Public Speaking and Politics: It’s All About the Story

Last night at the Republican convention, we witnessed public speakers who nailed their presentations. What do Paul Ryan, Condolezza Rice, and Susana Martinez have in common as public speakers? Each and everyone of them shared a personal story. Susana began by telling the story of her immigrant parents.

“Growing up I never imagined a little girl from a bordertown could one day become a governor.  But this is America…My parents taught me to never give up and to always believe that my future could be whatever I dreamt it to be.

We grew up on the border and truly lived paycheck to paycheck. My dad was a golden gloves boxer in the Marine Corps, then a deputy sheriff.  My mom worked as an office assistant. One day they decided to start a security guard business.  I thought they were absolutely crazy.  We literally had no savings.  But they always believed in the American dream.”

By the reaction of the audience, it was evident that they could relate to the governor's rags to riches story.

Condolezza told of her upbringing as a Black child in the South.

“And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham - the segregated city of the south where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants - but they have convinced her that even if she cannot have a hamburger at Woolworths, she can be the president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state.”

Finally, Paul Ryan started to tear up as he spoke about his mother.

“My Mom started a small business, and I've seen what it takes. Mom was 50 when my Dad died.  She got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison. She earned a new degree and learned new skills to start her small business.  It wasn't just a new livelihood.  It was a new life.  And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn't just in the past. Her work gave her hope.  It made our family proud.  And to this day, my Mom is my role model.”

Paul Ryan, along with the other speakers injected humor and poked fun at Mitt Romney. When acknowledging the generational difference between Romney and himself, he stated,

“There are the songs in his Ipod, which I have heard on the campaign bus.... and I have heard it on many hotel elevators.  He actually urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies.  I said, ``Look, I hope it is not a deal breaker Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC and it ends with Zeppelin.” Ryan ended the speech by bringing his family on stage.

There were many effective public speaking techniques that the speakers used during their presentation-humor, passion, and repetition. But by far, the one skill that connects with an audience is the personal touch. Every audience wants to know three things: Who are you? Who are you to tell me? What’s in it for me? It’s not the facts that move an audience, it’s emotions that get them on their feet.

The audience got a look into the lives of these three presenters and got to know them on a personal level. This will be a challenge tonight for Mitt Romney who tends to be more mechanical and reserved in his presentation. He may be on top of his facts, he may have a plan for turning around the country.  But most Americans are thinking, "Who is he?" In order to connect with his constituents, he will need to connect on an emotional level. And nothing is more emotionally powerful than a personal story.


Political Presentations: The Double Standard Continues

GOP DebatersIn June, I blogged about Michele Bachmann and the double standard for women politicians. It seems that the media continues to display sexism toward women candidates. Whether it's Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachmann there seems to be an element of sexism even as we approach 2012. First we had to hear the commentary each time Hillary had a new hairstyle. While this may be appropriate for a First Lady, when a woman is running for political office she ought to be taken more seriously. How often do we critique a male candidate's hair? (Donald Trump doesn't count).

During the Republican debates, Michele Bachmann was accused of not knowing her facts - even when she did. In one debate, she bested Newt Gingrich regarding his involvement in Fannie Mae, yet the media did not make much of her win.

The most recent sexist remark was by John McLaughlin of the McLaughlin Group when he said we have a "Gal Candidate".  A GAL?  A friend asked me if I would find it offensive if his 87 year old father referred to a woman as a gal. I replied, "No. He's a product of his times. But a journalist and moderator knows better. He's on national TV and is subject to professional standards.  He didn't refer to 'guy candidates'".

Language is a mirror into how one thinks. It's difficult to be taken seriously as a woman candidate when you're called a "gal". It's amazing that this kind of double standard is going on in the U.S., when other countries have elected a woman president or prime minister.

As a public speaker and debater, Michele Bachmann has handled  herself well by sticking to the facts and not showing a lot of emotion.  Will gender always be a factor?  Is it possible to evaluate the candidates on their merits, without considering gender?  Or will it always color our perceptions?

