Meg Whitman as Communicator

Meg Whitman just debated Steve Poizner for the Republican Gubernatorial nomination. It was interesting, but not as interesting as looking at where Meg Whitman might go – if she can communicate.

First the debate:

Meg did well, but Steve probably did better if this was an equal contest. But it is not – Whitman has a 30-40 point lead on Poizner, and the debate did nothing to change that. On June 8 Meg will win in a landslide.

Bring on Jerry Brown:

Jerry Brown

Where this gets interesting is in the general election this summer/fall, between past Governor, Presidential contender, now Lt Gov. of California Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman. It’s one stiff-communicator against another in a race for a prize that’s dubious at best. The state of California is in the worst shape of it’s long history. Can Meg Whitman convince voters she can change that? (We’ll leave Jerry Brown’s communication content and style for a later post.)Communicate To Influence, Not Just To Inform:
Look at these cogent words from yesterday’s incisive Business Week article on Meg Whitman:

“The most gifted politicians manage to turn scripted “messaging” into stirring stump material, but there is nothing Churchillian in Whitman’s delivery. Says former colleague Rajiv Dutta, former eBay CFO and PayPal president, now a managing director at Elevation Partners: “Clearly she doesn’t have the practiced ease of appearing to be intimate in front of millions, which career politicians have spent their lives perfecting.”

About 80% of the voters are biased and will vote accordingly. For Meg to get those 20-30% undecided to vote for her she must influence, be trusted (and likable) and inspire vision. She’s not there yet. She still speaks in PowerPoint Speak – bullet points and logic statements, and cluttered. Fine for her as a former CEO directing employees, not so great for inspiring voters of a new vision for a collapsed economy. Leaders must inspire, not just inform.

Behaviorally Meg Whitman must loosen up, engage the media, and at least look like she is having fun. She is smart and capable – these are just behavioral habits that she could change with some coaching.

More importantly perhaps, she needs to create sticky messages.

God knows there is enough material in the collapsed state of California to have vivid examples, metaphors, SHARPS and memorable language to help make HER colorful, and much more memorable. She needs messages that are ‘made to stick,’ for example:

  • The union pension fund obligations are like a tsunami that are about to engulf our great State of California
  • Government spending is as out of control as the BP gusher that is polluting the Gulf of Mexico. It must be brought under control.
  • 40% of California’s public school budget is for admin and overhead. If I ran eBay like that I wouldn’t be here talking to you tonight – I would have been fired.

Stay tuned. This is going to be an interesting general election here in California, and could be a microcosm of what’s to come for the country.

3 comments on “Meg Whitman as Communicator

  1. What California needs is another Ronald Reagan. It would do Meg a lot of good to study the “great communicators” message and craft her approach in a similar manner.

  2. My first thought was “She’s been coached, but not by Decker!”

    There’s no arena like the political one to show how communication skills can make or break a career, or even change history. You can have all the good ideas in the world, and be able to implement them, but if you don’t know how to bring those ideas to the people you’re trying to serve (if, ahem, you’re a politician with service as an actual goal), you’ll get nowhere.

    I’m really looking forward to the Carly/Barbara showdown.

  3. Meg Whitman would be well advised to use some “sticky” messages. As you said Bert she has much for fodder. Contemplating what she has said, nothing comes to mind, other than she is wearing a pink suit.

    Her presentation looks too practiced down to the hand gestures, which are timed to phrasing. Yes, she does need to loosen up, including using the power in her voice.

    Bert, do you have a corresponding clip of Jerry Brown to compare the two presentations?

    I’m always on the look out for strong women speakers, such as Senator Savino. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCFFxidhcy0&feature=player_embedded ) Ms. Whitman is getting closer but not quite there.