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Speaker's Digest

2016 Conventions Issue
Summer 2016
Volume 15, Number 7

In this issue:

If you enjoy watching political speeches, July—especially the last two weeks of the month—must have seemed like heaven to you. And if you like to hear people talk about those speeches and read what others have written about them, then there’s probably no better time to be alive than the weeks following the conventions. We waited an extra week to get a bit more perspective on all the festivities before getting you our thoughts on the highlights of the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

We’ll do our best to pass on our thoughts in the most non-partisan way possible, but it’s rare that we see two such different styles and approaches on display. We urge you to keep our perspective in mind: we watched some—but not all—of both conventions looking for ways to help our readers become more effective public speakers. In other words, our goal is to teach, not critique. Like we said, we’ll do our best….

Michelle and Melania, Side By Side

This month, Speaker’s Digest salutes First Lady Michelle Obama, the first woman whose words were spoken to both the Republican AND Democratic Conventions. (That one’s a joke, folks, and we didn’t make it up.)

We’ll forego any discussion about how Donald Trump’s much better half, Melania, ended up plagiarizing a portion of Michelle Obama’s speech to the 2008 Democratic Convention. Instead, because parts of the texts were so similar, we’ll look at this situation as an opportunity to discuss why HOW you say something is often more important than WHAT you actually say. Click here to see CNN’s video of the two women side-by-side.

To be fair, we should begin by mentioning that this was the first time Mrs. Trump has been asked to give any kind of speech, convention or otherwise, while Mrs. Obama is already very comfortable in that environment. That being said, as you watch them, notice how much more active Mrs. Obama is when she speaks. Her head moves, her eyes come to life, her arms and hands are full of meaningful gestures, and even her body moves. In short, she is fully engaged in her message, her voice has both emotion and variety, and she’s much easier to listen to. While we respect that English is not Mrs. Trump’s first language, which surely affects her presentation style, we see very little movement, and very little change in facial expression, volume or intonation. We get the words but not the energy behind them.

You’ll also see more clearly all of the attributes that makes Michelle Obama an amazing presenter. In our opinion, she’s the best speaker in her family, and perhaps the best one we saw across both conventions.

Similar words, but very different deliveries. That’s why you will often hear your friends at EMS say: it’s not what you say but HOW you say it!

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The Best of the Red Side

The best of all the speeches at the Republican convention came from someone we had never heard of—businessman Tom Barrack, founder of Colony Capital, a close friend and associate of Donald Trump. He spoke just before Ivanka Trump introduced her father to the crowd on Thursday, and Barrack gave the kind of speech that we encourage all our clients to practice.

Click here to see him in action. First, he used an extremely conversational tone, a style we wish all of the Convention speakers used more. Barrack showed us that there’s no need to shout; if you talk to the audience and share personal anecdotes and tell stories, you can get the audience’s attention more effectively than if you deliver all your remarks at the same high volume. He opened with a story and he talked extensively about his relationship with Trump. Perhaps most interestingly, he spoke without using the podium, held the microphone in his hand, moved purposefully around the stage to address the entire room, and appeared to use no notes. Nice job, Mr. Barrack!

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On Trump the Presenter

Whatever you think of Donald Trump and his candidacy to be our next president, you have to admit that his speaking style shows us that he's all-in. That is, he seems to bring a lot of enthusiasm to his ideas and his efforts.

The way his speech was organized was effective—he made big claims and then he defended them with evidence, or proof. In his case, he used about a dozen different statistics, covering a wide variety of topics. We later heard from fact-checkers that some of this evidence was misleading, cherry-picked or even untrue, but he showed us how a good speaker uses evidence—quotes, statistics, visual aids—to make their claims sound more believable.

His pacing is one of his strongest features. He takes long pauses, occasionally stepping off-script in the process, to let his comments and ideas sink in. He punctuates them with a group of similar facial expressions that convey pride in his words, confidence in his message, and connections to the audience. There were even moments when he stepped away from the podium, turned to the sides (showing his distinctive profile, in the process).

