It's easy--too easy--to deride Melania Trump for the way she handled her speech at the Republican convention Monday evening, from saying phrases that had unmistakably been lifted from Michelle Obama's speech eight years earlier to offering conflicting accounts--via others--as to how that came about.

But the fact is that none of us, not even an ex-model married to one of the most famous people in the world, is prepared for the kind of intense attention that goes with making a speech watched by 23 million people. Or with making a serious play for the White House.

Most of us will never have to worry about that degree of public attention. But--just in case it ever happens to you--here are some valuable lessons you can learn from Melania's plagiarized-speech fiasco. You'll be way ahead of the game if you avoid making these mistakes:

1. Rejecting expert help.

Melania Trump had a pair of professional speechwriters who had worked for George W. Bush working for her and they sent her a draft of the speech a month in advance. She wasn't happy with that draft, but the smart move would have been either to ask the original speechwriters to rewrite or to find different professional speechwriters to help her. 

Instead, she decided to rewrite the speech herself, with the help of Meredith McIver, a ballerina turned writer who co-authored several books with Donald Trump. Unfortunately, writing a book and writing a speech are two completely different tasks and you can be very good at one but incompetent at the other. Melania Trump not only turned to a non-speechwriter to for help with revisions, she did not show the revised speech to any speechwriting professionals before giving it. If she had, there's a good chance the plagiarism would have been caught and eliminated. Seasoned speechwriters routinely check their speeches with anti-plagiarism software before they're finalized.

2. Expect to fly under the radar.

The truth is, people crib from each other all the time. I bet Melania thought it was no big deal. And anyhow, who would ever notice phrases lifted from a speech given eight years ago? It's not like anyone had it memorized, was it? 

As it turns out, Michelle Obama may have been the first person ever to use the phrase "your word is your bond" in a nationally televised speech. So when Melania Trump used that exact phrase it had a ring of familiarity for many political junkies. It was only a small step from there to discovering all the other phrases that had been lifted from Michelle Obama's speech as well.

3. Whatever you do, don't apologize.

Some of the most successful people and effective leaders the world has ever seen have offered up eloquent apologies when they were caught doing something wrong. (See if you can guess who said which apology.) But apologies appear to be completely off-limits in the in-your-face Trump campaign. Even when Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was caught on video manhandling a reporter, no one apologized. The Trump team went on the offensive, blaming the woman he shoved for having it in for Trump.

4. Offer conflicting and unbelievable accounts of what happened.

Various members of the Trump team have said: 1)Melania did not write the speech but was just reading what someone had written for her; 2) Melania had told NBC News before the speech that she wrote it herself; 3) That Hillary Clinton was attacking Melania as she does any woman who threatens her (maybe she does, but the plagiarism accusations did not come from the Clinton camp). 

5. Expect others to take the blame for you.

I'd bet money that the Trumps expected the original speechwriting team to say that the plagiarized phrases were their own fault. Or at least to clam up. Instead, they told the press about submitting a speech that never came back to them for revision and their surprise at hearing Melania Trump deliver an almost entirely new speech Monday evening.

Eventually, though, a different Trump operative fell on her sword. McIver announced yesterday that it was all her fault because she had written down phrases from speeches Melania Trump liked and then somehow accidentally wrote them into the final speech. But her explanation is a little hard to swallow: How do you accidentally write several whole sentences of plagiarized material into a speech?

6. Vanish from public view.

No one really knows what Melania Trump thinks about all this because since the accusations came to light Tuesday morning, she has not made a public appearance nor responded to questions from the press. Instead, she's left it to others in the campaign, including her husband, to speak publicly about the affair.

But the Trumps have four months of vigorous campaigning ahead of them and this is unlikely to be the worst controversy they'll face. Most PR experts believe that getting out in the public eye and facing a difficult issue head-on is much more effective than pulling a disappearing act. Will she spend the entire four months going into hiding whenever things get tough? 

Published on: Jul 21, 2016
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