John Tsarpalas: Wherever there’s an event with a group of voters, you should introduce yourself. Talk to them. Shake hands. You are not kissing babies anymore though. This is Commonwealthy #9, Working the Room.
One of the basics every candidate needs to understand is working the room. I am here with Tina Keats. Let’s talk about what needs to happen when you show up at an event as a candidate.
Kristina Keats: Well, this is where being an extrovert is really a help. But even if you aren’t, and even if you are an extrovert, when you walk into any group (and this is like people standing on the corner, a train station, a party, anything anywhere) this is what you want to do. You want to try when you are managing your time to spend as much time as possible with groups because it is just a numbers game.
John Tsarpalas: The local Little League game, the local basketball game, whatever.
Kristina Keats: Football games, whatever.
John Tsarpalas: Wherever there are people.
Kristina Keats: Right. You want to go. You don’t know who they are and you don’t even know if they are registered to vote, but you want to be there to meet them and shake their hand. Okay? Introduce yourself and you have a little piece of literature that they call a palm card that’s got your basics: who you are, what office you are running for, what principles you believe in, and a picture of you and your family if you have one and they are willing to be photographed. So you have that to pass out to people and a little sticker or button, a giveaway. It is always good to have a giveaway, especially if you are going to go to a big group, like a football game.
The number one most important thing to understand is the purpose of being there is to meet as many people as possible. You are not going to get to know them. You are not going to identify them. But you can meet them. You can shake their hand and you can ask for their vote. “Hi, my name is Dan Duffy. I am running for state senate. I’d really like your vote.” Shake the hand and move on.
You should work up some standard lines that you can use that are icebreakers to talk to people. But whenever you have a chance to meet someone, you want to get as much out of it as possible. But what is really important is when you are with a group you want to try to meet as many people as possible. So you don’t want long conversations with one person. You want to be able to move on.
And you need to make a mental map. You are in a room and you need to look at everybody. You literally need to make sure that you go to every single person and shake their hand. You could be in a situation where they are moving around. This is where having a good memory is helpful to know that I already have met that person.
Or have standard statements that you can make, like I do things like if I shook their hand and came up again and shook their hand. They said, “Yeah, you already shook my hand.” I say, “You moved, didn’t you? You’re not supposed to move. I can’t keep track of it.” Make a joke or something. Have things that you can say that don’t get embarrassed that you are shaking their hand twice. You could even say something like, “Well, I thought you were so nice, I wanted to come shake your hand again.” Have some standard lines that you can use for when you shake their hands twice.
And then also have funny lines that you can say to people that are winners, that will break the ice and make people laugh. And it can be the same line over and over again. My husband was the best person at working a room I’ve ever seen because that is his natural personality. He hasn’t run for office in twenty years and he still works the room whenever we go anywhere just because he likes it. He likes to talk to everybody. Come up with an icebreaker, a line that you can say. If you are at a football game and let’s say both football teams are in your area, do something funny like have a sticker for both teams.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, right.
Kristina Keats: Because you don’t want to look biased. And then you can use that as an icebreaker. “Are you a Bear or are you a Cub? You see I am both.” If you are able to be humorous, there is nothing more powerful for attracting people than to have a good sense of humor, especially if it is self-deprecating.
John Tsarpalas: But you don’t have that. Here’s what works: a smile and a hand extended.
Kristina Keats: Right. Use whatever tools you have. Assess what you are good at. And practice things. There is no reason why you can’t try something and if it doesn’t work, then try something else. But the biggest thing is that you absolutely have to shake the hand, make eye contact, smile, and ask for the vote from every single person you meet.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And stay focused on them for the time you are there. Don’t be scanning around right away.
Kristina Keats: Right. Don’t ever look over their shoulder for the next person. You look them in the eye. Here’s another thing that’s really critical. Don’t ever, ever, ever say, “Nice to meet you” because you might have met them before. This sounds crazy, but every human being thinks that you should remember them. And they don’t understand that you might be shaking hands with five thousand people and there is no way you can remember them. But that’s why if you say, “Hi, nice to see you,” it is a simple thing to do that will keep you from offending people.
I actually had a pretty good memory, so I could say, “Hi, it’s nice to see you” and someone would say, “Oh, yeah, we met when you were going door to door.” And I could say, “What street were you on?” And they’d say, “I’m on Cherry Street.” They didn’t know this, but so few people would actually talk to you while you were going door to door that every single person who ever talked to you, you could possibly remember.
