Winging It

Posted 01.14.2009

In a group coaching session yesterday with a dozen high potential directors, we were talking about the progress many of them have made in being more intentional  about their communications.  One of the guys in the group told a story about how, up until a few months ago, he would walk into meetings or presentations and “just wing it.”  He said this with a smile and a laugh which the rest of us joined in on because everyone  in the room recognized that the higher up you move in the leadership ranks, the less likely it is that just winging it will work for you.  Effective communications requires some preparation.  (See this post from a year ago for more on how to prepare.)

Earlier this week, we saw a presidential example of what winging it looks like.  In the last press conference of his administration, President Bush was all over the map.  His goal seemed to be defending his record, but it didn’t look like he had given a lot of thought to the most effective way to do so.  As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post points out, while the President was intent on defending things he described as “disappointments” (e.g. not finding WMD’s in Iraq), he spent no time pointing out many of his accomplishments (tackling the AIDS epidemic in Africa).

The most fascinating aspect of the press conference was Bush’s body language. The man did not seem to be either aware of or intentional about how he was showing up.  Apparently, most every newspaper in the country noticed this as most of them ran multiple shots of Bush lined up next to each other in their morning editions (The Post ran nine of them.)  If you want to take a look at a video summary of the press conference, check out this clip from The News Hour.


Years ago, Albert Mehrabian ran research at UCLA that showed that the impact of spoken communications is dependent on three things: content, body language and tone of voice.  Of these, content is responsible for only 7% of the total impact.  The other 93% is body language and tone of voice. 

If you were the president’s coach, how would you have helped him prepare for this last press conference?  If it was me, I would have started with two questions.  Mr. President, what’s the result you’re trying to create and how do you need to show up to make that likely? 

What approach would you have taken?