Blogs July 2004
"Fellow Toastmasters, most welcome guests, and most especially you, Senator John Kerry..."
Eloquence has often been described as logic on fire. To persuade us, a speaker has to appeal to both our head and our gut. A speaker must make sense to us and present ideas that sound understandable and rational, but the speaker must also make an emotional connection with us. A great speech makes us nod our head in agreement as we struggle to hold back the tears.
In this respect, John Kerry did a good job in his acceptance speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He hit all the themes he wanted He's strong on defense, he'll look out for the poor and middle class, he'll fight for equal opportunity, he'll strive for civility in political discourse. And he provided all this with sufficient detail and with action plans so that we can buy into his vision.
But did he make us feel emotionally connected to him? Did he inspire us to do more than just agree with him did he fire us up enough to want to vote for him?
He expressed his views with passion, although it took him a while to get warmed up. But still, he seemed stiff and not spontaneous. His gestures alternated between clenched fists and grinned thumbs up. The speech seemed too obviously scripted, and it didn't help that the delegates waved placards with his taglines already printed on them.
There was a big difference between the tag line of Kerry's speech, "Help is on the way" and his running mate John Edwards' "Hope is on the way." I've learned as an author of online help systems that no one wants help. Help implies weakness and dependency, and no one wants to feel that way. But everyone wants hope. Everyone wants to believe that they can do better and that they have a role to play to make their world better. In that regard, Edwards' speech was much more effective at reaching our hearts.
Kerry would also benefit from doffing the NASA "bunny suit" and watching another Democrat, Barack Obama, the senatorial candidate from Illinois. This is one speaker who knows how to connect with his audience, mix humor with poignancy, and ideas with emotion. His performance at the convention was so strong, the Republicans can't think of anyone to run against him. That's the type of knockout punch the Democrats need to win.
The presidential campaign has a long way to go, and there is plenty that can happen between now and November that can change the outcome. During that time, Kerry needs to keep working on building his connection with the audience and get them to feel his ideas in their hearts as well as their minds.
If you want to learn by watching other speakers, your best opportunity is to watch the American political conventions that start this week. The Democratic National Convention started yesterday in Boston. The speakers so far did a great job staying on message to support John Kerry's campaign. They also kept their vitriol against President Bush to what one would normally expect for a political campaign.
Former VP Al Gore, usually as pleasant to listen to as someone chewing ice, seemed relaxed, humorous, and wonderfully self-depreciative. Former President Jimmy Carter spoke authoritatively as an elder statesman. His comments about how Bush has mishandled the War on Terrorism were very effective, especially because he isn't tainted by accusations that he didn't do enough against Al Qaeda, as Clinton is. As for the former president, he did a fine job managing to cast the limelight he usually likes to shower on himself to John Kerry.
Kerry's speech on Thursday will be the most important for us to watch as voters and as students of public speaking. It will be a test of the art of persuasion. How well can Kerry connect with us emotionally and logically? Can he inspire our trust and confidence? Can he prove he is a better choice as president than George W. Bush? Tune in Thursday.
Mayrav Saar writes in the Orange County Register about how in vogue Judaism has become (More info). Thanks to boutique Kabbalah and "faux mitzvahs" where Christian kids can also have a fancy thirteenth birthday with lots of expensive gifts, non-Jews want to join our club. Sorry, you can't. We Jews certainly are not exclusionary; we accepted my mother-in-law's husband, a Scandinavian farm boy from North Dakota. It's just that there are a few things you have to do if you want to feel truly Jewish.
Words are the tools of the writer's and speaker's trade. The more you have of them, the more effective you will be in expressing yourself.
A good way to add to your vocabulary toolbox is by subscribing to a Word of the Day mailing list. There's one on the Merriam-Webster site. More info
Merriam-Webster also published their list of Top Ten Favorite Words. Onomatopoeia is one of my all-time favorites. More info