Lessons I Learned in Politics: The Power of Presence, Speech and a Handshake

By Nick Hensley

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I am registered unaffiliated. I don’t vote (or work) for one party over another. I did start out as a Democrat, but I left years ago. My resume of political work includes Libertarians, Reformers, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Constitutionalists. I’m one of those individuals that work in politics, because I like campaigning. Some people like chess, I like campaigns.

One thing that I noticed over the years (and 50+ campaigns), is that the candidate that usually wins is the candidate with the best presence. The handshake is an important tool for business. A tight, firm handshake and a good presence can open doors. The wrong handshake will get you ridiculed in secret. Take these two real world examples.

I was called in to help my buddy in a political race. It was a dog catcher race of no real importance. The office was sinecure without a wage or privilege. He was losing, but had a good strategy and resources.

I don’t remember the candidate’s name. All I remember was that he was slouchy, couldn’t put a sentence together, and that shaking his hand was like slapping a catfish.

He lost.

House Representative and Blue Dog Democrat Mike McIntyre is a politician’s politician. Time and time again he defies the odds. He’s a Democrat that has held a conservative district since 1997. Recently the Republican controlled NC Legislature tried to gerrymander him out of office. Despite packing the district with Republican voters, Mike McIntyre held on.

I’ve met Mike McIntyre a number of times. I have seen him speak. I have shaken his hand. I have had him answer a question of mine. Mr. McIntyre’s speech is fluent. He holds himself high, and his hand shake is so firm I thought he could break my hand.

His last opponent was David Rouzer. Rouzer was a Republican in a gerrymandered Republican district. He was a known state legislator. He had worked with Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole. Despite his credentials he lost.

One reason why can be illustrated by these two quotes from the newspaper.

“Our country is at a crisis. We are at a real crossroads: More spending and more debt and decline, or we can get back to the principles of free enterprise and much more limited government, and I firmly believe we have to do it and do it now.” – David Rouzer

“I’ve always been an independent-minded person. I look at every issue on its own merit and not by party label.” – Mike McIntyre.

David Rouzer’s quote is poorly formatted English. The first sentence should be “Our country is in a crisis”. The second sentence should say “We are at a crossroads” – he added an unnecessary adjective. The third sentence is a run on sentence with four conjunctions. The entire message is long and wordy.

The message is geared towards Rouzer’s Republican base. The message is conservative. It does not cross party lines. It is generic, and lacks a punch.

Mike McIntyre’s quote is short and punchy. The format is proper. It is clearly independent and can resonate with anyone. With two sentences he shows the depth of his charisma.

Politics is sales. In politics a candidate is selling him or herself. In business the salesman is selling a service or a product. I have found, time and time again that the same presence, speech and handshake methods work in a business meeting. If I use them, I have an advantage.

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