It’s National Convention season again, so let’s set the time machine to September 2008 and learn what Speaker’s Digest had to say about the Republicans back then…


Of course, any discussion about presentations at the RNC must include the speech delivered by VP-candidate Sarah Palin, one of the more memorable we’ve seen.

Give Palin credit for doing what she wanted to do, which was to introduce herself to the party–and to the country–as a candidate with some fight and bite to her, as well as a sense of humor. People who watched and listened, most who knew very little about the governor of Alaska, connected with her during her presentation. One week later, people remember that connection–and her punch lines–more than most of the speech’s content.

For someone who hadn’t spoken to a crowd of more than 1,000 people, we were impressed with how comfortable she seemed in front of 20,000 plus a TV audience of millions. She was conversational, varied her facial expressions, and used very good vocal variety. She smiled, frowned, and displayed great intensity in her delivery. The crowd’s response actually forced her to pause quite a bit, but we’d encourage her to slow down even more.

FOX news reported that Palin had to overcome technical glitches, including teleprompter obstacles and a hard copy that actually was an earlier version of the speech. Apparently, the problems led to her decision to ad-lib her “lipstick” line, probably the most memorable of her speech. (To be fair, a blogger from claimed that this story was put out by the McCain campaign to make Palin look more impressive, outlined in a column called “The Teleprompter Did Not Break.” Go figure.)


The impact of Sarah Palin’s nomination and speech could very well have been the high point of the convention, but there was still the small task of Senator John McCain’s acceptance speech. How would he follow up on that spectacle from the night before?

McCain was introduced by his wife, Cindy, who we found to be a decent speaker, but hard to connect with. (The video about her life showed us much more about her as a person than we learned from her speech.) Clearly, she was reading, and her emotions seemed forced rather than natural and authentic. We’ve seen her come across as much more personable and likeable in video from fundraising events and interviews, where she speaks off the cuff and seem much more relaxed and conversational.

As has been written by many before us (actually including us), John McCain still seems uncomfortable delivering a written speech. He broke out of his comfort zone to do a few things quite well, showing more emotion and fire than we’ve seen. He also came across as likeable and even humble, which we think helped endear him to the convention crowd and the TV audience. He smiled, used his trademark “my friends” often, and built toward a powerful conclusion.

Then there was his story, which we thought was his strongest moment. He slowed way down, played off the energy in the room, and gave his audience plenty of time to respond to his words and his presence.

His ending was also terrific. He used repetition effectively, showed fire and passion, and motivated his audience to “Stand up and fight with me!” It was a memorable way to wrap up his speech, and he did it in a way that made us pay attention.

McCain still doesn’t look comfortable on a podium. We read that convention organizers extended the stage to give the feel of a town hall situation, in which McCain seems more relaxed because he’s “among the people,” and probably also because he usually speaks without a script. We didn’t see how that changed his presentation style, because his stiffness was still evident. Even though this was one of the stronger presentations we’ve seen from him, there are still some things we encourage him to do:

Avoid trailing off. He has a tendency to speak more softly at the end of sentences, and drops eye contact at the same time. We often encourage our clients to try the “Regis” technique: get LOUDER when ending sentences.

Improve eye contact. He spent a lot of time looking at the camera, with only occasional glances from side to side. We’re guessing he practiced looking straight ahead at key points of the speech, but he needs to learn to hold eye contact for even longer.

Go off script. McCain is more effective when he talks instead of reads. Most people are. It’s a good lesson for everyone.


We know that politicians love to point fingers, but can we please stop with the finger-pointing?

Seriously. We think that the sometimes-unintentional gesture of pointing is a bad one. When people come into our seminars with a finger-pointing habit, we work hard with them to change it right away.

Do YOU like being pointed at? To us, it comes across as condescending, as if to say “This is what you have to do,” or even “go clean your room.”

Yet pointing is one of those things that seems to naturally creep into the presentations of public figures, particularly politicians. Bill Clinton was a pointer who worked hard to overcome it, and Obama is a pointer who has managed to adapt to a pinching gesture, though his finger still creeps out occasionally.

If you watched any of the conventions, you saw Giuliani, Thompson, Lieberman and Biden all wave forefingers at their audience. To them we say: ENOUGH WITH THE POINTING!

To all our readers who fall into the pointing habit, we recommend you focus on keeping your hands open while speaking. It’ll reduce the urge to point, and make a huge difference.