The Art Of The Pivot

There are two ways of dealing with awkward questions. You could try to Trump them. You could stun the public with the perfect put-down that really nails them. Here’s Trump talking about the media at Charlottesville: “They’re so bad, and so pathetic”. That has the advantage that it uses language a two-year-old can easily understand, so he is communicating with the widest possible audience. We have to wait to see whether the words hold so much weight that they will sway the opinion of an entire nation. As we say in Scotland, mebbies aye, mebbies naw.  (Translation: It’s certainly within the bounds of possibility, but on balance rather unlikely).

Or you could pivot. It used to be known as Bridging. We media trainers taught Bridging a lot in the 90s and early 2000’s. But now it’s a bit more sophisticated than that. The audience is savvy, they don’t like it when politicians bridge away from a perfectly legitimate question on to something bland and meaningless. No, the key is to move to something that is even more important to the audience than the question was. Example: It’s put to Labour MP Chukka Umana that when Britain leaves the EU the arbitration panel set up to decide between EU and UK law can’t impose its decisions, it can only advise. Umana: “Well, I think there’s something to be said for that, but what I ask people to go back to is the promise that was made to you when you voted to leave the European Union, and you were basically told European Judges will no longer have influence on UK law. And that is wrong.”

Two sentences, four key techniques displayed in this pivot. Technique 1 – Briefly acknowledge the question: “There’s something to be said for that”. Technique 2 – Talk directly to the audience: “the promise that was made to you when you voted “. Technique 3: Use active terms, not passive ones. He could have said “people were promised when they voted to leave, that European judges would have no influence… Instead he used active terminology: “What I ask people to go back to is…” And Technique 4, he widens it to make an argument that the British public voted on one set of promises, but are being given something quite different. From which he can lead to any policy statement he wants.

As the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World might say: “Great Job”!

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