Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Have Almost Polar Opposite Communication Styles
In the first presidential debate, we saw two very different communication styles. You can see a clip below.
Donald Trump’s style was brash, aggressive and pushy. He consistently tried to take extra time to speak, and interrupted Hillary Clinton way more times than she interrupted him.
Trump was more emotional, and I’m not 100% sure, but it seemed that he actually took up more total time speaking throughout the event than Clinton.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s style was cool and calm, and much lower energy. She spoke with lower volume and steady hand gestures and body movements.
She smiled much more than Trump, and overall projected a more cheerful and optimistic demeanor, contrasting against Trump’s dour and angry vibe.
But her problem has always been her fake and overly-scripted presentation. And it was clear that she had done a lot of scripting prior to this debate. Trump, by contrast, speaks off the cuff, genuinely and naturally.
Trump’s goal is to present himself as a disruptive outsider to the establishment status quo. Whereas Clinton is trying to present herself as “the adult in the room,” a steady hand with experience and good judgment.
I wrote recently about the power of narrative and frame. Two very different frames were on full display in this debate.
Trump is banking on the fact that voters feel the country is heading in the wrong direction, that they feel ripped off by the system, and they are mad as hell about it.
Clinton is betting that voters are tired of divisiveness and angry rhetoric, and want an inclusive leader to bring them together.
Trump argues that the country is on the wrong path because of feeble-minded politicians and bureaucrats like Clinton, and only a successful businessman like himself is qualified to fix it.
Clinton says that someone like Trump is dangerous and that her experience in government for many years makes her the more qualified one.
And, last but certainly not least, Trump speaks in broad generalities and vague concepts, and his verbiage reflects that. Clinton also speaks about generalities and abstracts, but is more precise with her language.
Basically, Trump is betting that people just “get it.” That they know more or less what he’s talking about, and feel the same way.
By contrast, Clinton is operating with the traditional political messaging style: that you have to break down and explain your beliefs and plans, more or less from scratch.
The election, in many ways, will be determined by which frame the voters buy into more.
During the debate Trump was consistently quick and to-the-point as he spoke. Clinton spoke much more slowly and her segments featured more pauses and longer pauses.
She is much more careful with her words. From a tactical standpoint, this opened her up to a lot of quick attacks by Trump.
However, Clinton performed well when she made zingers against Trump, which got applause from the audience (more total applause for her than for Trump during the debate).
In tactical terms, this can be significant in persuading someone on the fence.
If I was advising Clinton, given her analytical and introverted personality, I would tell her to do way more of that. Trump’s style and message is quite predictable, and bold and clever one-liners can be planned in advance.
Instead of trying to out-talk Trump (a losing game for her, because he is a much faster, much more energetic, and much better talker than she is, being a natural salesman), she should give him enough rope to hang himself: let him blab, and then K.O. him with a killer one-liner or cutting joke to destroy him on the spot.
If I was advising Trump (assuming he would take anyone’s advice), I would tell him to use his energy and emotion to his advantage, and keep hammering on the issues that win for him.
However, it would benefit him tremendously to offer a more positive image in addition to his negative commentary on how everything sucks in the country.
He gets good reactions when he shows a humorous, fun-loving and jovial side, so he should do more of that.
Americans in general love a cheerful and upbeat leader, and always have. There is anger in the country, but fundamentally people want an optimistic and positive message to believe in.
When you have two candidates with such drastically different messages and communication styles, the question is not whether one is “better” than the other, but rather which frame resonates more with the audience (in this case, the voting public).
This election is so fascinating because we have probably never seen two candidates as different, in so many ways, than these two.