Planning on a bunch of media appearances? If so, most folks would probably tell you to contract the services of a public relations firm.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Walter Palmer, the dentist who’s known not for fixing teeth, but for killing Cecil the lion. After Palmer became famous, he hired a PR firm to help him craft a better appearance. (Unfortunately for Palmer, the public response to his actions was so heinous, even said PR firm cut ties with him.)
So why did Palmer seek out a PR firm anyway? It’s quite simple: Those folks know how to spin a very well-received tale.
It’s impossible to talk about politics today, in 2015, without mentioning Donald Trump. Despite the Republican establishment’s effort to derail his candidacy—and the unconventional words that come out of his mouth—The Donald still remains on top of the polls. Which is perhaps most surprising when you consider he’s been front and center in two debates (which, according to polls, he won) and has been campaigning aggressively for more than three months.
So how exactly does Mr. Trump pull it off?
Well, for starters, the guy is a “world-class businessman” (in his own words) who’s worth $10 billion (per his own estimation; others peg his net worth closer to a measly $3 billion). Trump is no stranger to the limelight, and as he continues to draw huge television ratings every time he appears, it’s becoming increasingly apparent The Donald listens to (or has at one point listened to) the advice of PR consultants.
(Actually, maybe not. The guy is so exceptional, so great, so extraordinary, that it’s much more likely he just intuitively understands public relations better than everyone else.)
Like him or not, Trump absolutely owns interviews. That’s how he stays in the headlines. That’s how he’s on television all the time. Here’s how he does it:
1. He uses humor. . .that no other politician would dare touch.
When you’re talking in public, especially about something that can get a little dry like politics (at least for the non-politically inclined folk), using humor can help keep your audience’s attention.
Not only does The Donald frequently crack jokes, his is a brand of humor that virtually no other politician would ever touch. For example, during the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 12, moderator Megyn Kelly asked Trump to explain his disparaging comments made toward women.
Whereas most politicians would offer up some scattered word salad that doesn’t mean much, in perfect Trumpian fashion, The Donald said he only insulted Rosie O’Donnell (who he had called a “fat pig”), eliciting applause and laughter from the crowd. It doesn’t even matter whether he was telling the truth—he won the question, quickly.
2. He gets that it’s his time to talk after being asked a question.
It’s incredible to watch politicians dodge questions. It’s almost like theirs is a breed simply incapable of responding directly to what’s asked of them.
Though he’s only been a politician for three months, Trump’s already mastered this behavior. Appearing on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show Sept. 22, The Donald deflected when the host asked him whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States—something that Trump has outspokenly questioned before.
Rather than responding to the question, Trump said he’d prefer talking about jobs and the country’s treatment of veterans. In other words, he changed the narrative quickly to what he’s strongest on.
3. He doesn’t speak in nuance.
Do you have any idea what one of the biggest problems facing the nation is right now, according to Trump? Duh: illegal immigration.
Since Trump launched his campaign in June, there’s no arguing that America has begun a widespread conversation about illegal immigrants and what to do with them. Some folks argue for a path to citizenship, while Trump and his supporters say we need to ship them all back home.
The point being, Trump speaks in language that everyone can understand. He doesn’t get all esoteric, and he doesn’t present himself as an intellectual incapable of being understood by the common man (I’m looking at you, Marie Harf!).
The approach is clearly working: Regular folks seem to like him, and for that reason, the press seems to hate him.
4. He knows exactly who he’s speaking to.
Perhaps more so than any other candidate, Trump knows who he’s talking to: the American people. He’s not talking to pundits. He’s not talking to the political elite. He is talking to regular folks, and it appears many of them are receptive to his tailored message.
5. He understands how to get people to talk about him.
Trump—he by far the candidate who’s most vocal on Twitter—knows how to keep himself in the headlines.
Case in point? He recently tweeted out that he wouldn’t be appearing on Fox News for the foreseeable future based on his perception that they’ve been treating him unfairly. Fox News, of course—as well as many other news organizations—covered that tidbit of news.
Making headlines for turning down interviews that would result in headlines? Again, how very Trumpian.
6. He makes (some) points that are hard to refute.
When the second Republican presidential debate kicked off Sept. 16, Trump responded to the first question he was asked—about his temperament—with a completely unrelated non sequitur: “Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage, he’s number 11, he’s got 1 percent in the polls.”
It’s certainly not hard to kick people when they’re down. And who could refute Trump’s logic? Eleven candidates on stage is a lot, particularly when a number of them are registering very low in the polls.
While some folks say you should try to elevate your game during presidential debates, The Art of War teaches readers to never engage in an unwinnable battle. Trump must have read Sun Tzu’s masterpiece, because he loves picking on the little guys.
The takeaway? You probably don’t want to emulate The Donald. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from him, particularly when it comes to getting your points across.