As a long-time professional speaker and past president of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and the International Federation for Professional Speakers, I’ve seen my share of great speakers. The best blend style with substance; they demonstrate eloquence and expertise.
The speaking skills of this year’s Democrat and Republican presidential candidates have been contrasted and identified as one of many factors impacting the election outcome. At NSA’s national convention, a colleague and I are offering a timely session, “Campaign Rhetoric 2008-What's Working and What We Can Learn About Influencing Audiences.”
When it comes to engaging platform eloquence and connecting emotionally with audiences, it’s clearly, “Advantage Obama!” As with Reagan and Clinton, he has the gift of oratory. Barack Obama is tall, self-assured, and photogenic. He has a smooth delivery and a warm demeanor.
With Obama, the question isn’t style; it’s depth of substance. There’s an Indian saying: "High wind, big thunder, no rain." Right now, Obama is dating the public, but the tight poll numbers indicate that Americans haven’t decided whether they trust his proposal enough to marry him in November!
Like a good lawyer, Obama has taken advantage of a good opening argument calling for hope, unity and change. He’s hoping that enough of the “jury” will buy his message and sift through the campaign coverage to accept only those facts and images that support that belief.
Obama’s ability to excite huge crowds creates an obvious podium mismatch. In comparison, McCain might echo the admission of Lord Birkett: “I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking--but I strongly object when they start shaking them to make certain they are still going.”
John McCain may never have a lucrative career as a motivational speaker, but his unique style impacts campaign audiences in a different way. His strength of character, experience and authenticity generate trust. His preference for town hall events over speeches with teleprompters allows him to demonstrate his judgment, his depth of knowledge and his flexible understanding of critical issues. McCain relishes the open give-and-take of eyeball to eyeball dialogue with citizens.
As successful author and speaker, Tom Peters, observed, "There is only one style--yours. If you drool, drool, but do it with sincerity." John McCain won’t compete on the standing ovation scale, but when Americans start to put their focus on making their choice, he wants to sell enough Americans on the importance of picking an authentic president with experience, judgment and substantive solutions to the problems that matter most to America.