Hey EMS: Policy, Snowstorms, and Hard-to-Pronounce Names

Even though no one will cast a single vote until next winter, campaign season is already blooming faster than spring flowers. We at EMS Communications always get interesting letters asking for our opinions on issues related to communication and leadership, and this month we’ll be sharing our responses to letters received from a very specific group of people. It’s a recurring feature we call “Hey EMS!”

Hey EMS!
People seem to have trouble pronouncing my last name. But is it too cutesy to just use my first name when I’m on the campaign trail?

-Mayor P., South Bend, Indiana

We’ve seen lots of candidates in the past go by their first names—Bernie, Jeb and Hilary come to mind, though none of them made it to the White House (yet). Our thought—you seem like a smart, insightful and exciting candidate, and it will be more important that people remember those attributes than what they call you, as long as it isn’t “&%*$#” or “late for dinner.”  One consideration—at some point you’re going to want people to stop thinking about you as a mayor if you want to be a serious national candidate. So start thinking about how you’ll invite people to make that transition with you.

Hey EMS!
I’ve done everything so far to make myself a household name, including holding my announcement in a snowstorm. How’s that for energy?

-Amy K., Minneapolis, MN

Clearly you bring a lot of savvy to the campaign—you’ve proven that you can win over some conservative voters in your state, and that you know how to work across the aisle. But many people don’t care about qualifications, as you can see from the last presidential election. They want candidates who can show that they understand them, inspire them and excite them. You started that process well in that snowstorm, Senator, but that was a home game for you. We think it’s going to take a lot more energy if you want to start winning on the road.

Hey EMS!
So far, it looks like I know more about policy than anyone in the country. So how come no one wants to hear me talk about policy?

-Elizabeth W., Massachusetts

Thanks for your note, Senator W! The hard truth may be that most people don’t really want to hear about policy, even though you know so much about it and articulate it so well. People really want to connect to you, feel like you are speaking—and listening— to them, and even be inspired by your ideas. We noticed one technique you use that we love—when you answer a question, you give a quick, short answer to summarize your response, then you explain that response, and then you summarize it again. Those short answers are great, and perhaps you can drop some of the more-wordy explanations that follow. Think about how effectively the current president has learned to communicate using just 140 (now 280) characters.

Hey EMS!
I’ve been doing this campaign thing for a while now, and people are still mispronouncing my name. Should I be concerned?

-Kamala H., California

We’d be more concerned if you weren’t getting your message across, Senator. But you have great energy and solid natural instincts in front of a crowd. In fact, from what we’ve seen, you thrive in that situation. And your first name is unique, which could be a big plus. Bottom line—if pronunciation is really important to you, do something creative to get people to say it correctly, like putting out a sign that spells your name phonetically. And, by the way, do you get back to Champaign-Urbana much these days?

We’ll be sharing our answers to letters all month in this blog and in our newsletter, Speaker’s Digest. Be sure to check back often!  

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