The Obama administration has been making a concerted effort to shore up the image and credibility of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I won’t attempt to analyze the details of the Administration’s plan in this space, but I can shed light on the style and substance of his appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Style: Improving, but still needs work. The transcript of the program will be very positive, but in watching the program I noticed that more than half the time he leaned away from David Gregory when first responding to questions. Unless there is a Botox solution (bad move for a Cabinet Secretary) Geithner knits his brow when speaking which makes him seem worried. The voice at time is a little tremulous – a few exercises can cure that. And for some reason, the position of the chair made him look like he was peering down and a little dour. This doesn’t make sense since David Gregory is easily 6’4″ or more and the chair position should have enabled him to look directly across or even look up.
On the positive side, Geithner communications style has a number of strong elements that others can emulate. He did not succumb to the temptation of answering every question as asked. At least twice (not overdone), he didn’t answer the “cross-examination” question right away and said, “Let me step back…” This phrase allowed him to frame the answer in an appropriate context. On another exchange, Geithner added a phrase “Just one more thing…” before responding to Gregory’s next question. It’s perfectly acceptable in an interview to finish your thoughts on a subject before moving on to the next question from reporter.
Geithner and his staff did a good job of anticipating the questions. He knew he was going to be asked about the slow pace in getting senior officials appointed and confirmed at Treasury. Geithner was on the targe when he first framed the question in terms of the actions taken by the Department (despite the lack of senior posts filled). He also praised the people (career and appointed) who were working to produce actions.
Geithner was also ready with a good metaphor. He compared credit to oxygen in the blood stream; necessary for the body (or the economy) to live and flourish. He also communicated the oxygen metaphor at least twice. Other phrases repeated at least twice were: he notion that the plans for the Administration are for “going forward” and that the inherited economic conditions from the Bush Administration limited the “choices.”
Now if Secretary Geithner could just do something about that baby face…