Hard to believe that the 2012 presidential race has begun. Even harder to believe that the “silly season” is already upon us. I find presidential campaigns fascinating for a number of reasons, but mostly for the lessons they provide for public speaking. And we are off to a good start.
In case you were distracted by the Charlie Sheen debacle, allow me to provide the gist of what happened with Mike Huckabee last week. During a radio interview in which he was trying to appeal to the tea party voters, he claimed that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya and was influenced by his Muslim father and grandfather. He’s not the first politician to lie, but this one was especially grievous due to the fact that he knows full well that Obama lived in Hawaii, that he didn’t meet his father until he was 11,and that he didn’t step foot in the continent of Africa until he was an adult. By Sunday he had to dial it back and claim he misspoke.
The lesson for public speakers – and hopefully for Huckabee – is about the importance of credibility. When you establish credibility with your audience, you can then develop trust. Only with that relationship can you persuade others to consider your position. Whether you are trying to raise money, sell a product, or convince your Board to adopt a new policy, you must be seen as credible and trustworthy.
What happens when a speaker lies to his or her audience? Simple. Loss of credibility is like broken glass. You can glue it back together but it will never be the same. If I were Mike Huckabee’s advisor, this is what I would be telling him. But, as Norman Vincent Peale once said, most of us “would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”