As I was watching the Oscars last night I was thinking about performers, speeches, and the act of speaking. Octavia Spencer, who was wonderful in The Help, was speechless when she was the winner in an incredibly strong field (and if you still have not seen Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs, go see it ASAP!). I think Ms. Spencer was caught off-guard (though, really, if you are nominated for an award like that you should have a little something up your sleeve). But her job is to embody other people's creations, make the words of the screenwriter and the vision of the director live on screen. So maybe the "real" Octavia was gob-smacked last night. Most of America can forgive that in a grateful actor.
Not so Mitt Romney. When will that man learn to stay on script? If I were on his communications team I would have pulled out all my hair long ago! His gaffe in Detroit when he ad libbed about his wife's two Cadillacs, and his recent NASCAR comment certainly were not "on message." They may have cost him votes he cannot afford to lose. Why does he (and to be fair, he is not the only candidate who does this. Rick Perry's mistakes cost him his seat at the table) continue to speak this way?
He falls too easily into the "diva trap."
I warn my clients to avoid this by being thoroughly prepared, then trusting their preparation to carry them through their speeches, meetings, etc. But sometimes, gosh darn it! - the thrill of seeing faces turned toward you and hanging on your every word is just so sweet! You feel you can do no wrong; all your words are golden. So you venture something new that you think is even more exciting - or (most often) funnier - than you have prepared. And - just like that - the trap is sprung.
Some of my clients say they fear becoming too "scripted" and want to "keep it real"when they speak. I tell them they owe it to their audience, meeting partners, and clients, to be prepared, to know what they're saying and how they are going to say it. That is how you establish credibility and gain trust. Not by trying out some stand-up material or a false humility act on unsuspecting potential partners. If you want to get the job done, preparation is key. And comedy, above all things, requires enormous preparation. So even if you occasionally insert a quip that is funny, 99% of the time it does absolutely nothing to further the conversation, or strengthen the relationship with your partners.
And the people you are meeting with are always, to some extent, your partners. They are not your "fans." When you forget that, you start veering perilously close to the diva trap. It's OK for Sally Field to gush "You like me! You like me!" while accepting her Oscar for Places in the Heart. She took flack for that for years, but she is in a business where that kind of personal credibility isn't really a job requirement.
Mitt Romney, however, seeks a job where it is. So he should save his "off the cuff" comments for his private speech. Or he can look for a new career - in the movies!