Though this is slightly off topic, the Lance Armstrong imbroglio certainly provides some lessons for what constitutes an effective apology but more importantly what makes an effective witness during a trial or arbitration. I’ve written previously about Lance’s legal and financial woes all of which culminated in his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week. While the motivations for that interview are unclear and there are numerous theories for why he "came clean" the interview was ultimately ineffective in starting the road back to redemption because he did not come across as sincere – you can’t fake sincerity.
Witness preparation can be a hit or miss process. There are some folks who are just naturally good witnesses. They answer questions effectively and plainly. Most importantly they come across as sincere. In high-stakes litigation significant amounts of money are put towards preparing those witnesses to testify whether it’s through a jury consultant, lawyers, or even public relations experts.
Lance Armstrong has assembled a public relations and legal dream team. Don’t think for a minute that almost all the questions that Oprah asked weren’t considered by his team and answers rehearsed. Practice doesn’t always make perfect.
Sincerity cannot be coached. True remorse cannot be coached. Though there were instances within the interview where Lance appeared somewhat emotional (specifically when he told his son not to defend him anymore) the vast majority of his answers seemed like they were being made simply because he got caught. Most people can forgive doping. Especially when it is in a sport that has been under the doping microscope such as cycling. Armstrong’s battle is with the fact that not only did he dope and lie, he went on the offensive and ruined people’s lives.
The public, just like juries, are very good at smoking out insincere or bogus explanations. Ultimately only time will tell what the public makes of Lance’s mea culpa . No matter how much coaching there is or time invested in preparation, if there is no sincerity or remorse behind the apology or testimony, it will be evident. Many have described Lance’s discussion as a first step. It remains to be seen what the second step will be and whether he is actually capable of articulating an explanation and apology that people can identify with.