He connected well with that oh-so-friendly audience in Cleveland that seemed to love every word that came out of his mouth. Here’s how we would advise Donald Trump on his speaking style: He made great eye contact, both with his audience and with the TV cameras. But we’d caution him to expand the array of gestures that the uses, because his overuse of a few favorites—the thumb-to-finger motion, the welcome gesture with both hands, the pulling on his lapels, and the pointing up with his thumb sticking out—can get distracting.

Also, Donald yelled. On the Democratic side, Vice President Joe Biden showed us that yelling can be effective when you vary your volume throughout, but Trump pretty much stayed at that high volume throughout. The only times he lowered his voice were when he seemed to go off script, or when he repeated himself.

Finally, the self-proclaimed law-and-order candidate looked angry. Even stone-faced Mike Pence and Ted Cruz smiled once in a while during their speeches, despite similar tones. Smile, vary your volume, and add a few gestures, Mr. Trump, and you’ll notice a big difference.

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Some Bests and Worsts from Cleveland and Philly

Best use of a prop: Remember, they call them visual aids because they are supposed to help you communicate your message or emphasize a point. That certainly was the case for Khizr Khan, who appeared with his wife at the Democratic Convention and challenged Donald Trump to read the constitution. At that point, he pulled out of his breast pocket a copy of the US Pocket Constitution, published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. Khan unwittingly helped promote sales, too—within days the publication moved up to #2 on the Amazon best-sellers list, just behind “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Best spoof: Stephen Colbert had an actress—Laura Benanti—come on to portray Melania Trump to respond to calls that she plagiarized a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama. She opened with “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” But her best line was this: “Give me a break. GIVE—ME—A—BREAK! Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar!” Funny. Click here to watch.

Worst eye contact: This was the first time that most Americans had seen Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine speak in public. He did a nice job with his speech, but we gave him an F for eye contact. He made poor eye contact throughout—he looked down, instead of out, making his eyes appear closed much of the time. In addition, he moved quickly from side to side and toward the camera, pivoting much to quickly to connect with anyone. Remember what we say about making real eye connection: Hold your gaze with one person for complete thought, which is over when you’ve come to a comma or a period in your text. It might seem like a long time, but it makes a huge difference. Try it next time, Mr. Kaine!

Speaker most in need of a pause: We give the Jimmy John’s Award for Speedy Delivery to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who tore through his speech on night two at the Democratic Convention. He had good stuff to say, but left us no time to catch up with his thoughts because of his breakneck speaking pace. Somebody find that man a pause or two!

Best closing line: From joy and gratitude to sadness and grief to intensity and anger, we saw many different emotions from Vice President Biden in his Philadelphia speech. He sped up, he slowed down, raised his voice to a shout and lowered it down to a whisper, all while signs of “Joe” and “Scranton” filled the arena. And he wrapped it all up with a great one: “We are America—second to none, and we own the finish line!” (The veep also had the best sound track—he got to walk out to the theme song from “Rocky!”)

Best use of repetition: This is an easy one. Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump. It’s one of his best speaking techniques, though perhaps overused at times to cover up his relatively limited amount of material. He used it to perfection to break through the clutter of the early Republican debates, and almost as often from the grand podium in Cleveland.

Looking presidential. It was clear how comfortable Presidents Clinton and Obama have become speaking to crowds as big as the one in Philadelphia. Both were locked in, Clinton with his signature ability to improvise, jump around on his teleprompter, change tones, and win over an audience. And we’ve written many times about Barack Obama—speaking seems to be one of the things he does best. While he still shows a tendency to use non-words when he goes off-script, he brings a conversational tone, an inspiring approach, a powerful presence on the podium, and a great ability to change gears—varying his volume, speed, expression and intensity. He also continues to have an outstanding ability to connect with his audience, particularly when addressing the home team, as he was in Philly.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and we’ll be back soon. Pass it on!

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