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!

Cut “Umms” and “You Knows” from Your Speaking

Umm, I want to write today, you know, about how to reduce, ahh, the unnecessary words in our speaking.

Like, nearly all of us are, like, guilty of some use of these pesky words that add nothing to the message. Their overuse can, like, really drive listeners crazy. Let’s try to fix this.

First, tape yourself speaking. You’ll be surprised how you sound and become more conscious of the unneeded words. Awareness is really a key. Most people don’t even realize they are doing it.

Second, have a friend or family member hit a bell or tap a glass every time you say one of the words.This is a wonderful exercise and the more you do it the better your chances of reducing the clutter.

Third, recognize silence is OK. People feel they have to fill every moment with chatter so pauses are often filled with umms and you knows. Pace yourself and be more comfortable with a little dead air.

Please try these out and let me know how you do. I think they’ll, like, really help, you know, with your speaking.

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