Why Newt Gingrich And Elizabeth Warren Are So Damned Persuasive

Left for dead only two months ago, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now a front-runner for the GOP nomination. On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor who is running for the Senate seat currently held by Scott Brown, has created some buzz of her own. These two candidates couldn’t be more different, but they both use tried and true communication and persuasion techniques that help them connect with voters.

Please note, I do not favor any candidate I write about here. I do observe their communications and analyze them for two reasons: First, as citizens, it’s important to be informed about how political persuasion works and, second, because most of what we learn by watching candidates can be applied to business.

Gingrich and Warren both speak in plain terms, using language that anyone can understand. Another truth is that they are both intelligent and accomplished, especially academically. People generally hold PhDs and Harvard Law professors in high regard. This combination, intelligence and the ability to speak plainly, is always a winner. 

Here are just a few of Gingrich's recent statements:

  • "There's no illegal worker without an illegal employer."
  • “There’re no good bills at page 2,600.”
  • “(A 12.5 percent corporate rate) would actually mean that GE would pay taxes."
  • “Students should get the grades they earn and teachers should have the right to discipline unruly children.”

All these statements are simple and logical, designed to create a bond with the average person.

Now, Gingrich brings a lot of baggage with him on all fronts. Yet, in his case, voters seem willing to look past it. And this brings me to a critical element of persuasion: Persistence. Despite the many years of and ongoing criticisms, he’s still standing. Gingrich knows persistence persuades.

Elizabeth Warren also knows how to speak in a way that voters in her base can completely connect with, crucial for a statewide race.

In explaining her opposition to the premise that the wealthy should keep what they have (not have to pay higher taxes, or continue to have their taxes lowered), Warren says, 

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own—nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of the police forces and the fire forces the rest of us paid for... Now, look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific...keep a big hunk of it. But part of that underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”

There is a simple, homespun logic to this statement that anyone can relate to. It makes sense in a way technical explanations would not. It stops you in your tracks and makes you nod your head and think, “Yeah.”

She also uses a time-honored rhetorical device known as anaphora, the successive repetition of an opening word or phrase that has a mesmerizing and rhythmic effect: “You moved… you hired… you were safe… you built a factory…”

Her finish is elegant. It’s not about you, it’s about us

It’s easy to remember, too. Hear it once and you can repeat the basic story and it is that quality above all that makes it so successful and likely to stick and spread. Now, in her simplicity, Warren skips past details her opponents are certain to point out. But it’s a winning technique because it sticks. 

Again, we return to the principle of persistence. Although Warren is a political neophyte, she did receive quite a bit of coverage as the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (only thing wrong with that department title is the word, “bureau”), and much of it was withering and bruising. So, the image of not being able to keep her down works in her favor.

Here’s what we non-political, just-trying-to-make-a-living types can learn:

  1. Ditch the technical jargon. Explain your business in common terminology so that the least knowledgeable person in the room can understand and relate to it. 
  2. Persist.

We’ll see how these candidates do. It’s a long slog to November 2012. But for the average business person, these techniques can open doors and allow you squeeze through.

Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High-Stakes Presentation Skills Coaching, Consulting & Media Training for CEOs, Celebrities, Politicians, & Entrepreneurs / Greenwich & Los Angeles. Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & YouTube. 

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[Image: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

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