I remember I met this guy and I said, “Cherry Street…” and so I got a visual. There was only one person who talked to me on Cherry Street. I said, “Oh, yeah. You were in your front yard raking leaves with your kids.” Do you think I got that guy’s vote? Yeah!
So if you can remember, if you have that kind of ability…And there is no reason why you can’t use your phone to take notes of who you met. If you did have a conversation, like you met Joe Blow and he works for the park district or he’s a teacher or he’s a doctor or whatever, put it down. Anything you learn about people, you put it down.
For sure, if you are at a group, any name you can put in your phone and then you go back and find them in the voter rolls that you met them, it could be very powerful. You can meet them again and then you can use that tool of saying, “Oh, yeah. I met you at the Rotary meeting.” Believe me, people will be incredibly impressed.
That is how Aaron Schock won because he worked hard that he did know everybody. He knew where they lived. He knew what their families were like. And he became their friends. So the more you can do that, the better.
John Tsarpalas: The “nice to see you” I learned from Governor Jim Edgar. I went up to him and said, “Nice to meet you,” because I had never met. He said, “Let me give you a clue. Always say ‘nice to see you’ in case you have met me before. I might remember.”
Kristina Keats: Right. I learned it because I was at a political event where it was a primary and there were a bunch of Republican candidates. For some reason, I was already supporting Mark Kirk and they sat me next to one of his opponents at the lunch table. We introduced ourselves. I was very honest. I said, “Well, I am supporting Mark Kirk in the primary, but if he loses, I will be all in for you.”
I met this woman and I sat next to her at lunch, right? So get the image. She was being really stupid because I was Mark Kirk’s sort of campaign person. I had already instructed Mark to meet everybody in the room. So he was out shaking everybody’s hand.
John Tsarpalas: And she’s sitting there wasting her time with you.
Kristina Keats: She is talking to me after I already told her that I wasn’t voting for her. I don’t know why she sat there and talked to me. But we talked for a while. Well, later we were at a train station. She was there trying to get votes and I was there trying to get votes for Mark. She comes up, shakes my hand, and says, “Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m so and so.” I actually had a very negative view of the woman at that point because I said, “Don’t your remember we met? I had lunch with you. I sat next to you.”
If I were six foot five and gorgeous or something, but everybody thinks that they are memorable. So you don’t ever want to offend someone by saying “nice to meet you” when you have already met.
John Tsarpalas: Anyway, back to working the room. You need to go around the room. The room won’t come to you.
Kristina Keats: Right. Not just the room- nobody. No voter ever comes to you. Get rid of those images of Barack Obama in a stadium with people cheering. It doesn’t work that way.
John Tsarpalas: Right, it’s not going to happen.
Kristina Keats: It doesn’t happen.
John Tsarpalas: At any level it’s not going to happen.
Kristina Keats: At any level, even the presidential. They have to bring them in with busses, okay? All of that is for show. The way you get votes is you go to the voter. And remember (this is another thing that is really important), you are not important; the voter is important.
John Tsarpalas: Correct.
Kristina Keats: So get over yourself. If you can’t be humble, if you can’t understand that you serve them… Think of yourself as a waitress. That is the role that you play. You go to them. They don’t come to you. But it is important to do that because so many people, and we are going to get into it when we start talking about your stump speech, don’t realize the most important thing is the less you talk about yourself, the better. And that’s in general when you are working the room.
John Tsarpalas: There is a video up on Commonwealthy.com on how to give a stump speech. It’s a little five-minute video of me giving a stump speech and spelling out the parts of it. It works very well.
Kristina Keats: Oh, great. Wonderful.
John Tsarpalas: So you are working the room. You are going around. You are introducing yourself. You are trying to be personable, likeable, and you are interested in them. You are not there talking all about you, unless they are asking questions and that is fine.
Kristina Keats: Right. Understand your goal is to learn about them.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: You get their vote by learning what they care about. So many candidates, because they are passionate about an issue, say, “Well, I am running because I don’t like the way they are cleaning the roads and blah blah blah.” You start out like that and you don’t know what they care about. They may be perfectly happy with the way the roads are being run, and you just lost their vote.
John Tsarpalas: They might have a contract for cleaning the roads.
Kristina Keats: Right. You don’t know. And you are just going to open your mouth and insert your foot unless you find out about them. Really, any good politician really cares about what their constituents think.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And especially running for school board, find out if they have kids in that school, in that district.
