Winning the People’s Trust: 5 Lessons of Convention Week

Dear Secretary Clinton,

Defeating Trump is not enough. In the White House, there will be occasions when it won’t be sufficient to be right or even to deliver a good argument. A lot will come down to your connection with the American people. I watched your "60 Minutes" interview and the Democratic convention with that in mind, and offer five suggestions that draw on what you’re already doing right.

On "60 Minutes," when you and Scott Pelley were talking about the impression that you’re untrustworthy, he asked, “Why do you put yourself through it?” You responded that it’s because of your belief in this country. When he asked, “What will be accomplished if you are elected the first woman president?” You responded with references to the suffragettes and to the children you inspire. In print, both are great responses, but you answered too quickly. He wasn't asking for facts, but for your feelings on what something means to you.

Recommendation #1: Recognize which questions can be best answered by taking a breath, letting the moment land, and responding from your experience in that moment. Choose a few interview or debate questions in which to practice this kind of mindfulness, so we sense your feelings as you speak.

  1. Recognize when you’re asked a question that’s more about meaning and feelings than it is about facts.
  2. Take a breath, and during that breath, let the question land.
  3. Respond from that place.
  4. Say what you need to say in a way that also shares who you are and what you’re feeling. You may not need to change your words in any way.
  5. “Listen” for the questioner’s (silent) response as you speak, and allow it to shape what you say and how you say it. The audience will feel the difference. 

When Pelley asked what you care most about accomplishing as president, you answered with a list. Over four days, the Democratic Convention made clear what Hillary Clinton “cares most about”—working with others to solve the problems of those who are hurting, afraid and angry, and enlisting them and all Americans in taking on our big challenges. 

Recommendation #2: Whenever possible, offer an engaging narrative, of the campaign, the economy, immigration, etc. Where are we now? How did we get here? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? What’s in our way? Then consistently position events, policies, and debates within your narratives. 

In a CBS News poll between the conventions, 67% of voters said they don’t think you’re trustworthy. What if that’s because, as they watch you have trouble connecting and responding in the moment, they sense you don’t trust yourself?

Recommendation #3: Often our best teacher or coach is our own experience. You have a consistent history of high praise and loyalty from friends, staff, and allies, who say you’re warm, funny, generous, engaging, and a great listener. You need to take the best of what you do with an audience of one or two and do it with an audience of 10. Take what you do with an audience of 10 and do it with 100. Take what you do with an audience of 100 and do it with thousands.

More than once during the acceptance speech, as you leaned into strong lists, passionately building a case, your eyebrows seemed to form a scowl. Examples: around 13 minutes, when you list those Trump forgets when he says he alone can save us; around 26 minutes, when you list all those you will work for if elected; and again around 28, when you cite economic progress under Obama. 

Recommendation #4: I assume you already practice key sections of a speech where you want to build vocally and emotionally. In rehearsal, choose in these moments to focus on something that can shift your facial expression to one of excitement or anticipation, such as the possibility of achieving positive results. 

In accepting the nomination, you gave a very good speech. A little over halfway, however, I felt it really took off. That’s when I saw you make a subtle shift from giving the speech as the nominee to giving it as the president. 

In an interview with Ezra Klein (July 11, you made the point that you come across better once you have the job. Thursday night, before my eyes, I could see you say to yourself, I’ve got this. And, once you’re speaking as president, other stuff can’t matter as much because you’ve got a job to do. 

Recommendation #5: Whenever possible, act as if you are the president. As president, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to frame the issues and offer a vision. As president, you’ve got to bring people together to get anything done. Let people get used to this persona, so they realize how much they’d rather the country be in your hands. I’m not suggesting you usurp anything from President Obama. Simply hold yourself as the person you will be as president: strong, committed, supported, responsible, and accountable.

Take Trump’s threat very seriously and run right past him. Treat him as an obstacle standing in the way of the rest of us working together. Our challenges are too great to risk wasting four years to send a message. 

If you continue to offer us a wary candidate Clinton, Trump has a chance. But if you let America get used to a confident, generous, and able President Clinton, then, as you put it in your acceptance speech, “the sky’s the limit.”


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