Apology speeches are best when they actually include an apology.
An apology needs to be an acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense. An apology means something when the audience decides that it is authentic. The audience decides not the speaker. It is not an authentic apology until the audience identifies and accepts it as an authentic apology. Unless and until the audience decides that the apology is at the very least an “I’m sorry” and at the very most “I was wrong,” it does not count as an apology.
Refer to the first of two apologies that David Letterman made publicly about his affair and blackmailing incident in 2009. On a Thursday Letterman show, the host said he hoped not to talk about the situation again. Yet three days later on the following Monday night, there he was falling publicly on his sword when he said about his wife, “I’ve got my work cut out for me” to mend the relationship.
First an apology has to say I’m sorry.
That means the verbal, vocal, and visual all need to communicate the same consistent message of “I’m sorry.” The verbal, vocal and visual are the three legs of the communication stool. The three V’s are especially important in an apology. If the words say I’m sorry but the visual of the person is not consistent, it won’t be accepted as an apology. Furthermore, the apology has to sound like an apology. It’s not enough to utter the words. Christie’s words kind of said he was sorry but how he said and certainly how he looked saying them did not say SORRY.
It’s hard for a bully to apologize; they have no experience at it.
Second, an apology has to take ownership.
In Nixon’s famous Checkers speech, the speech that is credited with keeping him on Eisenhower’s ticket as VP, he cleverly owned the act in question. Nixon was accused of improprieties related to a fund established by backers. He delivered a nationally televised address to what was the largest TV audience of its time. He said there was one gift he would not return, a black and white Cocker Spaniel his daughters had named Checkers.
Third the apology needs to make it right.
This is the fork in the road Chris Christie has come to in his apology tour. To make it right he can’t be the one to decide which investigations he will respect. Guilt is a self-serving emotion. An apology is for the audience and guilt is for the speaker. How many times in Christie’s first press conference on the bridge issue did he talk about himself? Mistake. When you make a sincere apology you do not have the luxury of guilt, you need to focus on the audience.
The final requirement of an apology is to ask for forgiveness.
The audience decides if the ask is real. Forgiveness is not justification or the defense of the impossible to defend. An apology that is consistent in its verbal, vocal and visual allows the offender to move forward and past the subject of the apology. Teddy Kennedy’s televised Chappaquiddick speech allowed him to stay in his Senate seat then and for the rest of his life.
The transgression needs to remain the main show not the sideshow to the apology.