Learning From Those Who Got it Wrong: Know When to Shut Up!

As seen in Commpro.bizThis summer three key political figures committed the same, huge, mistake. The guilty are former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC). The offense? When in the spotlight, they didn’t know when to shut up.

So, I’m going to give a quick review of each jabberfest and offer a few words of advice.

Let’s start with Senator Gillibrand. She was given the honor of making the introductory remarks before Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing. Even interns know these spiels have a five-minute time limit. Senator Gillibrand claimed she didn’t know. So, she babbled on, and on, and on until Chairman Pat Leahy was forced to whack his gavel and remind her she needed to wrap it up.


  • Know the time allowance you’ve been given.
  • Keep remarks short, and focused on the audience’s top three concerns.
  • Work from bullet-pointed notes rather than read a script verbatim.
  • Know when to shut up.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has never been one noted for succinctness. Her press conference announcing her resignation as Governor was no exception. She rambled for 20 munities about fighting for Alaska, fighting for children’s rights, supporting soldiers in Kosovo, basketball strategies, dead fish, and lame ducks. She sprayed down the audience five times with the phrase, “No more politics as usual.” And, not until 12 minutes into the conference did she finally get to the point and say she was resigning-a lifetime in media years!


  • Keep your remarks short, simple, and easy to follow.
  • Deliver your overall takeaway message within the first couple of minutes of speaking.
  • Don’t repeat your favorite catch phrase too often. It begins to become the punch line for a college drinking game.
  • Only use analogies that your audience can relate to and keep them simple.
  • Know when to shut up.

Governor Mark Sanford’s infamous, nearly 20 minutes press conference explaining his days as an MIA governor, completely threw the press conference rule book out the window. Rambling anecdotes, too much personal information, and then taking questions from the media added up to a press conference “Hall of Shame,” frontrunner.


  • Refer to the first two pieces of advice for Ms.Palin.
  • When delivering a public apology, be short and to the point.
  • Don’t try to justify your behavior.
  • Only address issues important to your professional role. Save the tacky personal information for your diary.
  • When apologizing for adultery, do not open the press conference up to questions.
  • Know when to shut up.