to talk about.
Disappointingly most of our politicians these days speak like the robots that our kids play with. You do have children don’t you? No? Well you can’t possibly imagine what I’m talking about then. My apologies. You see what I did there?
So what to do?
The answer is to prepare what you’re going to say, in a presentation or interview, and then practice it in such a way that you say what you really want to say. And in a way that's interesting, informative and clear. It’s not difficult to do with professional and realistic training. And a touch of common sense.
It’s either naivety or incompetence when a public figure ‘misspeaks.’ It really shouldn’t happen in this day and age. Mrs Leadsom had no alternative but to drop out of the race to be Britain's next Prime Minister.
There’s simply no excuse. Practice, prepare and just get it right. It’s a matter of professional judgment.