The Triumph of Technique — Part I

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Communicators have a big problem today. We’ve gotten too damn good at what we do.

This may sound silly, but it’s absolutely true — and a serious threat to our profession. It stems from the triumph of communications technique over the good sense to use it wisely.

Too often we see business executives and politicians interviewed on a particular topic only to duck and weave with all the skill of a bantamweight champion. Techniques we have trained into our clients — such as the ability to “bridge” out of a tricky question or to stay relentlessly “on message” — result in communication where very little is actually communicated.

Interview technique has become so overused that eyes glaze over, ears focus elsewhere and the very “messages” we are pounding away are lost. We know this has happened when are business clients are accused of spin and our political clients are said to sound like politicians.

This is a topic I’ll return to in the not-too-distant future, and that’s why I’ve given this post a Part 1 headline. It’s important that we all understand what is happening and — just as important — what we can do about it. Let’s go through the second part here.

When everyone sounds the same, has the same polished approach, has the same slick persona, it’s the straight-taking, earnest speaker who feels fresh and generates attention.

When everybody’s spinning, dodging and twisting to explain why their company’s poor performance was actually good, it’s the executive who admits a bad quarter and describes what the company is doing about it who will be heard.

In short, it’s time to lose the spin-tensive approach that flamed out so spectacularly during the Internet bubble and take a 100% straightforward stance — one that puts a premium on integrity and honesty.

How’s that for differentiation?

I don’t want to be glib about this, but what company produces perfect results quarter after quarter in perpetuity? What leader never errs? What candidate ever lived a life without mistakes?

There’s grave danger in portraying our clients as any of the above. First, the audience gets used to hearing about these impossibly perfect entities or individuals. Setting up, of course, a major letdown when reality makes itself known. Second, when enough of these impossible images blow up, the audience will cease believing any of it. And with that goes credibility, both ours and that of our clients.

Such an approach will work for a while, but it eventually implodes and undermines everything we are trying to accomplish.

Far better is to use technique sparingly and only when appropriate. At all other times, we should portray our clients as they are. Strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.

Only then will our audiences know we’re for real.

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