We're coming down the home stretch to the Presidential election and Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified people to be President ever, may not win because of how she comes across. What a shame that would be. So I turned to my colleague, Deborah Shames, co-founder of Eloqui and a presentation specialist especially with regard to female executive presence to see what she had to say on this matter.
Mark Goulston: Deborah, thank you for taking the time to speak with us especially as the first Presidential debate is around the corner. Tell us why you're wanting to get this out to us and perhaps to Hillary Clinton's advisors.
Deborah Shames: I admit. I'm a lifelong Democrat and will vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election. I also train and coach speaking skills for a living. And I am thoroughly aware of the issues supposedly driving voters away from Hillary during this campaign--from using a private email server, and the transparency of the Clinton Foundation, to "hiding" her pneumonia. The real truth is, the public doesn't know, like, or trust Hillary Clinton. And that is Hillary's doing.
I've followed Clinton's career, and even wrote about it in my upcoming book Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable, and Fearless Speakers. What happened? This is a woman who topped the world's most respected women in a 2012 Gallup poll, even besting Michelle Obama... This is a woman who has devoted her entire life to public service, from co-founding the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and serving as Secretary of State, to collaborating with both Republicans and Democrats when she was the Senator from New
And this is a woman who is better prepared than anyone to be President on Day 1 according to Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Bill Clinton.
MG: Okay, I get that. And so?
DS: And so, even with all her accomplishments, Hillary faces the same issues I've seen with professional women across all industries. Three of the most glaring challenges are the need for perfection; the fear of being judged harshly; and the belief that if we're not an expert on a topic, we shouldn't speak about it. One or all of these obstacles cause women to second guess themselves, and play it safe when they speak in public, if they speak at all. I'm aware that we are judged by different standards than men. There will be irrelevant comments about our voice-- people say Hillary's is 'shrill,' or her smile-- they say it's false, or about her 'tone'--the rap on Hillary is that she is over-excited. But these should not be deal breakers.
MG: So you think male candidates have had it easier?
DS: Consider Barack Obama when he ran for office as the first black candidate or Bernie Sanders, who is an elderly Jewish Senator with exaggerated gestures and a voice pitched higher than Hillary's. Both have legions of fans who believed only their candidate would enact change, and more importantly, advocate for their particular needs. Followers of Obama and Sanders voted in record numbers.
Unfortunately, Hillary doesn't have the same level of support. I have friends who say they will "hold their nose and probably vote for Clinton because she's the lesser of two evils." These comments don't give me confidence that she can win in November. Neither should it give fellow Democrats.
MG: And that worries you?
DS: With such a lack of enthusiasm from her constituents, Hillary is vulnerable. But there is still time to turn things around. She needs to move beyond her comfort zone and let people see who she really is, what she believes in, and what mistakes she has made--real or imagined.
Every time she speaks, we need to hear an 'unscripted' few lines along with her prepared remarks. Bill Clinton was brilliant at saying "I want to go off script now" and share his personal views. He did that when addressing the British Parliament and talking about Tony Blair. It may have been pre-programmed, but we thought he was revealing something for our ears only. And we all leaned-in to listen.
MG: So what would your advice to Hillary be?
DS: I can hear Hillary now. "You don't realize how the press is waiting to pounce on any vulnerability or misstep. Remember when I was First Lady and tried to pass national health care reform?"
Yes, I do. But the time is different now, and you're playing for higher stakes.
Beating Donald Trump should be a no brainer. He's a liar, a narcissist, a flip-flopper and has serious issues with people of color and women. And these are his good traits. Trump is also trigger happy, incites violence, and has no idea what it takes to lead the greatest nation on earth.
You should win in November by a landslide! But notice how quickly voters think Trump is "Presidential" simply because he sticks with the comments on a teleprompter. What happened to his entire lifetime of cheating workers, delivering off-the-cuff ridiculous comments, and the hyperbole of how "huge" he is?
Hillary-- there are millions of voters in this country who want to see the real you and what you're concerned about. Yet you've pushed down your feelings for years and believe they have no place in governing. We're similar that way. I lead my life focused on outcome, being super organized, and getting all the details right. I never admit to being sick or weak or needing help. However, you and I both need to change hats when we speak publicly. You need to bring the "nice Hillary", the public servant who envisions the future for your grandchild, and the one who on occasion even sheds a tear (remember the last election when your poll ratings when up after your frustration seeped out in the café?) I do. And it's not surprising.
As humans, we make decisions with our right brain first-- considering our shared values or emotions, the synthesis or whole idea. We say to ourselves, "this feels right" or "makes sense." Then we immediately back up our feelings with our left brain--applying logical rationale and the facts. You've been relying entirely on your left brain, which only prompts us to argue with you. The upcoming debates are the perfect time to lead with your right brain, and let Trump trip himself up. The nation will be watching. You won't win with facts or policy descriptions. You won't win by criticizing Trump. It's not about him. It's about you!
MG: Hillary, I hope you're listening.
DS: I do too, because as I said, the stakes are too high if we make the wrong decision in November.
Deborah Shames is co-founder of Eloqui, a presentation skills training company, and co-author of, Own the Room, Speaker Survival Guide and the upcoming book, Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable and Fearless Leaders.