There has never been a more challenging time to be a public speaker. In an age of instant criticism for just about anything via Social Media, instant video editing and sharing on YouTube and instant proportion blowing on Scream TV (aka “Cable News”), never before have public speakers put their reputations in their own hands simply by appearing behind a microphone. It’s not just a political phenomenon anymore.
We’re quoted on the front page of the Detroit Free Press on the controversy resulting from Teamsters union General President James P. Hoffa’s speech as part of a Labor Day rally in Detroit featuring President Obama. Hoffa, as usual, spoke his mind with some bombastic language and it because immediate fodder for political pundits. Some outlets and websites even isolated some comments, out of context, to create potentially compelling debate on an otherwise quiet holiday.
Before you criticize Hoffa for his choice of words, keep one important piece of context in mind. For him, this speech was “on message.” He has never been one to hold back or tailor remarks for particular audiences. In 2007, as the business-laden Mackinac Policy Conference, I heard Hoffa, as a dinner speaker, give the same stump pro-union speech he would give anywhere, to anyone. That’s his style. That’s his brand.
In this current environment, it’s important to remember that no matter who you are or where you’re speaking, to borrow a line from a once-political context, the world could be watching. If you don’t like the reaction, you have the same two choices that Jim Hoffa faced yesterday – backpedal and apologize or stand by your words.