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.