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When Presentation Overpowers Message


Presentation and message are like a duet. One part should complement the other. When that doesn’t happen, when one overpowers the other, deception and truth are likely revealed.

In my book, “Getting the Truth,” I often talk about “artillery,” which is the use of jargon, signs, attitude, amplitude, body language, almost anything to help convince another that we are telling the complete truth. Artillery is often used to obfuscate deceptive messages. 

Let’s look at President Bill Clinton’s denial of his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinski: 

He was “emphatic,” “wagging his finger,” “stared into a bank of TV cameras,” then used several introductions to his denial: “I want to say one thing;” I want you to listen to me;” and “I’m going to say this again.” Several introductions along with all that artillery before the actual denial (the message), “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” 

This is a good example of the presentation overpowering the message. It’s an effective tactic. The actual denial (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”) is a good one if it stands alone. However, it does not because of the introductions and artillery that precede it. The message is intentionally buried.

Lance Armstrong used this tactic to perfection in his denials of drug use: "I came out of a life-threatening disease. I was on my death bed. You think I'm going to come back into a sport and say, `OK, OK doctor, give me everything you've got, I just want to go fast?' No way! I would never do that," – public forum, Aspen, Colo., 2007. If the presentation is overpowering, the message is likely deceptive. 

So, what happens when the message overpowers the presentation. 

Let’s say someone is accused of a crime and responds with the simple, “I didn’t do it.” Now that message isn’t overpowered by presentation – in fact, it’s a powerful understatement. We might expect something more convincing, more compelling, more forceful. The message is informal, simple, direct, and precise. It is the best denial there is if, and only if, everyone knows exactly what “it” is. When the message overpowers the presentation, the message may well be truthful, especially if it is unsolicited. 

So, sense the balance between the presentation and the message. When one overpowers the other, you need to be alert and read between the lines. 

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