Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Communication lessons learnt from the 2013 Kenya Elections


The highly charged political atmosphere in which politicians traversed the country canvassing for votes is coming to an end soon. The country is waiting with bated breath for the Supreme Court to either nullify the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as President or uphold his proclamation as the winner by the IEBC, paving the way for his swearing in at a glittering ceremony in early April.

We all know that you make it in politics by largely interacting with people especially the sanguines. You won't succeed if you can't make yourself understood, don't know how to pay attention to what others think, and don't care about the dialogue that underlies our democracy.
The just concluded elections provided key lessons on communication.

When I say "communication", I mean it in the broadest sense: formal and informal; one-on-one and before a mass audience; in writing, in speeches and in discussion; with small, friendly groups of admirers and in front of larger, not-always-friendly crowds; on television, on the radio, on the Web, and in print; in the formal setting of the House or Parliamentary committees and sitting at a formica-topped luncheonette table over coffee and doughnuts.

       The Protagonist : President-Elect Uhuru Kenyatta (l) and Prime Minister  Raila Odinga
 Sometimes politicians have a chance to spend time choosing their words while being advised by their spin doctors, but more often they have to speak off the cuff, weighing the import of their words even as they say them. Some people are born with this ability, but for lots of us it's a skill we learn with practice, and it's invaluable to a politician. For Kenya’s scenario the only time our presidential candidates had time to prepare their communications salvos was during the two national debates.

When the presidential candidates were gallivanting countrywide they never knew what environment they were going to face apart from when they were visiting their ‘strongholds’ — (a word that was trending for the past two weeks) 
And the truth that I gathered from those rallies is that most audiences are less interested in hearing a speech; all they need is the speech being delivered in a way that seems fresh and spur-of-the-moment. They prefer dialogue with their candidates rather than a set speech. The more enthusiastic and energetic candidates who spoke with conviction emerged victorious. After all, if you don't believe what you're saying, your audience won't.
All said and done, I can comfortably say that to be a successful politician, one has to learn how to calibrate what you say to the medium you're using: you'll be much more convincing on television if you speak conversationally than if you come across as angry or impassioned; but before a crowd, speaking conversationally will just put the audience to sleep. 

Young PR Speak Being a good politician means being a good conversationalist, not simply scoring a few rhetorical points and then going home. 

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I think politicians should also be able to put themselves in their audiences' shoes and address their needs differently other than having the same speeches/messages spread across the country.

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