Kristina Keats: Right, what grade they are. And then- Hello!- open up your phone and write down, “Joe Blow, third grader Katie, and first grader Sam.” Because believe me, if you then send them an email, should you be so fortunate as to also get their email, and mention their kids, hello? You got the vote.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And if you’ve got a little bit of the conversation going, ask for a business card if you think they’ve got some.
Kristina Keats: Absolutely.
John Tsarpalas: Or you are going to send them some information is a wonderful way to ask for an email. “I’d like to send you my paper on what I think about the budget, my position on the school budget” or whatever it may be.
Kristina Keats: Right. “If I could.”
John Tsarpalas: “Could I get an email address from you?” Have a little pad of paper there and jot things down.
Kristina Keats: Right, if they like you. Or get their cell phone number so you can text them. In the old days, the real expense of running a campaign was paying for mail because it got up to being fifty cents per mail piece. Today, you can do so much with the tweets and the email and the text, that if you can get that information, it saves you just so much.
I would make my goal of getting everybody’s email because you can get their address from the voter rolls. So concentrate on, “Would you be willing to give me your email address or your cell phone?” But we’ll talk more about what you do with that data and how you craft your message in other podcasts.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, so go work that room. Let’s talk about the handshake for a minute. Practice it.
Kristina Keats: Oh, really important. I’m glad you brought this up, John. The handshake tells a world about you, okay? You have to have a good handshake. It needs to be firm, but not too powerful. You want a firm handshake, especially with a man. No wimp, no laying your hand there. You want to grab him and shake and look him in the eye and say, “Hello.”
When you are shaking the hand of a woman, if you are a man, you need to practice on women you know and make sure your handshake is not too powerful. If it is too strong, you could hurt her hand. That’s not what you want to leave them with. But it needs to be firm.
Another thing that you can do when you are shaking hands with a woman is you grab the right hand with your right hand and you take your left hand and pat the back of the hand, especially older women. That’s kind of a grandmother handshake.
Try different things. Try, if you are man with your wife, if you are woman, with your husband. Practice your handshake and make sure that it is good. Sometimes men especially think they’ve got to have that hard pumping “I’m a powerful guy” kind of handshake. That turns men and women off because the man you are shaking with thinks you are being aggressive and the woman thinks you are hurting her. So get a handshake that is firm, but not too powerful.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Look them in the eye. Good eye contact. Smile. Make sure you can smile. Make sure your teeth look clean and there’s no food or anything in them. Perhaps think about teeth whitening. Whitening strips are easy to do. Go get some. That will help.
Kristina Keats: But just don’t get too white.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Breath. Well groomed. Men, think about the hair and the ears and nose. Ladies, I don’t get into that.
Kristina Keats: But you have to look the best you can look because everything about you says something. So a coat, you don’t always have to have a tie, or you can have a nice shirt tucked in. Don’t go out there with your shirt hanging out. Shoes are so important. Do not go out there with shoes that are scruffy or look like they’ve been worn everywhere.
Now, it depends. If you are in a rural area, you need to dress-
John Tsarpalas: You need to look like the group, but a little bit better than the group because you are a leader.
Kristina Keats: Right. You are a leader. So if you are in a rural area, you just need to tuck in your t-shirt. You can still wear your hat. You can wear your work boots. That’s okay. But it just depends. You know your area. You can’t just assume that you can go out looking like anything.
John Tsarpalas: No, looks matter.
Kristina Keats: Yeah, you have to spiff yourself up. You don’t have to be beautiful. Just look at who are our politicians today. They are not all beautiful. But you need to be presentable for your area.
John Tsarpalas: Perfect. Right. So go out, be friendly, work it, and we’ll get back to you in the next podcast.
Kristina Keats: Right.
John Tsarpalas: Thank you. Working the room. I think it’s an extremely important skill for everyone running for local office. I once didn’t support or help a guy who was running in a primary for congress because I went to an event and he didn’t work the room. He stood in a corner and waited for people to come to him. I don’t know if that was about ego or if he was shy and introverted. I don’t know, but I do know all the other candidates were working the room. The guy who worked the room the hardest that night was the guy that won the primary. And quite frankly, I supported him.
So that is something you need to learn to do and push yourself to do if it just doesn’t come naturally. And please, let your friends know about Commonwealthy. Go to iTunes or whatever service you use and subscribe so that it just pops up every week. We are going to be here once a week with activist ideas and campaign ideas. We hope you’ll join us.
Thank you! I am John Tsarpalas.
Kristina Keats: You are not important; the voter is important.