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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rhetoric, Politics and Successful Advocacy: Targeting Your Audience

The most successful communicators are able to say one thing, and have it deliver multiple meanings.

Just like one billiards shot can sink multiple balls.

Political campaigns get the attention that most courtroom deliveries and negotiations almost never get (until after the fact, perhaps). There are a lot of canned deliveries, repeated statements -- it's all quite boring, frankly, unless you have a strong personal interest for (or against) a certain candidate. Many observers and "people involved in politics" get emotionally twisted up obsessing over how this or that candidate could make this outrageous statement, insult or obscenity.

This is all missing the point.

The point of those utterances is to play to a specific audience.

And almost always, that audience . . . Is. Not. You.

A message targeted to a certain audience is no different than an advertisement, or a closing argument inside a largely-vacant courtroom. It is designed to hit certain emotional notes, in order to produce a desired response: Buy this product, vote for me, etc. 

The candidate may not necessarily support, agree with or believe what he or she is saying, but "political realities" may compel a particular appeal, e.g., "I will go after the banks." (Note: I am speaking specifically about the Democratic Party, whose incumbent officeholders are increasingly changing their rhetoric in order to placate an increasingly rabid activist core and hopefully avoid primary challenges. I have been told this first hand. The political upheaval of our time is very much inside the Democratic Party, not the Republican Party.) This is the same calculation made by the advocate, the lawyer who may have to make an argument he finds personally distasteful, in order to represent a client. The difference is that the politician is viewed as personally benefiting from being elected, so the appeal is considered less honest.

So if you get upset at something you watch, read, or hear, I suggest just taking a few steps back, a deep breath or two, and trying to take this all a little less seriously.

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