What happened, Rick?

Yup, we have to talk about it.

At one point or another, everyone blanks when speaking. It could happen in a formal presentation or in a conversation at your kitchen table. But the skilled know how to roll with it. Rick Perry proved that he's not the most skilled communicator in the pack with his snafu at the Republican Debate (you've seen the clip undoubtedly, but just in case, see below!).

First, I felt sorry for the guy, considering we all make mistakes. But then I got to thinking about job interviews. Rick Perry is interviewing for the heaviest job our country has to offer - and against a cast of nominee characters that keep us guessing.

If you or I were sitting in a job interview and asked our top three goals for the position, we'd be expected to rattle them off, no problem. Down to us and a few other qualified candidates, if we blanked, we'd likely be cut. That's why we're vilifying Perry - not only did he blank (which yeah, happens), but he didn't know how to prevent it or handle it once it happened.

Here are some teaching points so you don't become the next viral joke.

1. Be prepared, properly.

  • Around 00:47 in the clip, you can see Perry scrambling on his lectern for notes. Sure he had some papers up there, but clearly, he didn't have easy-to-read, big bold talking points ready at glance. He may have been prepared, but he wasn't prepared for a mind blank.
  • Even when you've rehearsed and know your content, bring up notes in case (we recommend against written out speeches and tons of bullet points in favor of our Decker Grid -- 1-3 trigger words on post-its to jog your memory)

2. Being extemporaneous and authentic is NOT the same as shooting from the hip.

  • Perry tends to have an, "I'm just going to shoot from the hip and wing it" style (which, maybe his communications staff has encouraged because it makes him accessible). But he has gotten himself in trouble when winging it, and appears a bit like a loose cannon.
  • You may get away with winging it occasionally, but you'll usually come off as scattered and unfocused. At least organize your thoughts beforehand with a pen and post-its (there are insurmountable reasons why this is better than bullets in a Word doc). Bring those notes with you and speak extemporaneously about previously-planned points.

3. Take the content seriously but yourself lightly.

  • Perry almost got away with making his snafu a joke, but toward the end of that painful minute, he turned on the defensive. His oops had a tone of, "Yeah, so I forgot. So what? Let's move on," instead of some roll off the back, even self-deprecating humor.
  • We all make mistakes, so when it happens, keep it light. "Gosh, I'm having one of those days, I'll take a look and get back to you on it." Or, "Ron Paul's cologne is clouding my head up here! Please give me a second to collect myself and I'll grab that answer for you."

Please share any of your tips for getting over a mind blank or other snafus you've experienced!

8 thoughts on “What happened, Rick?
  1. Thanks for your insight, Ben.
    Yes, it could happen to all of us. But, as you pointed out, the time and place it happened to Perry was not your ordinary table talk.
    Having visual notes, like a Mind Map or Light Table view of a PowerPPoint presentation that uses images, could have save him.
    Looking at images vs. words, especially when nervous, would have made it easier to recall those those three agencies: (1) Commerce could be a shopping cart with the word COMMERCE on it. (2) Education could be a Graduation Cap (3) Energy could be a lighted Lightbulb.
    Thanks for the Post!

  2. Bryan – I understand your point. At the same time, we elected an accessible, grab-a-beer type like Rick Perry in 2000. Regardless of how you feel politically, we can all acknowledge that his communication shortcomings were the source of many, many jokes and much ridicule, distracting from the real issues at hand.
    Communication skills are certainly not the only thing to look for in a candidate, but should be on the must-have list of qualifications. Thanks for your comment, and please continue to share your point of view.

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