I was one of a few hundred in attendance at today’s debate between the Steve Bellone and Angie Carpenter, two candidates running for Suffolk County executive, hosted by the Long Island Association and the Association for a Better Long Island. Since our reporter John Callegari was taking copious notes for a story on the debate, I had the luxury of simply listening.
My takeaway: Political debates are sales presentations, and today’s contest offered lessons applicable to executives competing for a piece of business.
Lesson 1: Presentation skills matter. Angie Carpenter is well-spoken and intelligent, but she was no match for Steve Bellone’s mastery of his material. While her comments sounded like folksy, off-the-cuff answers to questions posed by the moderator, his responses were carefully crafted to hit his key talking points. Well-developed presentations demonstrate respect for your audience’s time and show that you know what’s important to your listeners.
Lesson 2: Differentiate yourself from your competition. Both presenters get low marks here. They seemed, more often than not, to be on the same side of the issues. Bellone and Carpenter concurred that the current administration is doing a poor job overall. They agreed that regionally significant development projects should be put on rails. They sang the same tune about the need for greater government efficiency. How are voters (prospective buyers) to choose between two options if they appear to be perfect substitutes? Know how you’re different and hammer those points home.
Lesson 3: Don’t just say what you’ll do; say how you’ll do it. Bellone wins here, too. In his opening remarks, rather than simply bemoan the state of the local economy, he boldly stated, “Government is the single biggest impediment to growing our economy.” He cited specific measures he would implement as county executive, including replacing the position of deputy county executive for public information with a deputy county executive for economic development. He noted that he reduced taxes in Babylon by $4.5 million this year and that a $100 million development project in Wyandanch is about to be announced. He pointed to his record of reducing taxes and debt in the Town of Babylon. Carpenter’s only specific was to announce that she would “put an expediter in place, an ombudsman from inside government to say, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’” Bold, sweeping statements, while inspiring applause, don’t inspire confidence unless they’re backed by specifics.
Delivery, differentiation and details. They keys to winning elections and customers. Master them and prosper.