I used to be a high school and college basketball coach. I learned the key to success on the court was for my team to be able to play its “game” instead of the opponent’s. However, sometimes situations will arise that require you to make adjustments to your initial strategy and if you don’t, you lose.
In essence, that’s what happened to President Obama in the first debate. He came in with what was a solid strategy– he knew Governor Romney, trailing in the polls, needed to come out swinging. The President decided instead of going toe-to-toe in a slugfest, he’d act Presidential and spell out his positions in an orderly, intelligent manner. Unfortunately for him, as the debate progressed, it was Governor Romney’s strategy that was succeeding; he was landing solid blows on the President. But instead of adjusting, Mr. Obama continued with his initial plan of action, which of course did not succeed. It was a rare stumble by a very media-savvy President.
Fortunately, the President’s performance is something from which everyone hoping to improve his or her media skills can learn. Certainly it’s extremely important to have a plan heading into any media event, but if the “game” changes, it’s vital to change with it.
Here’s an example: A fairly conservative friend of mine was on a TV discussion panel with a group of very liberal pundits. She came in with a good strategy to present her points of view, but once the discussion started, she was under fire from the rest of the panel and really had no chance to get those across effectively. Her only hope would have been to recognize that the “game” was different, and to approach it in a different way from her initial plan. She needed to shift gears to stay on message but in a way that played in the situation.
When you get into a panel, interview or other media event, remember that things may not go as you had anticipated. It’s crucial that you have the flexibility to respond to changes in the “game.”