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Santorum & the Sleeveless Sweater: The right to bear arms (!) and the iconography of Leadership…

There was an excellent feature during the last 5 minutes of the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 recently, with broadcaster, entertainer and ex M.P Giles Brandereth.

He was talking about the accidental rise-and-rise of US Republican Presidential Candidate Rik Santorum – and not because of his compelling politics, or prowess as a public speaker (as you might more normally expect in a Presidential Campaign), but no – actually because of something far more silly than that:

It all began the moment Santorum took the seemingly inconsequential decision to put on a “sleeveless sweater-vest” (a.k.a a “tank top” to all of us in sunny Blighty) whilst feeling a ‘bit nippy’ at a recent Campaign Event.

And then bizarrely, thanks to the quirks of modern day media (and more particularly the loonies that are out there on the internet driving this kind of nonsense) this seemingly innocuous choice became the defining moment and unexpected “tipping-point” of his entire campaign:

Yes, his Cardigan metaphorically “caught fire” (!) and rapidly “went viral”, taking on a Social Media and virtual life all of its own.

And in what seems like no time at all – in the weird and wacky world of the internet, the Santorum Sleeveless Sweater-Vest now has its own fan base, complete with dedicated FaceBook & Twitter Accounts and tens of thousands of followers (see “loonies” above).

Yes – the “Sweater lives!” and if we’re not careful (mentioning loonies again for a 3rd and final time, I promise!) we’ll soon be in for a historical first:

A Sweater-Vest will be elected President on the back of the 2nd Constitutional Amendment and the “right to bear arms!” (See what I did there?! Marvellous!)

Anyway – to my point and to the main reason for this Blog:

All of the above got me thinking about the “iconography of Leadership” – think Margaret Thatcher and the “Iron Lady’s” handbag, or Harold Wilson (ex British Prime Minister) and his pipe – and the fact that often, when we are looking for inspiration – or for someone or something to follow in life – we often like to attach ourselves to something physical: We want our feelings and our emotions to be engaged so that we can connect.

Research about the overall impact of a Speaker/Communicator shows that 85% is what we see versus 15% is what we hear – with the overall biggest impact by far – with both these elements combined – being how a speaker/communicator makes us feel.

And it may not even be something that the Speaker has actually said – but more a projection of a particular quality that we like, admire or can relate to – as we attach ourselves to the values that are percolating through subliminally beneath the surface of what is actually being said.

And interestingly in the case of Rik Santorum and his now infamous “Sweater Vest” – it is the apparent “warm and cosy Grandfatherly like choice of attire” that has caused such a stir in the gathering momentum of his campaign. And this – for some voters at least – is exactly the quality they were looking for, in order to attach themselves emotionally to his campaign.

We’ve been working on a new suite of courses at Working Voices recently, one of which is a Leadership course about Impact & Presence.

We talk in the course about values – and the qualities that we are actually projecting when we speak – in terms of what people really see in us when we communicate.

These are the hidden or non-explicit values that lie behind the message – to give us our overall impression of a speaker in terms of how they make us feel.

So in summary, when speaking, do remember to think about how you might like people to FEEL whilst listening to you, as – and here comes a top tip:

“Audiences don’t so much remember what you say – but they definitely do remember how you made them feel.”

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