As the presidential campaign winds down, I can’t help but shake my head at the lessons that are continually forgotten.
The latest one came just days ago when a hidden camera at a private fundraising event recorded Republican candidate Mitt Romney telling donors that nearly half of all Americans back President Obama because they need government support.
I think every business professional reading this column can learn a nonpartisan lesson from the two-time presidential candidate and former governor. If I had the opportunity to speak with him, here is what I might say.
Sir: I know you are working very hard to become the next president. As a former member of the media, I also know reporters and bloggers can be a ruthless bunch who often misquote, take things out of context and fail to report every important word you said in the order you said it. So if your intended message isn’t received exactly the way you would have liked, I understand why you might blame them.
If you were indeed quoted correctly this week, you said: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” You went on to explain these 47 percent are “dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.”
C’mon, you know this stuff. You’ve been around cameras and spotlights your entire life. I have to imagine you’ve been media trained hundreds of times so you know it’s all about staying on message.
As a media and presentation trainer, it is with gentle mitts that I remind you how important it is to realize the microphone is always on.
I’m sure you’ve witnessed the embarrassing gaffes of other famous people like yourself. Perhaps one of the most notable comments came from a man you quote, former President Reagan. During a radio show sound check at the height of the Cold War, he said: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” We didn’t have social media channels back then, but the comment did spread around the world and the Russians weren’t too happy with us.
Vice President Joe Biden has also stuck his foot in his mouth plenty of times, like when he recently said something about how loosening Wall Street regulations would put people “back in chains.” Whatever he meant or didn’t mean as the case may be offended a lot of people.
So here are three key reminders from this media and communications coach that you should remember moving forward.
• In today’s new media, what comes out of your mouth can be and will be heard by people around the world.
• If you don’t say it, they can’t print it or record it and attribute it to you.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan once said: “I know you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
• Make sure they know exactly what you meant.
Unfortunately, celebrities have nowhere to hide. Look no further than photographs that were taken of a topless Princess Kate Middleton sunbathing as she vacationed privately with her husband last week. They’ve surfaced in tabloids in several countries.
That’s why, sir, I implore you to remember that when you run for the highest office in the land, no matter where you are, the microphone is always on.