Speech Tips for Obama and Rubio

A great speech tells a story by painting a picture with a clear, consistent message. Could you summarize President Obama’s State-of-the-Union address in a single line? I doubt it. It was a checklist not a story and had inconsistencies that muddled his clarity.

While he called for “smarter government” instead of bigger government, he also called for more pre-school education, repairing 70,000 bridges, creating new institutes for manufacturing and other ideas that require government involvement.

His plea to be “partners not rivals” with Republicans, also included an attack that we can’t drift “from one manufactured crisis to the next,” a condescending shot at Republican policy on the debt limit.

The checklist approach to these addresses is not new. Its designed to curry favor with specific constituencies and often the president gets a temporary bump in polls right after them. But the communication world is changing fast. Attention becomes more of a commodity every day. Presidents continue to waste this precious resource — the attention of 45 million people for an hour — with the same old, same old.

The president’s second term communication plan should be less about what he wants to do and more about how he will get it done. He should have painted a picture that looks something like this: “You re-elected me and a Republican majority in the House. That’s gridlock. I get it. Here’s what I plan to do to fix that problem.”

President Obama is a bright, articulate man with lots of charm and a conversational speaking style. He does have a truncated cadence and a certain detachment often creeps into his speeches. But his biggest improvement opportunity, however, rests with clarity (or the lack of it).

About Rubio:

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who gave the Republican response, is a rising star. His humble Cuban roots are a GOP political consultant’s dream. He’s smart, articulate, passionate with a strong conservative record. While many top Republicans are floundering, he got in the President’s face with a “no apologies” defense of Republican principles. But he had nothing about fixing the gridlock either. And his awkward water break (click below) demonstrated he needs a lot more seasoning.

Water Break

It’s hard to believe no one thought about having a glass of water well within reach. Nervousness can give you cotton mouth in a hurry and Rubio had plenty to be nervous about. This was the most important speech of his life. But lessening speech anxiety is about the right kind of preparation. His “deer in the headlights” look when reaching for the water broke the rhythm of the speech, affecting a presentation that had some giddy up to it.

Just last year, Rubio suddenly discovered he had no last page while reading a speech. There’s no excuse for inadequate speech preparation, especially for a presidential aspirant.

Focus on delivering value to the audience. Be better prepared. Maybe we did learn something from last night’s speeches after all.

The writer is a speaking coach and former elected official who has made hundreds of presentations and media appearances. 

Contact markgrimm if looking for help!

Passion Guides Romney’s Debate Win

With no gaffes or knockout punches, body language took center stage in the first presidential debate in Denver…and that contest wasn’t even close.  A CNN poll gave Romney a 67-25 advantage among viewers. No candidate has topped 60% since the question was first asked in 1984.

An energetic Mitt Romney seemed like he couldn’t wait to get started. As one of Romney’s harshest critics, liberal pundit Ed Schultz of MSNBC, put it, “Romney looked like the guy who really wanted the job.”

President Obama started slowly, nervously noting his wedding anniversary, and appeared defensive. His body language indicated the debate was, for him, a little like eating his vegetables.

Was there any doubt who was enjoying the debate more?

Romney endured 20 debates in the primary that toughened him up and allowed him to bring his “A” game. The president, who lives in a highly controlled environment, was rusty and not used to having someone directly confront him. His strategists certainly didn’t want him to jeopardize his high “likability” numbers by being too aggressive, but he may have been too passive.

Both men were smart, knowledgeable and civil. There was plenty of substance and there was a sharp contrast in the two competing visions. Romney appeared every bit the president’s equal on stage. This was critical because so much of the Obama campaign has been about making him an “unacceptable alternative.” As one Fox News focus group member put it, “Up until tonight, Obama has defined Romney. Tonight, Romney defined himself.”

There was no way to predict how the two men would appear when on the same stage together for the first time. The President’s laid back style proved to be a sharp contrast to Romney, a contrast that favored the challenger.

Bill Gates once said, “the thing I do best is share my enthusiasm.” Romney did that much better in debate one and it reversed the momentum in the campaign.

Expect round two to be much more confrontational.

The writer is a speaking coach, message strategist, and former elected official. More at markgrimm.com

What Mitt & Prez Need to Do in the Debate

Wednesday night’s debate offers Mitt Romney a chance to reverse the momentum in key battleground states. He has the most to gain, and to lose. Here’s what each candidate should do to capitalize on this unique opportunity.

Mitt Romney:

Romney’s biggest vulnerability is the prominent perception that he’s a rich guy who really doesn’t care about the average person. This has been carefully cultivated by the opposition and some media and enhanced by Romney’s own mistakes. This is why the infamous 47% tape was so damaging. His top priority must be to alter this perception. Otherwise, the race is over. Voters have no innate problem with rich candidates. FDR and JFK made that clear. The candidate doesn’t have to be like them, but the voters must feel the candidate is for them.

So Mitt, don’t offer any programmed language that shows you’re one of us. You’re not and that’ s OK. Give specific examples, in your background and policies, that show you’re human and you care.

Secondly, try to get under the President’s skin (in a nice way). The President’s “likability factor” is his biggest advantage over Romney. However, any President rarely faces a one-on-one confrontation where he is challenged in such direct terms. This is an adjustment and President Obama has shown a bit of a condescending streak (view Hillary is “likable enough” comment).

Barack Obama:

The President’s team decided long ago the path to re-election is to make Romney an unacceptable alternative. Many feel Obama’s economic record left them with no other choice politically. Indeed, the incumbent’s support remains below 50% in the polls. They have done a good job of creating a Romney caricature (Mitt’s personal negatives are sky high) and Obama must close the deal on that in the debate.

The president must keep his cool. He’s known for that. But it’s been four years since his last debate. He’s likely a little rusty. Romney had 20 raucous debates that nicked him up, but also toughened him up.

Romney must address the 47% issue head on and Obama must capitalize on it.

The real test for each candidate may well be what role he plays in any surprise, and debates often have them — Al Gore sighing, Nixon sweating profusely, Bush 41 checking his watch. The unanticipated moments are often the most revealing…and the ones that impact voters the most.

The writer is a speaking coach, political consultant, former TV anchor and former elected official. Tune in to this blog for a post-debate video analysis.