SPEECHES, SPEECHES, SPEECHES!

ARTICLE FROM AUGUST 2008 FOLLOWING THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

EMS couldn’t have written a better headline for Wednesday morning’s Chicago Tribune to go above a full-page photo of Hillary Clinton: “Did She Sell It?”

Wow. We’re just getting through one convention, and less than a week away from another in St. Paul. One thing has become crystal clear about the convention business–you’re going to hear a lot of speeches. Here in the land of “Sell It, Don’t Tell It,” we’re big believers that if you want to become a more effective presenter, you can learn a lot by watching other public speakers.

Hopefully you have been watching, because we’ve seen some amazing presentations so far. The upcoming speakers from both parties have to be feeling the pressure, because we have just heard two of the more compelling speeches in recent memory: Monday night’s conversational, inspiring and effective speech by Michele Obama, and Tuesday night’s powerful presentation by Senator Clinton.

In planning these conventions (and we know that every minute of them is closely choreographed), organizers pay attention not only to who will talk, and not only to what they will say, but also WHEN they will speak. Leading up to these conventions, we have learned about inside discussions over whether the Clintons will speak, when will they speak, and will Hillary’s name get presented for nomination. The media discussed–ad infinitum–who will get the same coveted keynote slot that catapulted Barack Obama onto the national stage in 2004? (Answer, in case you missed it: Mark Warren, former Governor of Virginia.) Republicans are openly excited that former Democratic VP nominee Joe Lieberman will address their convention, but they’ve also made news by trying to decide when and where Gov. Schwarzenegger will speak, by giving former candidate Rudy Giuliani a prime time date and time, and by stacking their third night with some of the most prominent women Republican leaders, including Cindy McCain, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and two former CEOs of major corporations: Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard, and Meg Whitman of eBay.

But it’s not a given that the speakers will blow audiences away. Obama and Clinton–Michele and Hillary, that is–performed as well as we have seen them, or their husbands, in such a situation. We thought Hillary’s pace and tone was terrific, with a narrative style that quickly got the audience on her side. There was very little evidence that she was reading from her teleprompter. She seemed comfortable, believable and on target. We’d like to see more facial expression from her, bigger gestures and more smiles, but in convincing her supporters to get behind Barack Obama’s candidacy, we respond to the Tribune headline with YES!

The fact that she followed a wonderful presentation from the previous evening (two, actually, if you count Ted Kennedy’s moving moment in the spotlight) made Hillary’s speech more impressive, because we found Michele Obama to be sincere, real, and every bit the skillful speaker that her husband has been, if not better. (Game ON, Barack! We hope you can handle THAT pressure.)

Michele made great eye contact with the TV camera, making all of us at home feel like we were right there with her in Denver’s Pepsi Center. She showed us an infectious smile, authentic gestures, changes in tone and pace, and a natural, easy-going style that made her a pleasure to watch and listen to. The audience seemed to hang on every word, as did we. And bringing out her cute daughters certainly didn’t hurt her cause.

As many of our clients know, we often ask the same question after someone gives a presentation: did they sell it or did they TELL it? With two uniquely different styles, we got to watch two speakers who clearly could SELL it. We predict there will be others well before convention season gives way to an intense campaign.

We can’t wait!

Take advantage of the opportunity to see some prominent presenters over these two weeks. Look for techniques that seem to work for the speakers, watch for their use of the Fundamentals, and if you get a moment, drop us a line and tell us what stands out for you.

Here are some links:

Check out this library of presidential nomination speeches of the past 100 years: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/nomination.php

Read this blog to get some insight into John McCain’s speech-writing process: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/08/john-mccain-aid.html