McCain’s Speaking Abilities: Assessing the Candidate’s Communication Strengths


In my blog entry entitled, "McCain’s October 15, 2008 Debate Performance: The Top Four Ways He Can Improve," I discussed ways McCain can improve his communication delivery.  The question remains: how do I rate McCain as a speaker overall?

In my book, Say It Like Obama: the Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision (McGraw Hill, 2008 -, I highlight the many techniques and practices that can enable speakers to use oration as a powerful tool. When reviewing the range of practices available and assessing McCain from the vantage point of those "best practices," it is clear that oration is not McCain’s strength.

There are, however, key aspects of McCain’s communication style that are strong, and to use communication more effectively as a tool, McCain should display those strengths with greater frequency. One particular area of strength is the way he uses anecdotes to convey his own values—such as when he speaks of his adopted daughter. Similarly, he uses anecdotes excellently to convey in very vivid images some of his experiences, such as his experiences in captivity. His reference, made at the Saddleback forum earlier this year, of a cross drawn in the sand and a makeshift worship service while in captivity provides an example.

Ironically, McCain’s lack of "eloquence" when speaking can also sometimes serve as a strength—it can be endearing, rather than off-putting. He comes across as down-to-earth with the lack of smoothness—something that can be a benefit in certain settings.

From what I have seen this election season, McCain was at his best during the Saddleback forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren earlier this year. His strengths were on display front-and-center there. Many people seemed impressed by what they saw.


    Dr. Shel Leanne is author of Say It Like Obama: the Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision (McGraw Hill, 2008 - and President of Regent Crest, a leadership development firm whose clients come from Fortune 500 companies.

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