Swing and a Miss!

Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio’s 13th District is one of many running for president on the Democratic ticket. If you haven’t heard of him, you can probably join a very large club; and we’ll certainly forgive you if you didn’t realize he was running.

And if he doesn’t get his presenting technique under control, he’ll be out before you ever knew he was in.

Earlier this month, Ryan got a great opportunity to reach an important audience: he appeared as a guest on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” He came out on stage, joining three pundits who were already on Maher’s panel of guests, and Maher gave him a nice introduction to his audience, presenting him as someone who “has all the answers for you.” And then he teed up a question that a polished candidate should be able to hit straight down the fairway. Here’s a sense of how the interview started, though this is not an exact transcript…

Maher: So you’re running for president.

Ryan: Yes I am!

Maher: So you’re one of 22, just like speed dating. Now you’re on HBO here, you have a large audience, and you have MY audience, which is a lot more open minded than most audiences. So why YOU?

Ryan looked surprised and a bit scared. He swung and missed. “Ummmmmm,” he started, then spewed out a few general thoughts about understanding people and having a plan. Maher quickly became impatient, sensing that Ryan was unsure of himself.

After a minute or two, Ryan started to find his footing, his ideas, his expertise, and his sense of humor. Most people find that once they start speaking on a topic they know well, they will eventually find their natural stride.  But Ryan chose to declare his candidacy, and he chose to accept an invitation onto this fast-paced, high-profile program with a very opinionated host. He needed a strong start.

Anyone in that situation MUST be prepared if they want to succeed. Ryan’s opening with non-words and a bit of stuttering made him look unprepared. We’ll see if he can break through in coming months with a memorable message of any kind.

But here’s the lesson for all you young presenters out there: if you’re a candidate for ANYTHING—a job, a contract, a promotion or a political office—you need to have a POW! statement that gets people on your side right away. Since Ryan fanned on the first swing, he spent the next 90 seconds (of a six-minute interview) trying to catch up.

Watch that episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” here and see what you think. 

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