What Debate Season Reminds Us About Representing Clients


By Samantha VanHoef

On the nation’s biggest stage, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are their own spokespeople, gaining or losing votes with every word said during debate season. The weeks spent perfecting their responses, jabs and hairstyles on the campaign trail are small compared to the live 90 minutes both candidates spend on a stage before 84 million people. Although your client may or may not be communicating with an audience of that magnitude, your actions as a client spokesperson can have similar implications and repercussions as the actions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the debate stage. When you’re acting as the spokesperson for an organization, it’s important to be hyper-conscious — of your actions, of your surroundings and of your overall messaging strategy to keep your client on the right track. Wondering what should be on your radar when speaking on behalf of your client? Start with the tips below and then practice, practice, practice!

  1. Watch your body language and tone

Your body language and tone contribute to the overall delivery of your client’s message. Slouching? Eye-rolling? Sniffling? Not so great. The New York Times was one of many news outlets who experimented with watching the first presidential debate of 2016 on mute. No matter who you think “won” the debate, the idea that the speaker’s delivery may matter more than the message itself isn’t new (i.e. a cool and confident Kennedy debating a very sweating Nixon), and should be something you’re conscious of before speaking on-behalf of your client. When all eyes are on you, do your best to stay focused, engaged and collected. Check out more research on nonverbal expression here.

  1. Anticipate your audience’s expected reaction

How do you expect your audience to react to your message? Although this might seem intuitive, keep in mind that your delivery of bad news is far different than that of good news. In terms of the election, both candidates have attack points (think: a few thousand secret emails and a few thousand pages of secret tax returns) that they address differently than their considered party strengths (think: support for children and education or the retaining of American jobs). On these topics, both candidates speak pointedly, clearly, and directly to the audience. This is different than the flexibility a strength might offer, where it may be appropriate to throw in a smile or a jab to the opponent. When communicating on behalf of your client, if your audience is expected to react positively, consider taking time to pause and accept applause. If your audience is expected to react less than positively to your client’s news, stay on message and push through. Use your best judgement and act appropriately for the audience and setting.

  1. Keep your client’s goals in mind

Every strategic choice you make on behalf of your client should work to further their short-term and long-term goals. Is this the right time to share this news? What else is happening in the industry? Has the message been vetted for accuracy and cleared of potentially damning consequences? Even when the pressure is on, you still need to take the time to look at your message in the big picture. What long-term implications will your message provide? When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the live stage, they can’t take anything back. What they say — fact or fiction, truth or dodge — will have implications for the duration of their campaigns, and certainly in the following debates. When an organization or public figure makes a statement, it becomes a contributing factor of their image, for better or worse. The same goes for your client. Look to your client’s goals to direct strategy, tactics, talking points and more. When in doubt, focus on your client’s present and future to get through tough spots and move forward.


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