Boy, it’s a great time to be a speech expert as well as a leading authority on political communication. And both political parties provided a great show, particularly the speeches of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. They each had a job to do and enormous hurdles to overcome.
Hillary Clinton had a lot of baggage going in. Her job was to convert her passionate (and angry) supporters to Barack Obama, persuade voters that she, in fact, does believe Barack Obama is the better candidate, and preserve her legacy. She succeeded on all counts. Her presence filled the room — hell, she OWNED the room. Like her or not, she is a towering figure. Her use of the teleprompter was masterful (has she been taking lessons from Barack?). And although she was standing behind the podium, she was very physically animated; her hands, body and voice reflected the passion she was feeling. Speaking of her speaking voice, did you notice that she lowered the pitch? I sure did. This was the speech of her career and it may have saved it.
Sarah Palin was basically a blank slate going in, unless you consider the narratives the media had been constructing since her nomination was announced a few days prior. Palin’s job was to introduce herself on her own (and McCain’s) terms, make her opponents look weak and persuade voters she was qualified to be VP. She definitely delivered on the first two and though the jury’s still out on her qualifications, through her masterful delivery, she was able to pry open the door so voters would give her their consideration. Palin looked comfortable and confident. Her voice was too high and nasal, but it’s nothing a little work with a voice coach won’t help. She, too, was physically animated, especially her facial expression. She looked like she was having fun. Her dress and adornment did not scream high fashion or “Hey, look at me!” but rather were consistent with the voters she’s trying to attract, those so-called “hockey moms” — and dads. Her speech was well-written and had a rhythm to it, laced with zingers and poignant family references strategically placed to keep the audience engaged. It was a game changer.
These are only two examples of the magic of speech.
Of course, the other magician in the room is Barack Obama, arguably the best political speaker of the era, who made some similar waves back in 2004 and certainly during the current campaign. But I have to say, the women — both of them — outdid even the great Obama this time around. In my book, they won the “speechstakes.”
A great speech, beautifully delivered, is king among marketing tools. Sadly, though, so many politicians and business leaders don’t do it very well. (See Joe Biden, 2008 Democratic Convention.) The good news, then, is that it’s out there for you to master and reap profound benefits. After all, the pols aren’t the only ones who can change their lives by giving a great speech.
Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates LLC • High-Stakes Communications • Greenwich, CT