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Political Presentations: Is There a Double Standard for Women?

First there was Sarah Palin. I don't have to review the mistakes she made. They're burned in our brains because she was skewered by the media and the focus of a comedy bit on Saturday Night Live. Enter Michele Bachmann. Her recent flub about the actor John Wayne being from her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa set off the media because it was actually serial killer, John Wayne Gacey who hails from Waterloo. Oops. Yes, politicians must check their facts before speaking to the media and when they're wrong they'll have to answer for it. But is the scrutiny of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann due to their party affiliation? I say no. Hillary Clinton was not spared the media rod. She was criticized for her changing hair styles, her shrill voice, her command and control approach and her outspoken comments. Yet, these women pale compared to the gaffes of Joe Biden. But he seems to get a pass. The media does a quick "boys will be boys" chuckle and moves on to the next story. Like teflon, Joe's many public speaking faux pas including the F word don't seem to stick.Last week, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday asked Michele, "Are you a flake?" Her response was, "Well, I think that would be insulting, to say something like that, because I'm a serious person." Can you imagine asking a male candidate if he was a flake? He then went on to remind her "that now that you are in the spotlight in a way that you weren't before that you have to be careful and not say what some regard as flaky things." How condescending but not surprising. The experience of political women mirrors the reality of corporate senior women who are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Tired of bumping their heads on the glass ceiling many corporate women left to become entrepreneurs and fueled the rapid growth of women owned businesses. But what is the answer for female political leaders? Are they supposed to go off and form their own governments? We need the diversity in both the private and public sector. Women have led England, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Pakistan. It's 2011 and we still don't have a female American president. Is there a double standard for women candidates? Do women have to be perfect presenters? What do you think?

Sexism and Sarah Palin's Voice

This morning as I was watching Morning Joe on TV, a clip was played of Sarah Palin.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036789/#39684087

The discussion was facilitated by Mike Barnicle who asked that the clip be played again, but this time we should listen to the tone. After listening for a second time, Barnicle asked the group, "Do you want to listen to that for four years?" While I agree that Palin sounded a little shrill and high pitched, that was not the issue. The issue was the way the question was asked.   Barnicle's question was judgmental. Let's ask it a different way.  "What do you think of her voice? Do you think she loses credibility? How will that impact her on the campaign trail?"

This is a different kind of question and a valid one at that. The voice is 38% of the message according to a UCLA study. The meta message is in the tone and not the words. Hillary Clinton  lost credibility when she gave vent to her anger and passion in the form of an escalating tone.  She has since found her voice.  Men have an advantage over women in the vocal arena. A deeper or lower pitched voice will be perceived as more authoritative.  While using the upper range of her pitch level doesn't serve a woman candidate, it seems that there's a double standard when it comes to men.

Former Mayor Koch of New York City has a nasal sounding voice and uses /um/  after almost  every other word. This is how he spoke during his administration and he still uses this speaking style. Yet, we didn't hear comments such as "Could you listen to him for another four years?"

The points made during the discussion regarding tone were valid. What some people don't get is that there is a tone to language. And I heard an element of sexism in Barnicle's comment. What do you think?

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Barack ObamaThere was a popular song years ago that went " Who let the dogs out?" And that's a question that's apropos this week in the media. The answer is President Obama let the dogs out in his recent speech in Milwaukee. Alluding to his opponents he said, 'They're talking about me like a dog." What does this tell us? Language reflects thought. While some studies state that words are only 7 per cent of the message, words are powerful. They give us insight into what the speaker believes and feels. In this case, Obama is saying he feels like a victim. The key is the wording "They're talking about ME". It's something that is happening to him. It's not the language of leadership. There is a difference between being genuine and appearing weak. Former Mayor Giuliani showed genuine sadness during the bombing of the World Trade Center but he never spoke like a victim.

The dog statement was not written in the speech. He acknowledged that he went off message. When giving a formal speech that's televised it's best to stick to the script especially if the speaker is in an emotional state. Otherwise, you might end up in the dog house.