Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
The disgrace of a public figure has a trajectory. Being caught produces outrage, silence, dismissal, denial, and finally (if they can’t avoid it) admission and apology. Depending on how bad the person was, and how much public value they have, they may survive and continue playing golf, making squillions, running the country, or whatever it is they were supposed to be doing when greed, ego or hormones got the better of them.
Craig Thomson’s trajectory picked up pace this weekend, hurtling into ‘dismissal’ and ‘denial’ when he was interviewed by Laurie Oakes. Setting aside the politics, it was a study in how not to communicate to the public.
Oakes confronted him with evidence of misused funds: prostitutes, junkets, cash advances. Oakes had done the forensics. He had dates, times, amounts…. Thomson’s responses were feeble. The unconvincing explanations of a sneaky six year old. “It wasn’t me…I can’t remember… I was set up”. Watch him in action. At 5:12 you get denial, his eyes are averted, he’s blinking rapidly and stammering. Listening to him squirm was painful.
The big question is why he chose to do this on national television. Thomson seems not to know that a TV interview is a performance. That he needed to persuade us he’s telling the truth.
I am a great fan of sincerity. Authenticity and honesty are two of the most powerful tools a speaker has. When Aristotle wrote the rulebook on public communication he taught us that to be persuasive, a speaker needs three things:
• Ethos/credibility. We believe people we respect. Our judgement of someone’s character influences how convincing they are.
• Pathos/ connection. Emotions sway opinion and change minds.
• Logos/reason. Evidence, facts, values and beliefs must logically justify a position.
All three have to be in the mix for a speaker to succeed. Thomson gets an ‘F’ on every one.
Kate McClymont’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald deliciously compares Craig’sWorld to RealWorld, suggesting he lives in a parallel universe. The psychology of lying is beyond my expertise, but it seems to me that knowing you’re lying severs your ethos, pathos and logos all at once. It’s just difficult to persuade people of something you know to be false.
Perhaps that’s why the most sincere speakers are also the most persuasive – to be sincere you can’t be lying. Or to quote George Costanza, “one of the most deceitful duplicitous deceptive minds of our time” – “Jerry, It’s not a lie… if you believe it”.