There’s Much To Learn In The Political Matrix

I feel like many Canadians took the “red pill” and got unplugged from the illusion of the fictional world of the matrix this past week — seeing things more clearly — seeing what was in front of them the entire time. They discovered many of the great off-the-cuff “one-liners” they hear in politics are premeditated. And, if they’re smart — they can learn something valuable from it.

We saw professional preparation when new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered what may well be the line of the year in politics when he said “Because it’s 2015” in response to a question about why he decided to make his Cabinet 50% women.


It’s a line that attracted a lot of positive international attention — with media, politicians and celebrities. It had the desired effect for the Prime Minister who (love him or hate him) has become a global brand — with the delivery of one simple line of speech.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 8.56.46 PM

It drew partisan criticism in some circles when a behind-the-scenes documentary on the CBC showed the now-famous line was discussed behind closed doors before it was delivered publicly. Watch this clip and listen closely for principal advisor, Gerald Butts, say to the Prime Minister regarding how to react when asked about this, “I think just calling people’s attention to the year is all you really need to say.”

And, the fact is that response was likely discussed in more detail even before the cameras were with them.

Now, this is hardly a controversy — but it was enough to make it as a discussion point on the popular CBC “At Issue” political panel:

As Peter Mansbridge stated — to anyone who works in the media, communications or politics, rehearsing key lines is as normal as anything. Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, did it, and so did every Prime Minister before him — and every major leader in the world.

Want proof? During the Canadian election, there was a debate hosted by the Globe & Mail — and it posted a video from the debate called “Jabs, Jokes and Zingers: The Best Off-The-Cuff Moments” from the debate. Watch this video (feel free to just watch the first minute or so and you’ll get the point) and I’m willing to bet very few of these from all the party leaders was actually off-the-cuff — it’s actually comical to see how stilted some of these are:

So, yes, leaders have advisors who advise — there’s nothing new here. They plan. They rehearse. In fact, it’s the right thing to do from a communications perspective. I don’t care if it’s Obama, Kennedy, Reagan or Thatcher. They have all done it because it’s the smart approach. Leave little to chance.


In preparing leaders for a news conference or a speech, we look for “moments” — situations where we can connect with the target audience and elevate the message out of the white noise and into a zone that connects and attracts that coveted “sound bite”. And, we practise….a lot. We try our lines and quips out on people we can trust to be honest. Then we tweak more. There is no such thing as too much rehearsal. Ironically, the more you rehearse and plan, the more natural and relaxed you look when the time comes to perform. And, in communications, body language and non-verbal communication is so important in the public’s perceptions of what you’re saying that you can’t afford to look nervous. Only an amateur fool goes into a speech and/or news conference and “wings it”.

So, if this is all new to you — instead of being pissed off to learn it – instead of being disappointed or disillusioned — learn from it. Consider it a learning moment. I don’t care if you’re a city councillor, a Mayor, an executive, a Chamber of Commerce president or a tech start-up speaking at a conference or doing a pitch — rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Prepare ahead of time. Look for your “moments” and your key ‘clippable’ moments. Surround yourself with smart people. Bounce the key clips off of them. See what resonates. Don’t work in a bubble and don’t “wing it”. Put in the hours ahead of time and reap the benefits in the end.

Welcome to reality outside the matrix.

More recommended blog posts:

30 Ways To Piss Off A Reporter

Lessons Learned – Harper’s “War on the Media”

Does “Off The Record” Exist?

How To Prepare For a Public Relations Crisis

The New Politician’s Guide To Not Getting Killed By Reporters

There Is Life After Journalism

The “Badger” Is Back!