Donald Trump amazed us all and became President of the United States.
You may, like us, be a little baffled by this but, when we delved into his communication and presentation style a bit deeper, we began to understand why it worked.
This is how he did it:
He didn’t speak like a politician (and he didn’t need to know much about anything either)
Trump had a unique way of speaking to people. He did what he does best—salesmanship.
To sell a product a salesperson doesn’t need to know much about the product. It’s not about that, it’s about you and your dreams. Trump dealt with policy this way throughout his campaign. It wasn’t about the detail, it was about people’s dreams…and their nightmares.
Trump tapped into emotions—especially fear—not facts and figures, to get people on board. “Aren’t you afraid of rapists, terrorists and murderers?” Yes, but… “Well we’re gonna BUILD A WALL!”
And whenever he made a mistake? “I’m just a guy. I make mistakes.”
He knew his audience
Trump knew who he was talking to. He knew a lot of them were unhappy and he played on this unhappiness. He knew that simple answers—‘fixing’ and ‘winning’—appealed more than complex solutions to complex problems.
He had a master story and he stuck to it.
Trump did not use facts to back up his policies and statements. He developed his own narrative and he stuck to it. In Trump’s world Mexicans are rapists, Clinton is crooked, Muslims are terrorists, America isn’t doing great, but it can be great again. And nothing was going to make him change his story.
Trump was an expert at swinging a conversation back his way. When challenged at the second presidential debate about a tape that appeared to catch him bragging about assault, he simply changed the conversation completely: “This is locker room talk… When you have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads…” He didn’t even need to make a link, he just switched the conversation onto his terms.
He used incredibly simple language
Instead of pretending to sound educated, Trump used small words and simple sentences. A linguist found that 78% of his words were one syllable and only 0.018% of them were 3 syllables. 75% of the 3 syllable ones were the word ‘tremendous’. The one 4 syllable word he used was ‘temporary’, which he pronounced ‘temp-ry’, thus condensing it to 2 syllables.
He sounds convoluted, but for a reason
“It almost sounds at times as if he’s working from a random word generator in which there are a limited number of adjectives that are repeatedly used,” political communications scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson said. He did this for a couple of reasons:
- His buzzwords. Trump needed to use his language. He used it to drive his message home. Some of his favourites were ‘problem’, ‘amazing’, ‘bad’, ‘solution’, ‘tremendous’ and ‘ISIS’.
- He purposefully altered his own syntax and ended sentences on strong words like ‘point’, ‘injured’, ‘harm’ and ‘bedlam’.
This left us with some very confusing messages but in no doubt about his intent.
What we can learn from this?
You can do all of these things and win the first stage of the race, but will it make you effective and respected in the long term?
Here at Ethos CRS we prefer to:
Use active verbs and strong words.
Know your audience and why you’re communicating.
Have a message and be single minded about it.
You may not be running for President but Ethos CRS can help you improve your presentations with a customised coaching module or a fully featured writing and communications workshop for your organisation. If you want to communicate like Donald Trump, we are not sure we can help.
Find out more about the services we offer contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow us on Twitter @ethoscrs or search for the #ethoscrs hashtag for comments, tips and insights on communications, policy, regulation and leadership.
Oh, one more thing: please don’t mess with syntax. Even if it wins you the Presidency, you might just end up sounding like you didn’t think before you spoke.