We spend a lot of time with clients mapping out narratives, analyzing and workshopping complicated issues and generally preparing for public-facing environments and situations. Sometimes this involves media training, especially for those who’ve never had interactions with “the media” and want to know what to expect.

“Truthfulness,” per se, isn’t something that we talk about directly. But it infuses everything we talk about.

We do talk a lot about the importance of what you say. Because, in a world where you will not get to choose or even predict a lot of what happens to you, the one thing you have 100 percent control over is what you say. And what you say will last forever, especially in our digital universe.

That can be a great thing (ask Winston Churchill). Or not. To paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith, “When all else fails, immortality can always be achieved through spectacular failure.”

Don’t be that failure. What you say, in the famous words of Buzz Lightyear, can follow you “to infinity and beyond.”  Think Richard Nixon (“I am not a crook.”)

Here are a few things we do talk about. When we help to construct a story, a speech, an organizational narrative or an answer to a thorny question, we start from several interlocking premises:

  • What you say isn’t always what people hear. People, especially highly engaged people, are primed to respond to the things they care about, not what you care about. You don’t get to decide what they should care about. You have to build your story taking that into account. Your point of view, however valid and true to you, can easily be rejected out of hand. In other words, their obvious truths and yours are not the same, and often, not even parallel.
  • You have to make your case using facts, plain examples and demonstrated truths. Your critics will pounce on your errors of fact, your irrelevant examples and your flawed logic. Walking back an error is time-consuming, confusing and generally unsuccessful.
  • You need to be consistent, across all your arguments, with all your audiences. Because of those damned critics again.
  • You also have to come from a place of goodwill. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. It helps if you’re the best person in the room.

This brings us to the matter of authenticity. Our late, great colleague James Bulbrook used to say “authenticity is the coin of the realm” in the communications business. You better believe that people, all people, are highly attuned to your authenticity. Or lack thereof. Many a politico has fallen, or been hurled, onto that sword.

Underpinning all of this, of course, is the requirement that we adhere to the truth; obvious truths, hard truths, elusive truths. People remember a lie, and a liar. While it’s true that lies have enjoyed a certain currency of late, particularly in politics, their efficacy tends to be fleeting. People get sick of being lied to. Truthfulness, on the other hand, enjoys a direct pipeline to that other great value, trust. People will trust you when they perceive you as truthful. That becomes really important when being truthful is difficult, like when you’ve screwed up and need to apologize for something really big. That’s not the time you want them to recall you as a liar, even a little bit.

You want to present your best self to the world. Truth and truthfulness are not only your best communications tools, they’re also, in a sense, your best bespoke suit for facing your curious public. You should wear it with pride.