In just a few short weeks Jacinda Ardern managed the seemingly impossible by lifting the Labour Party out of the doldrums and into serious contention – and going on to form a coalition government. Janet Morgans-Lea explains how business owners can learn and apply the ‘Ardern effect’ phenomenon to their advantage.
Gareth Morgan bemoaned “Voters cannot be this thick” in reaction to Labour’s surge in the polls after Jacinda Ardern took over as leader of the Labour Party. When media gravitated towards Ms Ardern, they were accused of a left-leaning conspiracy, and the public was called naïve for being influenced by personality politics.
Bill English by comparison, some said, looked wooden. Was it conspiracy and a bunch of shallow New Zealand voters who contributed to Labour’s rise, or the fact that they suddenly had a political leader who knows how to project a vibrant personality on and off camera?
Dubbed as Jacindamania or the Jacinda Effect – New Labour leader and PM Jacinda Ardern certainly caused a stir. A daily phenomenon on our TV screens and social media pages, Jacinda – for all a political novice – knows how to present herself.
So, how did she navigate those tricky questions, come across as smart and confident, and stay on-message?
When you analyse some of Jacinda’s on-camera behaviour, you quickly come to realise that, politics aside, we can learn a thing or two from her about how to handle ourselves both on and off the camera for maximum effect.
1. Put your back into it
When on camera, or even one-on-one, the message you communicate through your body language can be equally as important as the words you have to say.
When analysing Jacinda, we noticed that at first glance her body language seemed to suggest she was nervous because she is constantly moving.
However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that her actions are actually purposeful. She keeps her head, hands, and sometimes her shoulders, moving animatedly as she talks. This can result in a perception of being more cheerful and genuine and increases the chance of the viewer feeling more comfortable with her.
These constant small movements also have the added effect that your focus never strays when she talks, as her body language adds emphasis to the words she speaks.
Jacinda also has a habit of leaning into the camera or towards the person who is interviewing her when talking. This helps convey a genuine interest in the conversation and also has the bonus of this position opening up the diaphragm to increase air supply, which has a calming effect.
Jacinda rarely if ever crosses her arms in front of her body, nor does she turn away from the camera, which promotes a feeling that she is open and friendly.
The Ardern Way: Be animated, lean in, look at the camera and don’t cross your arms.
2. Don’t be monotonous
It’s a fine line between speaking slowly and clearly to achieve perfect pronunciation and sounding monotonous.
Throughout most of her appearances on camera, Jacinda pronounces her words slowly and carefully but keeps her sentences short and to the point. She helps punctuate what she says with her facial expressions and tone of voice and doesn’t just read her script. This makes it look like she truly believes in what she’s saying. She also speaks with absolute confidence, even when she makes a pronunciation mistake or two.
Like many good public speakers, Jacinda makes liberal use of fluctuation in her pitch and emphasises certain words to drive a point home. She also usually speaks in a lower tone, which helps convey the sense that she knows what she’s talking about and is confident in what she’s saying.
The Ardern Way: Speak slowly and keep your sentences short and to the point. Use facial expression and pitch to add meaning and depth to your sentences. Lower your tone to appear more knowledgeable.
3. Prepare the nerves away
Ardern has had a lot of practice speaking in front of an audience, so she has a good hold on her nerves by now. You, however, might be terrified at the idea of getting in front of a camera.
It’s important that you focus on de-stressing yourself before you start. Take deep breaths throughout. It will be hard to slow down since your instinct will likely be to talk fast while staring nervously into the camera. But you’ll look much more natural if you forget that there are people watching you and focus on what you’re doing.
When watching how Jacinda answers questions, we realised that she always keeps calm and sticks to her point with short, concise answers. She never flounders or sputters in search of something to say. This is something that comes with time and practice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to emulate her calm and steady replies.
The Ardern Way: Practise until it feels more natural. Stay calm and poised. Do not increase your talking speed.
4. Take yourself seriously, just not too seriously
One thing we certainly can learn from Ardern is that you should keep smiling no matter what. Even when a journalist is confronting her on an issue, Jacinda manages to keep calm with a pleasant smile on her face.
Ardern maintains a calm presence and an almost ever-present smile, which can help diffuse tension in any given situation. To steer the conversation her way, Jacinda always keeps her gaze locked on her interviewers, takes a firm stance through a stern voice and clear language, and pushes through with what she has to say.
The Ardern way: Keep smiling and carry on. Use tone-of-voice and clear language to redirect.
5. Dress the part
Let’s face it – the way you appear, particularly on camera, plays a crucial part in whether a viewer will like you or not. It may be superficial, but it’s true, especially for women. The general advice follows that it’s best to avoid overtly bright colours and complex patterns. The way you dress will depend heavily on your respective field as well as the nature of the on-camera appearance.
When looking at Jacinda’s on-camera appearances, there’s a definitive pattern of solid colours (usually in her party colour) and clean lines. Her attire is professional and feels accessible to most women.
The Ardern Way: Stay on the more conservative side, stick to classic lines and colours.
Whatever your opinion on Jacinda Ardern may be, there’s no denying that the PM knows how to handle herself when she’s in the spotlight. If you ever find that big black lens pointing your way, or a sea of faces turning in your direction, remember the Ardern Way.
Janet-Morgans-Lea is the owner, along with her husband David and business partner John Shafer, of Digibob, a video production company that specialises in producing passionate marketing videos for small and medium businesses who want to establish a point of difference. https://www.digibob.nz