Politician-watching is in season at the moment and I had a really good view at the all candidates forum in Midway the other night.
Some rules were laid down before the thing kicked off. The evenings agenda was broken down in different sections: two-minute statements by each of the candidates came first, then questions from the media and the public.
Questions from the public had to be directed to only one candidate, but the others who are running had the option of throwing in their opinion if they wanted to. There was a catch though—each candidate could use this rebuttal option only twice. Each were given two little red chits and they had to cash one in each time they wanted to add their own two cents to the dialogue.
It was kind of fun watch the politicos fidget and squirm when they were down to their last chit. They really wanted to say something, but they didn’t want to have to cut off their chance to respond to a later question.
It wasn’t too bad for them though—they were each given a chance to make a closing statement so they still had an opportunity to express their point of view. They were under time limits though and would have to choose their words carefully.
There are some really nice positives about the rules invoked at all candidates meetings.
The idea that a politician can only talk for a minute or two at the most is somewhat refreshing.
Back when I was elected to council in Midway, the village sent me to politician school. The Union of British Columbia Municipalities puts these seminars on after every local government election. They are really useful, considering there are no prerequisites for the job of local elected official. You can get elected based on your winning smile and warm demeanour. There is no requirement that you have ever attended a meeting or know anything about government at all.
So it is handy that they put on these seminars so the newly elected, and even those returning to office, can get a quick overview of the basics.
It was there that I heard the valuable advice not to talk too much anyway. The session was about how to deal with the media and UBCM had hired a reporter from a Lower Mainland television station to speak.
Right from the get-go this fellow wasn’t too popular with the room. It was kind of a reverse scrum, with the reporter being surrounded for a change.
When he asked for questions, hands shot up all over the place. A number of the elected officials wanted to share their sorry tales of unfortunate dealings they’d had with the media in the past. “You twisted my words out of context,” they exclaimed.
His answer was simple and straightforward. He told them it was their own fault. The fact was that the 10-second sound bite that hit the broadcast had come from them in the first place.
His suggestion? Anytime you are trying to get a reporter to cover your message, make sure you shut up after you have said it. If you keep on talking there is a very good chance you will say something that sounds more interesting to the reporter and the message you want to see covered will get lost.
And if you are asked to clarify the message, simply repeat it. If your message is all you give the reporter then they have to go with it.